Saturday, February 11

Moonlight Storytelling: How it promoted gender equality

Almost 3 decades ago, growing up as the eldest sibling of 3 now 5, I enjoyed listening to the evening moonlight tales from my parents. This ranged from womankind to mankind endeavors and resistance; Animals and non-animals engagement with humans. Like the stories of the ‘tortoise and the bird friends’, the ‘mother hen and the hawk’. 

However, storytelling remains Africa’s ancient heritage. Scholars in this field have written extensively on how storytellings resolved conflicts both at the family and community levels, united people and also instituted norms and customs. Through storytelling, they say; history was borne and the human race was taught to live in harmony. 

Early this month, I came up with this idea, just for fun and also to understand what young people think – Initially this essay was designed to get instant responses (reactions). That is firstly each person should recall at least a tale [s]he enjoyed most when they were children, and secondly to find out how each of the tales represented women. And also whether during storytelling moments, girls and boys were grouped separately, likewise women and men. 

Funny enough, I least expected that it will take over 4 days to complete this short essay. Since many people could hardly remember instantly. Some managed to recall the sitting environment like the locations, sitting postures, the time the stories were often told, the people but not the stories per se.  While others kept mixing up one story to another and yet not been able to complete a single story. As a result, of the 15 people I encountered, almost 2/3 had to reschedule me for another appointment. Which wasn’t my initial thought. However, the end was awesome. My sources became so excited and amazed at their childhood experience, and how lovely it used-to be. Many even questioned why this heritage suddenly disappeared.

Throughout my findings, I observed that different communities had different ways of telling stories. But what was common in all was the sitting a posture, which was always in circles and on the ground, outsides the houses the time too was evening hours.And while for me, it was usually at home outside. Others had particular storytelling sites. 

Personally, I recalled how each day as the sun sets, and the night drew thicker and darker. We [my family] would gathered outside of the house, sited in a circle, positioned in a strategic corner where we could see the main road as the numerous cars drove passed by, and in case we were to be visited we could site our guest from a far.  And at our center we gathered and burned firewood on nights which were too dark or when the mosquitos’ bites became unbearable. 

While for Osyta, at Oroko clan, Mbonge- Weme. Storytellings weremostlytold only in mami-pikin’shouseespecially if it was a first child(‘mami-pikin’ is a local meaning for a woman who has just given birth)”.
Osyta says;“in the 80s, and late 90s, every evening round 7:30 to 8:00 pm, people will come tomami-pikin house. Kids like us would sit on the ground(uncemented floor), while the elders sit on the stool discussing over a jug of palm wine drink and cola-nuts or eating boiled groundnuts. Gradually, stories begin to popup until the storytellers would take the turn”. 

For Rein, her grandfather and grandaunt were the village story tellers. Every evening, she says; “we[the villagers] will climb up to the hilly mud-thatch hut where my grandparents live, and formed one large circle which we lighted with the only kerosene lamp [s]he had. And on other occasions, we used a trocar (A Trocar is a 500g even-shaped glass bottle Lamp Light filled with kerosene and a single twine that is raised up to the specially design lid, used for combustion). And kids, adults and other elderly people would sit on the ground on plantain leaves-covers silently listened to Pa / Ma speaks. The one thing I enjoy is how they convinced their audiences. And sometimes they would provide evidence to make us believe that their tales isn’t just fiction but reality. For example, I recalled clearly the day, my aunt stood up and pointed at the moon saying:  “Look. Can you see Mary, Jesus’ mother and Jesus in her arms, watching over us on earth?” This was after my grandfather had told us about a woman, who was a fire maker capable of producing fire even under heavy rain falls. And thanks to the fire woman her community became the first to illuminate at nights within that locality and at day time, the glowing fire became an ornamented gas”.   

Recollecting each and every one’s experience, and reflecting back, as a child with no knowledge about the so called gender concepts; masculinity and feminism; women and maleness because the teachings promoted an inclusive society. Like men, women were brave figures, security providers, discoverers, inventors, and change agents. And violence, discrimination or cruelties were considered as evil and certainly never encouraged.
The question therefore is how can we restore this fading culture? Or would reviving this heritage be a set forward in re-building and living the reality of those tales where equality is center and evil never triumphs?