When I was a little girl, we grew up on folk stories as is typical with every African child in my time. We were always excited when we found adults who were willing to spare their precious time to tell us a story or two. It was most interesting to listen to these stories immediately after supper, so that it would be the last thing in your head, you took to bed. The fascination would linger as you were lulled to sleep, while your innocent imagination is awe-struck on the possibility of the events.
No African folklore would be complete without the Tortoise Stories or what happened to a disobedient or curious child. These stories as ridiculous as they may sound now were laden with moral lessons which helped mould the character of the African child, so that an African child was always dependent on the wisdom of his parents; totally obedient and less curious.
I remember when I was 8 years old; my mother would give me something wrapped in an old newspaper to throw in the refuse bin. She would wrap it in the shape of a giant candy and warn me never to open it. Naturally I was curious to know what was inside, so curious that I almost opened it one day to take a peek. But my curiosity was always checked by those stories of how disobedient children got punished and obedient ones got rewarded. So when I turned 11 and had my first period, my mother told me to let her know when my sanitary pad got soaked so she’ll show me how to dispose of it. She wrapped it in an old newspaper in the shape of a giant candy and told me to throw it in a refuse bin. It was then I knew what she was always sending me to throw away.
I shiver to imagine how I would have handled what I had seen if my curiosity had gotten the better of me that day. Of course my mother would have known I had disobeyed her from the screams I would have let out thinking she was dying from losing so much blood. The time I knew the truth was the best time.
It’s always a thing of pride when you see a young adult turn out well; not sucked in by the craziness of the world. It feels much better to realise that to a great extent our rich African values were responsible for this positive outcome. I don’t know about you but I love who I am, whom I’ve become and what I’m aiming to be. I don’t look into the mirror and hate who I see. I see a woman who had a happy childhood, who grew up in a supportive African society where I was everyone’s child and everyone cared about what I did. I see a woman beaten by weather and swept into the desert. She has experienced the pain of loss. She has laughed with her friends and cried with them. She has brought forth life and nurtured it. Yet you can never see the battle scars on her face because she is a strong and brave African woman. The pain is in her heart but her heart has the power to rebound. I see a beautiful woman, a perfect desert bloom.
Let’s pass on the legacy our ancestors bequeathed us – our African values, the power of resilience and imagination. Our children’s survival depends on it. It’s our watch now and the world keeps getting crazier and crazier. Teach your children, nieces and nephews the value of obedience and respect for elders. Teach them to be bold and fearless. Make their ears appreciate the sound of African drums and the freedom it unleashes in our spirit. Teach them our folklore, but above all, impart in them our African Pride.
Written By: Peace Ben Williams
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Sculpture Credit: The Chicago Museum
Keeping Our African Values ©2012
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