Over 2000 kilometers traveled, two four wheel drive vehicles damaged due to terrible road conditions, over 50 ancestral stories recorded in Ewe and translated into English. Two intrepid travelers bent on their task, both now exhausted physically and mentally. It's been quite a journey!
I chatted with Godfried this morning (at 2am my time here in Indiana). He sent me a photo of the Land Cruiser and its battered driver's side door, which he said had almost fallen off on the rough roads and now needs to be replaced - along with gear box problems (again due to the road conditions). I know this vehicle well. It's rugged and tough. But it sounds like Ghana's roads got the better of it this time. The first vehicle, another four wheel drive Toyota, was damaged during Godfried's scouting expedition and he had to return to Accra to pick up the Land Cruiser! Godfried said that he decided against going back to some of the more remote places where he'd found storytellers during the scouting because of the roads. "Gail will tell you all about the roads," he says, and I'm sure she will!
All the translations are done, but they'll go through them again before Gail leaves tomorrow afternoon. Godfried wants to be sure he's conveyed the nuances of words and phrases that have no direct English translation. And once Gail recovers from her flight home, she'll be starting the next phase of the project - transcribing Godfried's words and putting the stories into book form. I haven't heard any of the stories yet, and I am so anxious to know what the storytellers shared.
I'm glad Gail's gotten to see some beautiful and culturally important sites, interspersed with hard work. Yesterday, Godfried tells me they drove to Cape Coast and Elmina, where one can tour two of the 30+ slave castles that dot the coast of Ghana. These are both World Heritage sites and the tours of the slave dungeons are heart-wrenching. I'm sure this was a moving experience for Gail, as it never fails to be for anyone visiting there. Today, they were planning a more relaxing day (if there is such a thing in Accra's traffic!). Godfried sent me the photo above later this morning, taken right outside the Arts Market in Accra. I hope Gail found the perfect souvenirs of her journey in Ghana. They sure do look wiped out though!
As I type this, I'm sure they're sound asleep by now. If they have the energy for it, they'll record their own reflections on the project and the journey tomorrow, before they depart for the airport. It feels like yesterday that I was so concerned that Gail would have difficulty with immigration officials when entering Ghana - now she's about to leave, having seen and experienced so much. I bet her experiences will make their way into her own storytelling and writing!
Godfried and I gave each other high-fives (on WhatsApp of course!). Gail, Godfried, Angelo, (and me) - job well done, team!
Help us support a continuation of this project with your donation! Here's the LINK to our donation page on the Healthy Villages, Inc. website.
Godfried's 19 year old son Angelo is the third team member, and we had a chance to chat on Messenger a couple evenings ago. I was really interested to hear his thoughts about the trip and the project. Here's a somewhat paraphrased interview!
Me: Tell me a little about how the trip is going for you.
Angelo: It's been good. I've really enjoyed the views and seeing our tourist sites. I've never been to these places before!
Me: What has been your favorite location?
Angelo: The Monkey Sanctuary. We need to preserve nature, and having some good interactions with friendly animals are so wonderful. They are so lovely to be with.
Me: What sorts of things have you been doing on the trip?
Angelo: Not much. I help pack and unpack stuff, and take some pictures at vantage points.
Me: Helping to pack and unpack is really helpful! I'm glad you are there to help out. Is there anything about the project itself that you've found interesting?
Angelo: Yes! It's wonderful to hear these stories again. Now that my dad is translating them and I hear them in English, I remember hearing some of them when I was just five or six years old. I don't remember who was telling them, it was a long time ago. I haven't heard them since then. It makes me happy to hear these stories.
Me: I think all kids love hearing stories, and hopefully this project will make it possible for kids to hear the stories again.
Angelo: Surely. We hope for that.
In addition to continuing the work of translating the stories, I hear (via Angelo) that they had an interview with a fetish priestess today! But now our internet connection seems to have died, so I'll have to report on that another day!
The team (Gail, Godfried and Angelo - Godfried's son) are in the town of Agbozume in the southern Volta Region now. They traveled out to some remote villages today. I had a chance to chat via WhatsApp with Gail this evening (their time) so I'm going to cobble together a sort of interview and throw in a few pics from past travels (they haven't been able to send me any pictures yet!) Agbozume is the heart of Healthy Villages, Inc.'s medical outreach work and I know it well - I even know the guy Gail was talking to earlier who offered her land if she wants to move to Ghana (I'm laughing - that guy is a piece of work!)
Me: Hi Gail! How's it going over there?
