SOSC 4319
2003 - 2004

Group Project








The Storyteller

The storyteller is among the most esteemed figures in the oral tradition. Before the advent of printers or even writers, there was the storyteller. She embodied ancestral wisdom and the joyful passing down of knowledge from generation to generation. Her art involved taking commonly understood notions of daily life and weaving in colourful characters to create a splendid fabric of drama and action in a form that the littlest of people could appreciate and enjoy. The power of the storyteller is her ability to give life to her folktales so that her audience can suspend their disbelief and experience the vivacity of the imagination.

In the West African tradition, the storyteller was usually grandma. Her audience would usually comprise of her grandchildren and their close friends and relatives. Storytelling, for this reason, have usually been associated with heritage, proverbs and old sayings. The most popular Ghanaian folktales are Ananse stories, which find their roots in Ghana and were taken by enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Ananse tales are loved because the audience is usually eager to learn what schemes the crafty protagonist Ananse will come up with and the suspense is heightened even further since the audience does not know whether or not grandma will make Ananse successful. Such is the delight of Ananse stories that they can be considered a genre of their own. In pastimes, children would ask grandma not just for any tale, but specifically for an "Ananse story." Ananse stories have survived four hundred years of slavery in the Caribbean through oral tradition. Certainly, the content of folktales told in the Caribbean have changed significantly from the original versions told in Ghana. But has the unique form of Ananse stories changed? Indeed, African storytellers have adapted their tales to changing political and social environments but it could be argued that these changes have just made their tales all the more richer and meaningful within the familiar form known to Ananse lovers.

Today, grandma's tales are recorded in books. The story, without the storyteller, is a sweet sorrow to folklore. Grandma's voice has ebbed to the background and has been replaced by ink and vivid illustrations on paper; illustrations that marvel the little ones and urge them to ask Mommy or Daddy to read them a bedtime tale.


Photo of legendary storyteller Louise Bennet Coverley courtesy of Haile Clacken










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