FROM THE CRADLE - Telling the African story

Storytelling is an African thing, just as dew drizzle from the sky at the break of a new wake, and the rooster crows as if calling from a loud stereo; the dimness of the sky give way for brightness and the sun prepares to leave its bed, so has storytelling defined and redefined our culture, histories, norms and all that is from within and outside of us.


This simply means that storytelling in the part of the world I come from is a skill that is not an attribute of everyone. Before I go deep into the appraising the great roles played by storytellers generally, I will like to move from particular to general, that is, using my personal experience as it affects my local community and the African society at large. Permit me therefore to give a little introduction about myself and storytelling.

I am Akinolugbadebo from the family of  Ogunmakin from Ogun State, Abeokuta Nigeria; to a farmer father and a trader mother. I grew up as a traditionalist, hence storytelling in my prime always revolves around myths, legends, gods, goddesses, bravery, sacrifices, etc. Amid any storytelling, there is also a special moment of singing and teaching an audience how to recite panegyrics when the need arises. My father who is a stark traditionalist when singing my oriki (unwritten genres for eulogizing) will always address me thus:

       "the son of Ogun, clothed with the attire of Osun, the pureness of Ifa, the vengeance of Sango, and the creativity of Obatala".

This simply means that we pay homage to all the gods in the Yoruba land, and any story that goes against them is taken to be an insult to our cultural beliefs.

In my local area, there is a storytelling arena which is always located in the town square at moonlight under a big baobab tree where all children and lovers of stories meet to listen to stories from the mouth of a narrator. Also, when the atmosphere is not appealing enough for villagers to go out, there is indoor storytelling which could either be anchored by the baale (father), iya (mother), or by any older experienced adult. 


In my family, my father and mother happen to be great storytellers, this prompted many Children and story lovers from far and near to come to our little thatched hut to listen to stories rooted in history, culture, bravery, and reality. My father's stories always revolve around myths and legends, telling the bravery of the gods and goddesses in Yoruba land and also telling us history-related ones.

My mother's stories center more on morality, fables (animal stories), and singing of oriki (panegyric). She is a strong advocate of women's rights which is infamously called feminism. Her stories on morality are always based on friendship, trust, behavior, and truth. While the famous tortoise stories which always center around greed and laziness are fables used to inculcate morals into children.

The singing of panegyrics (oriki) of the gods and goddesses of the land is also an unwritten genre of Yoruba literature. I can still vividly be taken aback by the Osun panegyrics as recited by my mother on one of such storytelling nights. It goes thus:

ore yeye osun

Osun sengese

oloriya iyun

arewa obinrin,

Osun oyeeyee nimo

awede wemo

mother Osun,

praise to the mother of misery

the one that has a comb made of coral beads

the beautiful lady.

Osun the very knowledgeable one,

spirits that clean me inside out

Yeye mi olowo aro,

yeye mi elese osun

yeye mi ajimo roro

yeye mi abimo ma yanku

yeye mi alagbo awoye

eleti gbaroye

ogbagba ti gbomo re logo ija

Ari bani about nipa tomo

My mother with hands was colored with dye

my mother with feet was beautified with camwood

my mother who is always found neat,

my mother whose child never dies.

my mother, the owner of super healing decoction,

ever ready to hear

the capacity of delivering her children,

she cares for one concerning children.

The eulogy goes on and on. Like that of Osun that has been said, all gods, goddesses, supernatural humans, and even every Yoruba born have an oriki (panegyric). 

The stories I grew up listening to have had great impacts on my life, as they are educative, and just as lights make us see around, stories informed me about the history of the Yoruba land, about the great men and women who have been immortalized. I have heard stories about Oloodumare/Olorun also known as The Lord God of the Source of Creation which the Christians call the heavenly God. 

Storytelling in my prime also broadens my knowledge to know that there is a difference between metaphysical Spirits like Orunmila- the spirit of wisdom, divination, destiny, and foresight, and Olodumare. 

There are different deities whose power, life, and fall teach morals when narrated as moonlight stories. The stories I grew up listening to are histories that every child born in the Yoruba society must know and pass on to the generation yet unborn because storytelling is a way of preserving the culture of any nation. THOSE THAT FAIL TO LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT. These histories and cultures are preserved through storytelling by storytellers.

With the above allegory drawn from my childhood experience, it is important to now explain the roles played by storytellers in Africa. 

• African storytellers are educators, as they inculcate into the new generation the norms, culture, and attitude of their society.

• African storytellers preserve the cultural heritage of a society.

• African storytellers remind their people about the sacrifices of their predecessors.

• They make others understand the sacred culture of Africa.

•  They bring Africa into the light of global acceptance.

African countries experienced Colonialism, and storytelling has been a major system of narrating the heroic deeds of our heroes and the way the continent was treated by the colonial Masters.

In Africa, in every home there are storytellers.

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