Fri | Apr 20, 2018

An islandwide vision of stories

Published:Friday | April 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica director Bernard Jankee gives his perspective on storytelling and the community.
Director, public library network, Kishma Simpson (left) accepts two story CDs from storyteller Amina Blackwood Meeks.
Library research assistant and actor Jerry-Neal Richards relates a true story at the storytelling workshop held at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew, last month.

"We have a vision that on November 20, our National Storytelling Day, which is also UNESCO's Universal Children's Day, all our children across Jamaica - in schools, churches, institutions, hospitals, wherever they are - will be involved in storytelling activities."

Storyteller Amina Blackwood Meeks outlined that vision to a group of librarians at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library, Tom Redcam Drive, last month at a seminar on Storytelling and National Development. It was organised by Blackwood Meeks (until recently director of culture in the Ministry of Education). The seminar was presented by Ntukuma; the Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica, which Blackwood Meeks founded and heads; and the Jamaica Library Service (JLS).

National Storytelling Day will again be part of the National Storytelling Festival, hosted annually by Ntukuma. While thanking the JLS for last year's contribution, Blackwood Meeks called on the librarians to help realise her vision for 2016.

Blackwood Meeks emphasised the importance of stories, which are part of "our indigenous knowledge system". She added that "every Jamaican is a storyteller and we tell stories every day", encouraging librarians to write stories for young readers. She said good stories "say something" which the children should understand, though they could be encouraged to decide on its meaning.

Blackwood Meeks, librarian Kaydene Leachman and library research assistant Jerry-Neal Richards told stories, Blackwood Meeks also singing songs related to stories.


Blackwood Meeks said that, in Haiti, stories begin with "Tin Tin"; in Grenada, with "Crick Crack"; and in Nigeria, among the Yoruba people, with "This is a story". The English beginning "Once upon a time" originated in 1879 with story collector Sidney Addey, Blackwood Meeks said.

She said the traditional Yoruba ending is "I put it on you", meaning the story is to be passed on. In Barbados and Grenada, endings refer to "jumping on de wire and de wire can't ben'", while in Jamaica, it is "Jack Mandora, mi nuh choose none". Blackwood Meeks explained that a mandora coconut is very big and the ending could refer to the story's importance.

Anancy stories often have songs and riddles, Blackwood Meeks continued, and usually present a problem to be solved or a difficulty to be overcome.

Some of the types of stories to be told are of family, historical events and annual occasions like Christmas, International Women's Day and Earth Day. Stories can be about our traditions, athletes, food, famous places like Spanish Town and Port Royal and our music. Blackwood Meeks also informed the audience that Ghanaians say the only story you can tell with integrity is "your own story, the one you love."

She cautioned that some stories need to be cleaned up for children, advising that violent ones should be avoided. "I wouldn't write a story about Anancy killing somebody, for traditionally, he never did that. He tricked them. You must be true to the form you're using," Blackwood Meeks said.

Director of the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ), Bernard Jankee, expressed delight that Ntukuma is trying to bring people together in an atmosphere that promotes understanding of self and one's place in society. He told the librarians that there is a lot of material for stories at the ACIJ in audio, print and video forms, inviting them to utilise it.