Herizons - - Arts & Culture -

Telling Sto­ries and Sto­ry­telling African Ma­ter­nal Ped­a­go­gies

Ad­woa Ntozake On­uora

Deme­ter Press

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.

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