“Tales By Moonlight” Showcases African Literature and Folktales

Rosie Black, Production Manager

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“You have an event in your life that wakes you up, and not just you but all the people around you,” College sophomore Sophie Umazi Mvurya said, explaining why she’d chosen to read a passage from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus. The setting was “Tales by Moonlight,” a low-key and eclectic reading sponsored by the African Students’ Association as part of Africa Week; Mvurya was one of many students who took to the Cat in the Cream stage Tuesday night to share their diverse selections. Selections were drawn from both modern literary sources and traditional folktales, and although the evening got off to a rocky start, it eventually found a sweet spot in the combination of the readers’ personal flair and their powerful content.

The first few readers seemed a little nervous, talking quickly and fidgeting with their pages. After introducing the event, College senior and second-generation Sierra Leonean Miata Rogers flew through two poems by Syl Cheney-Coker, a native of Sierra Leone who has lived in exile for most of his life. Although Rogers’s delivery was speedy and her explanations curt, the rhythm, lyricism and content of the poems managed to impress upon the audience the complex anxiety of the exiled.

The discussion of outsiders’ anxiety continued with College sophomore and secondgeneration Nigerian Mayowa Afolayan’s reading of a poem by May Ayim. Afolayan explained that Ayim was an Afro-German, born to a German mother and a Ghanaian father who were not permitted to keep her. Like many Afro-German children born after World War II when American soldiers stationed in Germany began having German children, Ayim was put up for adoption and separated from her family. The poem Afolayan read places Ayim with her African grandfather, although they are separated by space and time. In the poem, Ayim longs for her family to be reunited, and for her African family to impart its cultural rites to her in order to keep the traditions alive.

The prose selections, while still dealing with serious topics, were a change of pace from the poetry. The narrative flow was easier to pierce and absorb after the fast-flowing poems. Double-degree first-year Josh Biggs, from South Africa, read an excerpt from Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. The novel follows a priest from a small town who journeys to Johannesburg to try to recover his sister and son, only to find that they have both been corrupted by the workings of the big city. Biggs took his time reading the excerpts, giving a calm lilt to the descriptions of the countryside where Paton’s characters, and Biggs’s family, have lived for generations.

Native Kenyan Mvurya chose a prose selection, from Purple Hibiscus by Adichie, whose voice can be heard on Beyoncé’s hit track “***Flawless.” The novel is told from the perspective of the daughter of an incredibly religious Catholic man who isolates his children from their African heritage and beats his daughter for defying him. Mvurya read a potent and violent scene in which the narrator realizes that she wants to learn more about her family’s culture and is willing to take a beating in order to do so.

Among the serious literary recitations, the folktales were easily the most fun to listen to and got the crowd chuckling on many occasions, especially when the performers themselves made comments on what they were reading. Mvurya and College sophomore and native Kenyan Anne Chege prefaced their reading of a Maasai folktale, “The Elephant and the Hare,” by informing the audience that African mothers use folktales to teach their children lessons. The energy of the reading was palpable, and the audience expressed its entertainment with a smattering of giggles. They responded similarly to College junior and native Ghanaian Gifty Dominah’s reading of “Thunder and Anansi,” a tale about a mischievous spider to whom Thunder gives a gift — a pot that produces food endlessly — so that the spider’s family will have food to eat. In the middle of her reading, Dominah exclaimed, “He’s so wrong!” when Anansi decided to save the pot for his personal use. This outburst kept the crowd laughing, and her colorful, dramatic delivery kept the mood lighthearted and her listeners interested.

Some readers struggled to pace themselves and appeared eager to get offstage, while others took their time, which helped the audience appreciate the literature that they read. Throughout all of the readings, however, the continuity between the piece and the reader made the performances personal, while simultaneously calling attention to broad social, cultural and political issues affecting Africans.

The ASA will host two more events during Africa Week. The first, a lecture by Bloomsburg University Professor of Politics and Public Administration Dr. George Agbango titled “The Technology Divide and the Brain-Drain in Africa,” will take place in Wilder 101 at 6:30 p.m. this Friday. The second is the ASA’s annual banquet, Pan-Africa, which will take place on Saturday at 7 p.m. All proceeds from the event will go to the Yakubu Saaka Scholarship Fund, which fully funds the Oberlin tuition of an African student.

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