The story that lives within…
During September of this year, the Storytelling Event brought to the school by the English Institute, featured the unique performance of Usifu Jalloh “The Cowfoot Prince.” I had been assigned the task of introducing his act to the children and when the moment came, I was definitely unprepared. I thought he was going to be the regular kind of storyteller that I am used to, but he exceeded all my expectations. I emerged from the School library mesmerized by the charisma of this man from foreign lands.
What I witnessed there, surrounded by all those bookshelves, just blew my mind. Such was his energy and the power of the message he carried with him that I melted into the sea of wide-eyed student faces and allowed myself to be amazed and delighted by the connection with history, roots and old tales this show awoke in me. He began with music and music played the entire time. We found ourselves clapping and swaying our bodies to the beat of his drumming. He transported us to the very villages where the tales took place and we saw the women and men, tasted the fruit, touched the trees and even felt the soil beneath our bare feet. We burst out laughing and were jolted upright in surprise. His voice was a distant echo from the motherland and yet it was as vibrant and present as that day’s sun.
Later on, days later actually, I was still digesting the event, wondering what had made this performance different from what I had heard before. I knew it wasn’t just the music and the humor; I had seen something else. This man had really wanted to leave a message imprinted in the hearts of our children. But how can one storyteller do that? Where does that interest and passion come from? What happens with the message after the carrier is gone? I decided then that, rather than merely ponder these questions alone, I would make it my mission to get to know the person who could answer them.
That is how I learned Usifu is a proud Sierra Leonean man who has been through tough experiences in life. It’s just that when you hear him, it is not the voice of a wounded soldier that you hear but the chant of the warrior. He came from being an African boy with dreams, fears and maybe a sealed fate but he defied destiny and rose above difficult circumstances. Today he is widely known in his homeland and many other places around the world as a storyteller whose talent for devising multisensory and participatory activities in his performances makes the audience experience unforgettable. His background as an actor, dancer and musician brings authentic, high quality entertainment to his show, but it’s his insight into the world and the acknowledgement of his own responsibility as an educator and motivator that makes the audience open their eyes and listen closely to what he has to say.
Usifu puts himself into his words. He spoke to our children about his continent, his country, his traditions and rites in a way in which they could feel he was talking about something they could relate to. He universalizes his stories by relating them to current issues that we, as a globalized society, tend to overlook sometimes. He reminded us of the wisdom of our ancestors and through his interaction with students he got me thinking about the importance of storytelling in the context of education.
As teachers, we face the constant challenge of surprising and motivating our students. In our daily struggles we often ignore that it’s only our inner storyteller that can really reach those minds and souls. Listening to Usifu’s amazing stories I realize that we need to rediscover that magic and wisdom inside, to connect with that ancient voice that speaks from times past, not only to “entertain” and motivate students, but also to truly awake in them the desire and passion for fulfilling their potential and mission and transforming this world.
If you want to know more about Usifu (what am I writing… of course you will!) please visit his Website http://www.usifujalloh.com/ and enjoy!
Written by JULIANA PINEDA