“Ours was the original green food”: The joys of African storytelling by Cameron Duodu – Ghana

I just can’t remember what it is. And the more I try to remember it, the more disconcerted I become, because if I should forget anything at all from my childhood, it shouldn’t be that! For storytelling was central to our existence as children. You got up every morning, washed your face, chewed a special, bitter-tasting stick called tweapea, to clean your teeth. Then you set off for the farm – a walk of three miles or so. And three miles back.

On the farm, one worked hard for a bit, and then stopped to have a meal – breakfast and lunch combined. This used to be exceptionally tasty, not only because when one is very tired and also pretty hungry, everything tastes absolutely marvellous. The real fact however was that whatever went into the meal was absolutely fresh. We would have slim plantains (apem), either boiled by themselves, or in combination with cocoyam, yam or sweet potatoes. The ingredients for the stew were also plucked straight from the plants and thrown into the cooking pot – I am talking about the most succulent, thick cocoyam leaves; eggplants as big as small apples, okra bigger than a man’s thumb. They would be fried with crabs and shrimps picked from underneath stones in the stream that lay across the path to the farm.

If we were lucky, there would also be fresh akrantie or antelope meat, or that of other animals caught by traps laid by one’s father. The only thing brought from home would be a box of matches to light a fire of dead wood and shrubs. One’s mother would have hidden some salt and salted fish – used to season the fresh stuff – somewhere in the bush. So when we sat down to eat, the food was almost literally made from heaven. Almost! I am being modest: man’s hand had not touched anything we consumed, to put chemicals into it. Ours was the original green food. […]

It happened as soon as it got dark. We had been warned that it was taboo to tell stories in the daytime – you could invoke special words to neutralise the taboo, but since no one ever remembered them, storytelling was almost left to night time. The taboo was funny and shows the sense of humour with which our elders governed us: if you told stories in the day time (they said) you would grow sharp horns on your legs called adwonkuben. Had we had the intelligence, we might have worked it out for ourselves that in order to grow anything like horns on one’s legs, one would have had to be extremely lazy, sitting in one place for a long time. For any activity that demanded the use of the legs – such as walking to the farm to do some work – would prevent adwonkuben from growing on our legs! But because we lacked analytical skills, we didn‘t normally tell stories in the daytime – out of fear. We prepared for the night-time stories quite seriously. We would all gather around our open-hearth fire, in a semi-circle. And when we were sure everyone was present, one of the older children would let the words ring out that were to usher in a two or three-hour session of sheer bliss.

And I couldn’t remember those opening words! I could easily remember what came at the end of each story. At the end, the storyteller would say: “M’anansesem a metoo yi, se eye de o, se ennye de o, ebi nko na ebi mmra.” This takes a bit of translating. The storyteller says: “This my story which I have told to you, whether it is sweet [nice], or whether it’s not sweet, [you alone will know. As for me] let some of it [the wisdom or lessons that form its pith] go forth [to you, my immediate audience as well as wherever you happen to go] and do let some of it come back [to me your storyteller].”

That sentence gives the essence of what storytelling is all about. You hear the story, digest it, and if you can, try to contribute a story of your own. In other words, “let some of it come back” was an invitation to emulate the one who had just finished telling a story and if possible, better him or her with one’s own story. It wasn’t easy to take up this invitation, of course. One might have a good story. But how to arrange it so that it became exciting and got to animate the crowd enough for them to laugh (best of all); be frightened (good dramatic acting did that); or be filled with pathos – or be affected by a combination of all these emotions?

It was not easy. Some storytellers sang nice songs in the middle of their stories (woe unto you if your voice wasn’t up to scratch and you attempted to do this!). Others acted out what they were saying; they would crouch (say, if they were speaking about a hunter who was trying to bag an animal in the bush without alerting it to his stalking); they would unleash heavy blows to indicate fighting; they would pretend to cry when the pathos in the story demanded it. […]

The best thing that could happen to a storyteller was if, in the middle of his story, someone was so inspired that he or she put up a hand and began to sing a song to enliven the performance. These “sideshow” songs were called “mmoguo”, which might be translated loosely as “sweet songs that are largely irrelevant” to the story immediately being told, but “what do you know? They might just contribute enjoyment, you know?”

We performed these stories, and went to bed and relived some of them in dreams. They were so vital to our existence that we pestered our grandparents to tell us stories, so that we would have something new to contribute at our own sessions. We even visited homes of acquaintances not that closely related to us, just in case. Anything for a good yarn, you might say. […]

Source: Under the Neem Tree, March 2010 – IC Publications | Opinions
Address : http://www.africasia.com/services/opinions/opinions.php?ID=2740&title=duodu
Date Visited: Fri Jun 22 2012 16:48:18 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Cameron Diode

Born and educated in Ghana, Cameron Duodu started work on a general purpose magazine called New Nation in Ghana, then moved to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, where he became editor of radio news. He returned to the magazine world as editor of the Ghana edition of the famous pan-African magazine, Drum.

He later edited the biggest-selling newspaper in Ghana, the Daily Graphic.

Source: Under the Neem Tree
Address : http://www.newafricanmagazine.com/blogs/under-the-neem-tree/Page-4
Date Visited: Fri Jun 22 2012 16:53:07 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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