The Importance of African Folktales

I grew up with Aesop, not realizing he was black, or that I was hearing African fables.

I grew up with Bruh Rabbit, not understanding I was listening to stories that had deep roots in Africa.

I grew up with the Boo Hag courtesy of my grandmother, not knowing that she comes out of the Gullah people.

I grew up with Wiley, not knowing he was an African American boy.

There were stories by, about, and because of African Americans all around me as a kid and I didn’t know.

I had no idea African Americans had contributed to my literary understanding of the world.

I didn’t know, because nobody pointed it out to me.

The majority culture in which I was raised didn’t point out that I had a place in it, so I didn’t know I had roots going through everything.
We need to tell African Folklore. We need to share it, because the wisdom, wit, and community that they build touches everybody. Building community around the stories of Africa in the 21st century helps everyone understand that our ancestors are not invisible.

One summer, I was traveling around Virginia performing at libraries. This was pre GPS! After I saw the library sign, I’d start trying to locate the building. My mother was traveling with me for some of this trip. At one point she looked at me and said:

Mom: You said you just saw a library sign.

Me: I did.

Mom: Where? I didn’t see a library sign.

Me: Right there?

Mom: Where?

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My mother was amazed.

Mom: I’ve never seen that sign before!

Me: Sure you have. There is one near your house.

My mother swore there wasn’t, because surely she would have seen it. I left the area about a week later. She called me from home and told me that since finding out what it was, she’d seen that sign everywhere. She was so pleased.

Now, of course, the answer to this isn’t that the city ran out and put up library signs near my mother’s home. She wasn’t registering the signs because she didn’t know they were there.

When I tell African stories in schools, I am always amused by the number of children and adults who have either heard versions of the stories, seen books, or watched references in some television show .

They are always amazed that the stories came from Africa. They are also proud to have made the discovery.

Telling the tales that come out of Africa creates signposts.

The stories of our ancestors are still around us. They peek out of the heroes, tricksters, language, music, art, dance, and literature all over America. Whether anyone acknowledges it or not, they are woven into the very fabric of this country.

Sharing African folktales is our way of pointing out the signposts.

Like this blog? Donna Washington, who so generously contributed this and several other blogs for NABS Talking will be one of the featured tellers at the 36th annual Storytelling Conference and Festival in Cary, NC. October 31 – November 4 2018,   It’s time to get your registration in, to come out and share some tales!

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Happy Telling!

Donna Washington

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