The Griot's Tale


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I saw my children enter my humble abode earlier this morning, with sullen expressions on their face. I was confused. “What is wrong young ones?” I inquired as they were quite happy yesterday yet in despair today. The eldest and self-proclaimed wisest of them responded to me “Why are we here? Why must we waste our time learning and telling needless fables.” I looked at them, and then let a rueful smile appear on my face.” It is time for you to sit down. Quickly! Come on, in a circle” As the last one began to sit down, I looked at them in the face, and I spoke. “Let me tell you all a story, back when I was a youth, many rainy seasons ago...
“It is time for you to learn the stories, young one.” I was not ready for the master griot to tell me this, but it was inevitable. When I was apprenticed to him around 5 blue moons earlier, it was with the intentions of being able to learn the histories of our people, of our great city Ife. I was specially picked by our towns Babalawo to be the keeper of our tales. He saw within me the markings of the great griots of the past, but I never understood what he meant.
“Why must I waste my time with these tall tales? Why can I not live with the rest of the men, and hunt the great beasts, and give my people great honor? Why can I not farm yams on a great estate, or build a great monument? Why must I instead learn some tall tales that are only good for children and old wives?” The wise griot then looked at me, not with anger or with disappointment like I expected from him, but with an almost relieved look on his face. He then began to laugh.
“Ah yes, I can see why the Babalawo picked you to be a griot. He said you would be the greatest one we have had in generations, since the golden time of Ife-Ife” The griot then sat on the stool that faced the opening of his domicile and began to ask me the questions that would change my life.
“Who made you?” I sharply retorted “My Mother and Father of Course”. He then asked, “Who made them?” “Their parents of course”. We pontificated on this for hours, before we finally reached the point he wanted to make. “Now answer this, who made the first man?” I was stumped. “I don’t know, The Orishas?” I responded meekly. Instead of continuing on this thread further, he instead asked me the next question.
“Where are we?” we pontificated once more, Ife, the center of our people the Yoruba, and then once more I was stumped. He then hit me with the most powerful question in his arsenal. “Why are you here?” I had no idea, I was speechless. I could not even think of a good retort.
The griot then began a short speech “As humans we are not smart enough to even begin to conceptualize our place in this universe. But when they, the great Olodumare breathed the Emi-- life breath-- into us, we were allowed to use our divinely inspired gifts in order to understand the world and understand ourselves. This is why it is key for you to become a griot, as others must know how important it is to understand their role in the creation, and for them to have a purpose in their life. This is just as important as being any farmer, hunter, or master builder, knowing where you belong and who you are.”
“So, I am here because I am smart”
“You are entrusted with the stories because you realize that the story is not for the teller, but for the listener. Do you remember how much you laughed when I told you the story of the great Trickster Elegua”?
“Yes”
“And do you remember how much the toddlers laughed when you told them that same story?”
“They were quite amused”
“This is why you must learn these ‘old wives’ tales’, he gestured with his hands to mock my stupidity, “to provide a firm root, so that strong people can grow”
So now I ask you my students, are you ready to learn the stories of our people?” As the Yesses began to rain over my ears, a smile began to appear on my face.
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