Tue | Jan 15, 2019

For the Reckord | A good week for storytelling

Published:Friday | December 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Yohan Reynolds, a student of the School of Drama, plays Ananse at one of the storytelling sessions.
Malachi Smith reading poems at the School of Drama.

Last week was a good one for storytelling in Jamaica. It began with a Sunday morning church service at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living on Fairway Avenue, attended by members of Ntukuma Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica, including the founder, Dr Amina Blackwood Meeks.

The following day, Monday, November 20, saw the celebration of National Storytelling Day with storytelling taking place in all parish libraries. On Wednesday, Blackwood Meeks led a planning session on the future of the foundation with some of its members and others interested in storytelling.

The group included Sharma Edmondson, a senior librarian of the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) one of the partners of Ntukuma (along with the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica) in the sponsoring of Ananse Soundsplash, the foundation's annual storytelling festival. It focuses, says Blackwood Meeks, "on the unique value of Jamaica's rich oral tradition and its potential for enhancing national development."

When Edmondson revealed that JLS librarians around the island have regular storytelling sessions for children, Blackwood Meeks offered to give them formal training in the art. Strategies to promote storytelling discussed by the group included having 'pop-up' storytelling at large gatherings, setting up a website, getting Jamaican stories on YouTube and producing a CD of stories.

According to Blackwood Meeks, the location of Ananse SoundSplash in the month of November allows for its contribution to Youth and Community Month and Parenting Month locally, and Tellabration, the international celebration of storytelling which happens in November.

The festival's major objectives are to encourage storytelling encounters between senior citizens and younger members of Jamaican communities in and outside public libraries as a recreational and educational activity and, more broadly, to promote our oral tradition as a tool for education and national development.




Blackwood Meeks said the festival takes the form of a road show with eight legs. On Thursday, there were storytelling activities in several colleges in the Corporate Area and its environs.

I went to the one in the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre in the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts School of Drama. Visiting schoolchildren were entertained with stories by Blackwood Meeks and a number of students at the College.

In the same theatre on the next day, there was a performance/reading by a different sort of storyteller, Miami-based dub poet Malachi Smith. This time drama school students formed the audience a very appreciative one, of more adult fare than they had offered the schoolchildren the day before.

Smith's topics included war, reggae music (this came as a homage to Bob Marley and the Wailers), the harm done to the young by overexposure to television, a mad street person, and his deceased grandfather.

And on Sunday, November 26 - to stretch the week by a day - School of Drama graduate Samantha Thompson appeared in the 60-seat Blue Room of the Phoenix Theatre, Haining Road, in what she told me would be the first in her annual one-woman shows. The show, Sever the Tie, comprises about 15 skits, dealing with the pain of life in the inner city.

Its main topics are the promiscuity of the young men in the area, their casual abuse of their women and the agony the actress has endured all her life because so many around her mock her extra-large size.

Perhaps because the show was produced by the Freedom Ministry church and directed by Pastor Cornelius Brown, it with a straightforward sermon, a sharp departure from the fictionalised stories Thompson had been telling previously.