Gail: Good. We're at the hotel in Agbozume now. We got lots of stories today. We went to two villages, and the storytellers poured a libation to begin.
Me: What's it been like for you, going out to the villages?
Gail: I've liked being in the villages, even though I can't understand what people are saying.
Me: How have the storytellers reacted to you?
Gail: They have been friendly. I take my cue from Godfried and share libations, and shake hands. The tellers are anxious to see the finished results. The tellers haven't told stories in so long, sometimes they get mixed up.
Me: Do you find yourself emotionally affected?
Gail: Yes. The boat ride down the Volta was like a homecoming. I felt as if I was being welcomed. I also felt honored to be offered freshly cooked food at one of the villages.
Me: What has been your favorite thing so far? What has been a challenge?
Gail: The monkeys were my favorite! I am enjoying everything, but it is fatiguing. The weather has been very hot, although it was cooler in the mountains. I drink a lot of water, although I am not happy about using all those plastic bottles! Well, I'm off to dinner now!
From experience I know that just when you think you have everything planned perfectly, something always comes up to prove you wrong! Godfried mentioned a major oversight - he can't listen to the recordings and be recorded doing the translation at the same time, on the same equipment! Having never done anything like this project before, this was obviously an issue we had overlooked! After meeting with storytellers earlier today, he drove back to Accra (about 3 hours at minimum) to get his laptop, and will drive back tomorrow morning (most likely starting off around 3am to avoid traffic!).
Fortunately, Gail will get a rest in an air conditioned hotel (provided the AC's functioning!). The next stop is another of my very favorite places in Ghana, an eco-lodge next to a salt water lagoon that's perfect for lazy floating. They'll have a couple more days of story gathering in villages in the area, and then four days to rest, swim, lounge in the hammocks, and enjoy yummy food and drinks. Oh - and to translate all those stories!
You can support this project! What is really needed right now is if you can take a moment to send prayers and positive energy to Godfried, Gail and Angelo. I know how exhausting their work has been, and any good vibes you can send their way will help them keep up their stamina for the rest of the trip. Thanks so much!
This project is touching the lives of so many people already, and it's really just begun. I'm thinking of the storytellers who haven't told their stories in so long, they struggle to remember them. What must it feel like to them to know that someone cares about the stories?!? That the stories will be preserved beyond their life span? That others will hear and learn from them? I find this deeply moving. You can help further this important work by making a donation toward the project. Whatever you donate will go directly to the storytellers, or will enable us to donate the finished book to village schools and to the Elders themselves. Here's the link to our donation page.
Gail's online right this moment and we're chatting about how the story collecting is coming along! They spent a couple of days at Tafi Atome village and monkey sanctuary. They were lucky enough to be there at the same time as a festival! The villagers were celebrating Kente cloth - a special kind of handwoven cloth. The different tribes in Ghana have their own tradition of cloth weaving, and each is recognizable as created in its own region of the country. Ewe Kente is known for special designs and motifs woven into the overall design.
Festivals in Ghana are very colorful affairs!
Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary is one of my favorite places in Ghana. The large land area is protected from poaching (yes, people eat monkeys in Ghana, although it's illegal to hunt them), and is home to around 500 Mona monkeys. A tour guide will take you on a walk through the rainforest, and the monkeys will come right down out of the trees to greet you! You can buy a bunch of bananas for the equivalent of about 25 cents, and when you hold the banana out, monkeys will jump on your arm and deftly peel the banana and eat it. One of the stories they heard this morning was about how the village came into being, and about the monkeys.
The village Elders had planned a storytelling session around the campfire last night, but there was a big thunderstorm and it was rained out. However, Gail says they had a wonderful storyteller this morning, and a big group of children enthralled with the stories! That's what it's all about!
Then they drove a relatively short distance to the village of Wli, where there are two enormous waterfalls. The village itself is very remote, down a long rutted dirt road. It sits at the edge of a range of mountains that separate Ghana and Togo. The lower falls are easily reached by taking a short hike through a beautiful rainforest, where you walk along a rushing river. The upper falls require stamina, as the hike is strenuous and nearly vertical! (I know, I've done it...!). Below is a photo of the landscape at Wli.
It's now early evening in Ghana, and they're out collecting more stories. Internet is quite limited out in these remote areas and I'm so anxious for them to get back to something like civilization so I can hear more of their reflections on the journey - and pass them along to you readers!
Thanks again for your interest in this project. It's been a long time coming and means so much to us and to so many people. If you're able to support the project financially, we would gratefully accept. Here's the LINK TO THE DONATION PAGE. Your support will help us cover over-budget expenses and future extensions of the project.
