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African Story Telling – Lessons and Entertainment
In the old days in Africa, we taught ourselves values through stories. We had quite a lot of stories. We used all the methods we could then. Some stories were songs that spoke of the heroic battles of our heroes. We had heroes that everyone in the community could identify with. We had stories of animals through which we told our children the virtues of life like honesty, honour, loyalty and courage. Animals represented different things and concepts. For instance from my part of the world, we had stories of tortoise being shown as wily, cunning, sometimes hilarious but always with an underlying lesson for us. It was natural every evening after the day’s work to sit by the fireplace, or under a big tree and hear of the escapades of the tortoise. However in all these stories of the tortoise, a thread of a code of ethics was woven for us. It was usual at the end of each story for the story teller to ask us the listening children, what was the lesson of the story.
In the broader sense at the government level, we had festivals, that were used to teach the leaders the essence of honour and integrity. Such festivals were usually some kind of masque in which erring leaders were lampooned in songs, drama and such devices that sent the message home. It was understood that the actors of any masque could not be punished. The victim who felt very bad at being lampooned would naturally keep to his farm for a few days and weeks depending on the severity of the satire. He returned to the larger community after a time hoping everyone had forgiven or forgotten that misdemeanor. You however notice that in his anxiety not to have the same experience the following year, he would amend his ways.
Society was friendly, knew its place and governance was at most times benevolent and inclusive. Story telling had its uses and was a simple form of entertainment as well as instrument of instruction. Sadly however, the story is radically different today in my part of the world. The only viable story telling we can tell each other these days are of poverty, disease,(some really strange ones our forefathers never heard of) and of our insensitivity to each other. In those golden yesteryears, a thief could not find succor in any place unless he changed his ways. His family disowned him. His community would reject him and no matter how wealthy he became, he was never given a chieftaincy title. The community will watch him in derision if he even attempted to contribute to the common wealth of the people.
Today, there is no more story telling. There is no more sitting by the big tree to watch the moon, sing to the moon or tell stories of the escapades of the tortoise. There are no more moonlit games or wrestling or folksongs or beauty pageants in which we show off our African hairdos. What we have now is the television that has made apes out of the dignified African, the fashion that has stripped us naked and left us naked. The thieves get chieftaincy titles now and sometimes decided the course of a people that was once proud and self sustaining.
We can still go back to the story telling days. We can still use stories to change our concepts to something noble and uplifting. We may not be able to physically sit by the big tree, but we can still tell stories about honour and integrity for these stories are as timeless as the virtues they preach. It is the essence of real civilization. Do we still have good story tellers?
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