Thursday, 3 November 2011

Storytelling: The Art of Teaching Values and Morality

Sitting under the moonlight with the starts gazing down at us, we sat with our legs stretched out while my auntie sat on the kitchen stool. “Alo o!” she said. “Alo o!” we responded. This signified the beginning of the storytelling session for that night. The theme of her stories was based on the tortoise and its pranks and foolishness. The other characters were the tortoise’s wife-Yanibo, the hare, and the dog. These stories were told to educate us about moral issues and the right values. My auntie would often ask us about the lessons learnt after telling us  this story. One after the other we would raise our hands to tell her about the moral of the story.

After each story told, we would often beg for more. My auntie, obviously tired from the stress of the day would agree. Sometimes, if she was very exhausted, she would ask one of us to tell a story. Because we wanted to outshine each other, we would fabricate our story line sometimes going on and on and not knowing when to end, trying to show off our dexterity in creating story lines and wanting to outdo each other. This act of coming up with our own stories assisted us in developing our creativity and unknowingly, making us an aspiring master storyteller.     

Soon, the younger children fell asleep while the much older children started to doze off though we would quickly deny feeling sleepy if we were asked to go to bed, wanting to prolong the storytelling session. Before we knew it, nature would take its course and we would no longer be able to fight sleep, bowing to it under the soothing voice of my auntie.

The storytelling sessions taught us about values and how to live right in the society. The emphasis on the stories was about morality and the consequences of not doing the right thing.  Though largely as a child, it was our own form of entertainment because stories were often accompanied by songs which we chorused and sometimes danced to but it was also an opportunity to ignite our creative juice.  Again, it afforded families to bond and some of the sessions were used to address certain moral issues that might have affected the family. This was the traditional ways of entertaining while also educating the children. Some of these stories have lived with me. Some of the stories I remember very well. One of such is the story of the tortoise’s visit to his in-law.

Once upon a time, the tortoise decided to pay his in-laws a visit. He got to the in-laws’ house while she was a preparing dinner. She had a pot of yam porridge on fire and she invited tortoise to stay and have dinner with the family. Tortoise declined claiming not to be hungry while his mouth watered at the aroma of the food on fire. The in-law went to the backyard to get more firewood. Tortoise could not resist the smell of the food. He opened the cover of the pot to see what was being cooked. He quickly covered it and moved away from it. He muttered to himself wondering why he declined the invitation to dinner. He walked back to where the food was being cooked. He stooped short contemplating what he should do. His stomach rumbled. “Let me just taste the food” he said to himself. He opened the pot cover again, smelled the food and took the kitchen spoon to scoop just a bit so as to taste it and satisfy his curiosity if the food tasted as good as it smelt. He dipped his hand inside the pot and then heard footsteps approaching. “Ha! I can’t afford to be caught”. He mumbled to himself. He quickly scooped some of the hot yam porridge and put it in his cap. Hurriedly, he wore the cap and covered the pot and moved away from the cooking pot. He acted as normal as he could though his scalp was burning up.

“Ha! My in-law. I am sorry it took me a while. I was looking for something to send to my sister.” Tortoise’s in-law said as she walked back into the kitchen.

“That’s ok” tortoise replied. “I have to go now” He said shifting from one leg to the other. He had become uncomfortable and his face had turned red. “I just have to go really” Tortoise insisted.

“My in-law, are you ok? You are burning up” the in-law said while feeling his body.

“I am ok really.” Tortoise replied, moving away from his in-law. ”I am sure I am only reacting to something in the air” he said trying to convince his in–law.

He walked out of the in-law’s compound and at a decent distance; he started running because he could not bare the burning sensation of the yam porridge he stole. He saw a river and he quickly jumped into it. He removed his cap and the hair on his head had fallen off and that’s why tortoise is bald till today.   

Storytelling made it easy for parents to train their children without being too boring. Learning from whatever happened to the characters of the folk stories prepared us for how to conduct ourselves in the larger society. Unfortunately, like most of the tradition that was prevalent when I was growing, the culture of storytelling is almost dead not with the advent of telecommunication and technology.

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