Oritsegbemi Emmanuel Jakpa was born in Warri, Nigeria, studied at the University of Lagos and the University of Iowa, and is currently living in Ireland where he is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at the Waterford Institute of Technology.
Oritsegbemi's Thoughts on African Stories:
When we hear music, we respond with feelings. Music is an active process going back and forth back and forth, for the same reason that we dance to hip hop. Storytelling has the ability to create this oscillatory exchange, visual classroom of mutual active participation, that neither detachment nor attention deficiency is possible. Scholars have widely documented how such environment nourishes the stems of childhood education, and promotes the fecundity of the mind.
While anyone is free to pursue the notion that we are made of stories, that our past, present and future are glued together by stories, I would not say whether this is so but that there are stories everywhere around us; stories even in the closed business of creatures that do not use words.
I allude here to Anansi the Blind Fisherman, among a string of stories called Anansi and the Spider, forged from the most banal observances. As we know, this and many other African stories were kept alive over generations by orally transmitting them.
For hardly anywhere could stories be of immediate value than in Africa where tendencies abound in the culture of our people to relay advice in an intrusive and instructive mode, as obviously observed about the ways parents articulate admonitions, sometimes accompanied with physical chastisement. Teachers till this day carry canes to school to punish any truancy and disobedience. Our forefathers full of wisdom understand the time and timeless importance to have handy a 'low-key' alternative in articulating advice or warnings. Anansi the Blind Fisherman comes as one of those rare classics of example.
I believe as more people shy away from confrontational claims, such stories popularity will grow, will become more reliable vehicles and efficient transporting mediums for articulating advice, warning, culture, etc. Recently, I met a lady in her mid 30s who has never married. She told me she doesn't want any one to tell her how to live her life. We could associate with such an instance, and within the near circle of our companies, people that seem to appreciate the relative comfort and mental security of speaking and writing behind the hard firewall of 'I think'.
"Tell it veiled," seems to be the motto. So the people have to opt out of the message contained in it if they want, rather than being made to opt in. Common sense obviously points in this direction. Anansi the Blind Fisherman tells how Anansi both old and blind with the help of two good men was able to do fishing. They lead him to and out of the canoe every morning and every evening in that order. They told him where to cast his net and when to pull it in, among other things they did for him, but Anansi never returned their help with thanks; on some occasions he claimed even to know what they know in his blindness. One day, when they told him "Here we are at the beach," He promptly retorted that they were foolish to tell him a thing he knew so well. But he did not know they had settled in their mind to abundantly punish him. He then stepped out of the canoe arrogantly, expecting to land on the shallow river bank. To his sad dismay he found himself drowning. The two men paddled off quickly as he drowned to death.
The lesson pops up clearly, but to say it clear in prose, 'you should always thank your helpers' might encourage some ill sentiment in some people that are uncomfortable in taking in advice.
Of course the telling of such stories as a medium of articulating advice, wisdom, culture, etc. in Africa has reached its low-water mark. Not every one of the stories sticks in the mind to start with, and not many of them translate so easily into digestible and practical messages. And sometimes when they do, the importance of those messages tend to occupy a back seat, because they are just stories; and sometimes that should be swallowed with salt. I silently ponder here the comparative impart of Christ's proverbs and the Ten Commandment, or the Sermon on the Mount.
In short, the Internet continues to shift the world to, and drift it on, a newer curve. We hope that web addresses like One Ghana, One Voice will make retelling our great stories more exciting. We call for more critical attention to be allowed to African stories; as a lens to magnify the understanding of African cultures, and a tool for growing and weeding African literature.