'Storytelling still alive'

Observer writer

Monday, October 15, 2018

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Long before Jamaica gained Independence in 1962, villagers would gather at night to engage in storytelling as a form of recreation and tradition. Stories belted of Bredda Anansi, an African character known for his mischievous ways, and these stories usually ended with the line “Jack Mandora me nuh choose none”, allowing the storyteller to absolve himself of Anansi's underhand acts.

While the oral tradition of storytelling is often linked to enslaved Africans who were taken to Jamaica in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jamaica soon developed its own original characters like Big Boy, Rolling Calf, Big Belly, River Mumma, Annie Palmer and Three Finger Jack. Through family tradition and performers like Dr Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley, storytelling progressed beyond villages to the stage. But is the oral tradition relevant to millennials?

Also referred to as Generation Y, millennials describe people born from the early 1980s through to the turn of the Millennium.

Shane Green, 19, said his grandparents told tales of folk characters, but added he is uncertain of its current relevance.

“Each story has a lesson behind it, but I don't know if we should be learning it today,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “I don't think it's really necessary if we are not focused on passing on that particular part of our history.”

20-year-old Monique Campbell recalled her knowledge of folk tales.

“I used to read Anansi stories as a child and my mother used to tell me about Three Finger Jack and Puss and Dog so I know a little bit,” she said. “Anansi has some very good moral lessons so we should keep those alive,” she continued.

Jahema Myers, 32, disagrees with the latter sentiment.

“I know Anansi was a trickster, a clever person who used to manipulate people to his advantage. But I would be more interested in some hardcore history than hearing about Anansi,” he said.

Myers also said social media should be used as a promotion tool.

“Millennials find other things more engaging and folklore is not promoted. Is it on social media or YouTube?” he asked. “Suppose I don't know anything, where can I go online and find it? They need to update the resources so it's easy to find.”

But storyteller Dr Amina Blackwood-Meeks pointed to the presence of Anansi on Facebook.

“There is Anansi Matters on Facebook, we should have Anansi on Twitter and in animations too,” she told the Jamaica Observer. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with using social media, we need to marry all of the information technology with all of who we are especially the traditional forms.”

Blackwood-Meeks, founder of Ntukuma, hosts an annual storytelling festival in November, usually held close to National Storytelling Day (November 20). She does not believe storytelling is dead.

“It's definitely not; I tell stories all the time and everywhere I go in Jamaica and tell stories there is a child who can tell me something about the story,” she said. “It's a shame that our people on a whole are growing increasingly distant from our history and it has a lot to do with the way history is formed. We don't see stories as important but everything we do is a story. Somebody forced us to believe story people are liars yet we go to see the Wakanda story or Superman story.”

Filmmaker Kurt Wright integrates folk characters like Three Finger Jack, Annie Palmer and Anansi in his film Origins. Twin filmmakers Andre and Akeem Roberts also include the folk character rolling calf in their upcoming animation The Harvester.

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