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We should all be Storytellers

Depending on the mindset or interest of the reader, the idea presented by the bulk of this article could be considered already so archaic that there hardly could be anything done to effect any change about it. However, I don’t by any means buy that.
There is a perennial debate on the use of language in the Nigerian classrooms. I do not want to dwell too much on this but i will quickly like to ask both sides of the divide a few questions. Since we don’t have basic texts translated into our own languages, how do we compete globally if we decide to relegate the English language? Also, what is the hope of our core cultures and traditions if children are only proficient in English language?
There are writers who write in their native language, a good example being the prominent Kenyan writer—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. I remember reading a comment of Achebe in one of his interviews. He made a submission that the difference between himself and Ngugi as writers was the fact that while Ngugi believes it has to be writing in English or one’s native language, He (Achebe) believed one could decide to write in both. Achebe mixed both English and his native language, Igbo in a very fascinating manner. He appropriated the use of English language so well that the reader could sometimes be lost in between the lines with a feel of reading in the Igbo language.
For Achebe, I think English language is a weapon he had to master so as to achieve his dreams of telling African stories in his own unique way. There was no other way.
I am with Achebe on this one. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but a fine balance between the languages as one so desires. The children can learn both.
We find ourselves in an age in which globalization is driven by Science and Technology. English language is the fuel that drives this vehicle. This is a reality we must face.
In the past, there was the emergence of a crop of literary icons from Africa; such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Jomo Kenyatta and some others, who decided to challenge a certain tradition of the British writers writing about a mythical Africa. These African writers rose up to tell their own stories with the aim of creating a balance, at the very least or going head to head with the European writers for our right to write our own stories. Achebe spoke extensively about this in his apt and engaging book titled “Home and Exile”. To draw some excerpts from the book;

This was said about Africans by Elspeth Huxley in his book white man’s country; Perhaps it may be, as some doctors have suggested, that his brain is different: that it has a shorter growing period and possesses less well formed, less cunningly arranged cells than that of the Europeans-in other words, that there is a fundamental disparity between the capabilities of his brain and ours.

As mentioned by Achebe in his book, a British writer, Mr. Pedler wrote, “When Europeans talk of Africans buying a wife”. This particular one by Pedler lacks veracity and is also misleading. We don’t buy wives and the hypocrisy in that statement is loud and clear.
The aforementioned excerpts are statements made decades ago, so you can imagine my amusement when I got to America less than 3 yrs ago and found that certain condescending questions about Africa still thrived.
To mention a few examples; my Chinese friend said he thought Africa was just a country in a bush with no roads. A Caucasian asked me where I learned how to use computers or the one who was stupefied on hearing there are “African writers”. A black American once asked me if I learned how to speak good English in America.
In the eyes of some of those who ask these questions, one can see the spectacular naivety masquerading as innocence. In some others, one can see the feigned innocence laced with bigotry so thick. It seems to me that this singular stories written of Africa by the old British griots built a mansion of false and misguided impressions in the minds of people outside Africa and these impressions are being passed to subsequent generations.
Some would argue that my claims are banal or obsolete or I am being too sensitive, but we need to ask ourselves if these issues have become really obsolete. Should we really not bother about these “banal” topics? Is it that the Achebes and the Tutuolas didn’t do enough? Why am I still being asked such condescending questions Achebe was asked in 1967? These men could only do so much, what about us?
Should we continue to blame the iniquitous British colony and western media for painting Africa in any light they see fit?
This is the 21st century, the age of a beast called the internet. The beast that allows one to go on a trip to anywhere in the world without moving an inch physically. Why are we not telling our own stories to the world? This is our job and we can’t leave it to “the others”. Writing is not the only weapon that can be used to achieve the results I/we desire. The African musical industry and the Nollywood have also done incredible jobs in telling African stories but their efforts alone are clearly insufficient to propagate the accuracy of our stories to all parts of the world.
While I quite agree you can only do so much, people will believe what they want to believe. Yet, I believe playing a part by telling these stories will go a long way in sowing a seed of truth even in the most obstinate of outsiders.
If I, in all the glory of my demureness, with but a few years in the west under my belt often come face to face with these experiences, I wonder how many times Africans abroad are being asked laughable questions about Africa on a daily basis.
A friend of mine, a fellow Yoruba man, the other day told an American that the Yoruba language is a dialect, I had to stop him right there, scowled at him and quickly corrected him, that Yoruba is a language and not a dialect. Many a time, this is how we create false impressions in the minds of highly impressionable people. How can you properly and accurately tell a story you know nothing about?
One of my favorite African proverbs goes thus; “until Lions learn to speak, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunters”. In this article-‘the secret to a promising future’, I talked about the importance of having an identity, of knowing who you are and where you are coming from, the importance of telling your own story.
Shame tries to keep us mum, but we need to rise above shame and tell our stories. We can’t afford to leave it to “the others”, else, we should be ready to embrace the damaging distortions to our stories as well as the labels we face every day.
Continue to Rest in Peace Chinua Achebe – The master storyteller
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5 thoughts on “We should all be Storytellers

  1. Roy says:

    An excellent write up bro and one question i pose to us africans is this how much do we know about our culture, historical background and language. We believe that by speaking english language makes us better than those that don’t. There’s more to our identity rather than what is being presented and while our media rep have a lot to do in the way African is being viewed from around the world the americans, chinese and the asians are also hypocrites in the way they view africa and africans in general.

    Like

    • Thank you for reading ROY. Take Nigeria for examples, history has been expunged from the classrooms so only those who want to know know. We can’t leave it to the media, writers, musicians etc because even some of these guys say and do whatever they have to say or do for monetary gains forgetting they represent a people one way or the other.

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  2. Ridwan Roy Yusuf says:

    To mention a few examples; my Chinese friend said he thought Africa was just a country in a bush with no roads. A Caucasian asked me where I learned how to use computers or the one who was stupefied on hearing there are “African writers”. A black American once asked me if I learned how to speak good English in America. The best reply to those would have been and u treeked from africa nad where there was water, u swam.
    You answer the bewildered caucasian that you learnt usage of calculator amd typewritter which was simillar to computer. And the black american, u ask him how he came to be cos in earliest history there was never a black american and how come he came to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Habeeb says:

    Kudos to you as usual bruv, my sincere opinion is that our history as africans is marred in serious ethnic conflict and wars. I also believe we must tell our story, we must control the narrative as a people, but the complexity of the issue at hand is that we’ve not grown beyond those problems and boarders associated with our history. Can you imagine after over 40years, nigerians still can’t tell the story of the civil war with a collective voice? if an igbo writes about it, everybody is responsible but the igbos. If a yoruba/ hausa writes about it, its the fault of the igbos. Personally, i believe the language with which to tell the story isn’t that much of a problem, like the authenticity and accuracy of the story. We have to teach this stories to ourselves first, before we can tell it to others.

    Liked by 1 person

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