Telling Stories and Storytelling African Maternal Pedagogies
Adwoa Ntozake Onuora
Review by Maya Khankhoje Adwoa Ntozake Onuora, a lecturer at The University of The West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, set out to write a book that “has a little bit of something for everyone.”
Anansesem is a collection of stories for and about children that is based on an African storytelling tradition that has influenced Jamaican popular culture.The purpose of this mother-centred style of narrative is the transmission of the history and cultural values of those of AfricanCaribbean descent.The author gathered anecdotes from women in Toronto who are of African-Caribbean descent and rewrote them in the form of bedtime stories for children.
The main character of some of these stories is Anancy, a spider trickster who sometimes takes on human form.Other characters are based on Onuora’s experiences as a Black woman living in a white male-dominated society. Some of the stories are written in Jamaican dialect with a parallel English translation, while others are simply written in English. There is also a more technical part of the book, written in academic language—something that may not appeal to the non-academic reader. However, the patient reader will be rewarded with valuable insights into
the psychology and sociology of marginalized minorities.
One of the lessons to be derived from this highly original book is that Anancy stories, “thought to have travelled with Africans taken into captivity and brought across the transatlantic ocean to the Americas during the period of enslavement … became a vehicle for cultural, psychological and physical resistance and survival.” Another lesson is that common sense is not the prerogative of people at the top; even a young child can teach an adult a thing or two.And, finally, the Anansesem storytelling tradition, with its different versions and interpretations, brings home the point that “truth is contested and polyvocal.”
Anansesem is a healthy and humorous narrative model for parents interested in teaching children how to remain human in a plastic and digital world peopled with blonde princesses and monsters.