Tell Me Somethin' Good:
Storytelling From Africa to America
There were two mischievous boys who decided they would fool the old wise man of the community. “He thinks he's so smart, ” they thought. “We will trick him. ” One day, they decided they would show him a bird in their hands and ask him, ”This bird in my hands, is it dead or alive? “They agreed that if the old man replied “It is dead” they would let the bird go free, but if he answered “It is alive, ” they would crush the bird. So they went to the old man and posed the question: “Old man … Old man, this bird that we hold in our hands, is it dead or alive?” Without a pause the old man responded, “It's in your hands. ”
Fannie Lou Hamer, a grass roots civil rights activist, told this story more than 40 years ago to motivate civil rights workers to fight for social justice for African Americans. This same story motivates the research and writing of this book on the importance of storytelling in the lives of children, especially African American children, from the ages of 6 to 10 years old.
Storytelling in the African American community traveled a long way from Africa to United States. In West Africa, storytelling was one of the cultural and social practices that Africans participated in during various aspects of their daily lives. The art of storytelling was used both to teach and to comfort members of the community. Storytelling helped to preserve history-of one's self, one's family, and one's ethnic group. Among the ancient stories retold today are those about creation and the tales of gods. As an example, we have an excerpt from “How Sky and Earth Became One: A Yoruba Creation Story, ” told by Ralph Cheo Thurman (cited in Williams, 1997)) which illustrates a community's belief of a spiritual beginning:
On creation eve, Obatala and Orunmilla sat in the perfect light of the sky as they looked down at the earth, into the mysterious and dark domain of the sea goddess, Olokun. Obatala sat on a throne made from a huge elephant tusk; Orunmilla's throne, made from a