I want to talk about our African stories.
I dont think I have completely cracked the code but there is something I want to dig into here.
I have this theory that it is the power of words and stories that build strong people, businesses and cultures.
These stories create paths for people to aspire to and follow.
Stories are the one of the most powerful ways of communicating and passing on information. Jesus himself taught by telling stories. Stories are why word of mouth marketing is so powerful. It is simply people passing on stories. Stories connect with us on an emotional level. Stories are memorable. The kind of story you create is what determines how you feel or how you respond react and receive. We shape our world with the stories we tell and the stories we receive and believe.
A good story is not just a narrative, it is an interpretation of concepts and ideas. It informs the way we perceive the world and interact in it. It becomes a part of who we are and helps us interprete and adapt to the world around us. That is why they say reading your bible builds your faith. It’s the stories.
Stories appear to be external but they are profoundly internal. They shape our beliefs and habits and ultimately our culture.
This is obvious on a personal level but I submit to you that it is also on a cultural level.
You see, we have been quick to abandon our own stories as Africans and adopt the stories of strangers that don’t know us or care to know us. We have believed without questioning that the “modern” way of doing things is always the better way. We have disdained and dismissed our own stories as having no real value.
The fact is we have so much to offer the world.
Our perspective, our ways, our food, our music our values, our crazy sense of humour, our sense of tradition, our sense of style and fashion, our family values… We must not be so quick to say “this is old fashioned” or this is so “local/country/archaic”. Our ways of doing life and family should not be brushed aside. Our inventions and customs deserve to be celebrated.
When we are quick to criticise ourselves and then turn around and declare the “western” way as always better then we are not telling a good story.
We can still recapture the essence of who we are as africans and build up our value and our pride by simply reframing our stories and blending them into our modern reality to make them a part of a better future.
It is a fact that when you look for the bad you will always find it and when you expect good you always find it. We can start by opening our eyes to see the good in us. And that includes our interesting, crazy and quirky stories.
The other day I bought something that is commonly used for house cleaning. I looked at it and decided to tell a good story about it. This is how I described this cleaning implement:
- Environmentally friendly
- child friendly
- easy to use
- easy to store
- easy to clean
- trusted by millions of homes
- needs no electricity
- aids in exercise and flexibility
- kills insects
- cleans cobwebs
- reaches places where vacuum cleaner cant reach…
Do you know what I was describing?
The African broom!
Our local broom. Something that is so common that we don’t give it a second thought. But this is just a simple example of re-imagining and repackaging and telling a better story. The words I used above have added value to this ordinary broom and what’s more, every word is true.
What if we spoke so well of this broom that everyone in the world wanted to have one in their home? If you look at the description above, who wouldn’t want to have a house cleaner like that?!?!?!???
The broom is just one small example of an African “thing”. But I dont see it in the house of any westerners. Why is this? Because we don’t tell the story. Because we don/t “package” it. Because we despise it – we don’t value it.
This is not about brooms. This is about your story. This is about valuing the things we take for granted. This is about changing the way we tell our stories. By the words we use and by what we believe about ourselves. as individuals and as a people.
When I think of the difference between us as Africans and the rest of the western world, I believe one of the most profound differences is that they tell a better story and they value their stories. Nobody came and said to them “you are great, I am going to call you Great Britain”. They stood up and called themselves great and that is what they became.
Living in the UK for over 10 years now I see that there is nothing extraordinary about the people here. They just value who they are and tell better stories and it becomes their reality.
I always used to find it amusing listening to British sports commentators.If you heard them talk about that one single athlete that won the only gold medal for their country, you would think they had won the entire olympics! In fact if you hear them talk about the british lady that came fourth in the marathon you would forget all about the ethiopians and kenyans that took gold silver and bronze! On the other hand, we as africans have become so used to criticising and putting one another down it is practically second nature…
But all is not lost. We can change our story.
This is the case I make. We have mistakenly thought that it was strength and brainpower and wealth that we need as a people but I think it is the ability to tell good stories that makes these nations stand out.
Over the years we have adopted and adapted western stories and made them ours. So much so that we stopped valuing our own stories. As Africans, we need to find and remind and remake our own stories and more importantly TELL our stories.
Hear me please. I am not talking politics or race here. To be honest, this is not just for Africans. I am talking about you as a person. In your family. At work, at home and in your community. I’m talking about valuing who we are and not being afraid or ashamed to share it with the world.
We have good stories. From our past, present and our future. we need to tell them, record them and value them. We cant go back into the past but we can open our eyes to see the best in ourselves and give it a voice, package it and present it to the world.
Eme Bassey is a storyteller. She helps individuals and organisations tell better stories with web design, website makeovers, social media strategy and book publishing. Contact her at email@example.com