Stories have proven to be one of the major means by which events are preserved. Myths or superstitions are usually stories told and passed down from generation to generation. Some may have even occurred thousands of years ago yet somehow, they remain relevant to us today.This just shows that stories have the power to immortalise events
I grew up in the village with my parents and I have learnt more about my culture through the stories my parents told me than I was taught in school. Well we were never really taught much about our culture in school.
I loved stories as a kid and somehow my mom never ran out of them; okay she does repeat some of her favourites every now and then but it didn’t matter ‘cos I enjoyed it every time. I was more than happy to learn about my ancestors and all the great things they did, the wars they fought, why they fought them and why even now, we still practise some of the traditions they practised then.
So why don’t so many African writers explore their culture enough when searching for stories?. There seems to be a misconception that African writers need to curate their stories in ways that appeal to foreign audience. We are constantly reminded that we need to change some aspects of our culture so that it is ‘generally acceptable’ and I think this is just preposterous.
As storytellers, I believe the more we explore our culture, the more we will find new things to write about. Here are some more reasons to explore our heritage when telling our stories:
To incorporate diversity, twists and drama
Imagine going to a bookstore and finding all the books in it, written by British Authors. That would suck, right? While I have nothing against British authors, I have a thing for distinctness and peculiarity which can really only be appreciated with diversity.
The beautiful thing about African culture is that though the tribes are different, they share some things in common. Exploring our culture while writing our stories allow us to bring in different perspectives; In fact, two persons from the same tribe can tell one story but in different ways.
Until we share our culture through our stories, the world will remain in total oblivion of our beautiful heritage. And we will have nobody to blame but ourselves; because really who else can tell our stories better than us. Through Chinua Achebe’s ‘There was a country’, I have an idea what the Biafra war felt like and so on. So if we want to read more of our books, to see more of our clothes go international, more of our foods making headlines, globally, then the onus is on us to tell and show.
Model and representation
The more we see our own people portraying our culture especially when they are prominent people, the more confident we feel. For example, Chimamanda is one writer admired by African girls and the fact that she wears her hair in its natural form, has influenced the decision of so many girls like myself to wear our hair that way and the list goes on. This goes to show the profound power of representation.
That said, the next question is;
How do we present our culture in storytelling?
- Say it as it is
Just say it or write it or sing it or paint it as it is. In all its rawness and ‘unrefineness’. Call it Bole, not grilled plantain and let them ask what it means. Paint her nose broad and her hair woolly, sing how callused her hands are from lifting hot local pots and breaking firewood. Just say it as it is. Don’t say it’s summer down here in Lagos, no there’s just a rainy and dry season. So go on and tell it as it is.
- Get inquisitive
You don’t know half of it and you can’t really be blamed; there’s too much western influence in everything around us so sometimes you have to dig deeper to recognize our own. So ask questions where you are not sure, it doesn’t hurt. And if you want to be more vivid go on a tour; when was the last time you visited your village or a museum or had a ‘gist’ with an old person? Trust me; you’ll have so much to tell you won’t know where to begin.
- Patronize it
You don’t want to be the person that preaches one thing and does something else. How often do you read books by your fellow African authors? Or listen to African music? Granted, you reserve the right to your own taste. But it’s one thing to give something a try and not like it, it’s another to never even give it a try.
So next time, you tell or write a story, when you mention jewellery, a river, a hill, or whatever, bring it home. Tell us something we as Africans will relate to, something non-Africans will find new.