Thursday, August 27, 2009

By the Fireside: The Importance of Traditional Storytelling

Ten to fifteen years ago, I always looked forward to Saturdays. Besides it being a day of good rest and play, there was one TV show that, more often than not, aired at 4:30pm: “By the Fireside”. This TV show was the quintessence of a rural moonlight setting in Ghana where children sat around a fire, under a tree, and listened to tales told by an elderly man or woman. These tales were filled with a mix of personified animals, inanimate objects, puppets and humans, interacting with each other to present an irresistible, fun and educative package. All the tales told had moral lessons appended to them and some were an attempt to explain why some things are the way they are. For example, a story about why the crab has no head, why the tortoise has a scaly shell, and why the spider(ananse) inhabits the corners of our ceilings.

A typical story night started with drumming and dancing, welcoming the storyteller and having a short chat session to find out how everyone’s doing. As the story unfolded children interrupted with questions, remarks, and music as well. The music helped keep them interested after a few minutes of dormancy – then the story continued. And at the end of it all, they shared what they learned and then, proceeded to sing and dance their way back to their homes. What made it exciting to watch on TV was that there was an act after every short narration of the story. All tales told were tailored to fit the Ghanaian traditional and cultural society. The names of characters were indigenous ones and nothing foreign was brought to play in these tales.

Looking back at those times I can’t help but recognize how important that TV show was in shaping the Ghanaian child morally in a very fun and creative way. Additionally, it taught children to be creative as well and to appreciate the value of togetherness, if nothing at all. These stories have stood the test of time and have been published by authors who want to forever engrave the morale behind them into the hearts for generations to come.

Fortunately or unfortunately, these days Virginia Andrews and Johnny Grisham have penetrated the youngest of minds. Make no mistake; western authors have a lot to share as well. To say the very least, they aid our mastery of the English language. The internet and other television programmes have also disrupted the continuance of “By the Fireside” and traditional storytelling as a whole. Although they mean well, these western ‘intrusions’ are slowly wiping out our indirect visual and vocal education. Westernization, I realise, is something that has become a necessary evil, but if it was tailored to meet our cultural needs it might not be such a bad thing. Ghana Television made the brilliant attempt of broadcasting a rural event to the whole nation. If efforts such as that continued, we may realise how important some aspects of our culture are.

I sincerely believe that the traditional story telling approach was a very effective way of indirectly training a Ghanaian child. Although one cannot learn all of life’s lessons through stories, the Ghanaian tales certainly entrench in us our values system and remain a part of our culture. Let’s not kill it.

This article was written by LSG Staff Writer Kobe Asiedu
Photo Sources: Photo 1 , Photo 2, Photo 3


Flossy said...

SMILES. Good point there.... How about written Ananse stories for children to read too? Expanding vocabulary and training children to lengthen their attention spans.

Shels said...

Nicely finally I see the article..and it was a good read. I think African stories, presented in written or oral form are a mix of humor, realism and fantasy, and sometimes serve as a means of expressing in allegorical form the conditions of people in that era. As times change, the stories should be tweaked to keep children interested, without missing the moral lessons. I like the proverbs, rhymes, riddles and songs that come with these tales as well. Sometimes we don't really appreciate them until we get older.