Gail arrived in Accra, Ghana just two days ago after a 24 hour journey. Her flight to Ghana was smooth and she had no difficulty with immigration and customs in Ghana. Godfried was waiting for her at the airport with a sign reading GAIL in big letters! Having made that trip many times myself, I'm sure Gail was wiped out, and there was still an hour and a half drive to her guesthouse in another part of the city. Godfried and his son Angelo, who is providing an extra set of hands during the story gathering, were up bright and early the next day after not much sleep - as was Gail. Off they went to their first stop around the town of Akosombo, at the edge of the Volta Region.
A little bit of background. Akosombo is the site of the Akosombo Dam and hydroelectric plant, which was built soon after independence from British colonial rule, taking place from 1961-1965. The damming of the Volta River formed Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. The formation of the lake flooded the land around the river and displaced 80,000 people, who were forcibly resettled. The Akosombo hydroelectric plant provides electricity to Ghana and neighboring countries.
A few years ago, Godfried and I visited a fishing village on the shores of Lake Volta. This village used to be a thriving little community. Besides fishing, large tourist boats provided income for the villagers. However, when we got there, Godfried was shocked to see that the water level had dropped so much that boat docks were suspended above the land by about ten feet. The community had been largely abandoned. Global climate change and lower rainfall are to blame.
But back to the storytelling project!
Our communication has been somewhat limited because of Ghana's on again, off again internet. But I was able to chat briefly with Godfried yesterday evening, Ghana time. He said there had been heavy rain and they weren't able to reach the community they intended to visit, which was a disappointment. However, the rainy weather gave them an opportunity to get some needed rest! Today they were able to reach their destination and had a very successful day. Again, he and I chatted only briefly, but I could hear his excitement. In Godfried's words, "today the storytellers were all smiling at us and very playful." What fun! Gail voice recorded the stories, and Godfried took the video. I can hardly wait to hear and see the storytellers in action!
Tomorrow they're driving on to the next location, at a monkey sanctuary in the rainforest! Stay tuned for updates!
If you can help support this project with a donation, we would be grateful! You can make a donation through PayPal by following THIS LINK.
It was an exciting scouting trip! Much to our delight, Godfried found Elders in communities in the Volta Region who are ready with lots of traditional stories. His focus was on visiting a variety of landscapes - mountains, lakes, waterfalls, forests and ocean - to find tales about these natural places. Among the locations Gail and Godfried will be visiting are Lake Volta, a monkey sanctuary in the rainforest, Volta River estuary, the highest waterfalls in Ghana, and the sea coast. Indeed, they will be traveling to some of the most beautiful places in Ghana.
Godfried had hoped to visit a sacred mountain, Mt. Afadjato, and its communities. However, due to recent heavy rains and mudslides, the mountain was inaccessible. A couple of tourist busses had gotten stuck in the deep mud and he didn't want to risk that! The busses won't be rescued until the ground dries out after the end of the rainy season - which could be a month away. Hopefully the tourists escaped unscathed - that was probably more excitement than they bargained for!
I think Gail and Godfried have their work cut out for them. We had estimated there would be 40-50 stories to record, but it looks like there will be more like 100. Of course some may be duplicates, but even at that, it will be interesting to hear different versions.
So right this very moment, Gail is waiting to board the flight for the first leg of her journey to Ghana! Godfried is probably sound asleep after a full day of running around, buying last minute needed items. We spoke on the phone almost every day in the past week, as one or the other of us had a question or thought of something else to discuss. Godfried's son Angelo will be going along to provide an extra set of hands. He's a city boy, and getting out in the traditional villages will probably be quite an experience for him too.
If you can support our project with a donation, we would greatly appreciate it. Any amount, large or small will help to defray some of the unexpected costs involved in carrying out this important project. You can access our DONATION PAGE HERE. Donations of $50 or more are tax deductible.
Each day I sit in meditation and open myself to Spirit, to the deities who I honor in my spiritual practice, to my Ancestors of blood and spirit. I’m pagan, and for me that means working with the gods and goddesses of the Celtic and Norse traditions – my genetic forebears. I feel emotional whenever I think about the implications of this project, because of the journeys of my Ancestors hundreds of years ago, to collect and write down the stories of my own people. It’s because of their curiosity and interest in the folklore of the past that my spiritual life is rich and meaningful. The myths and legends and sagas allow me to reach back into distant ages past, where the gods come to life and still inform my life today. I don’t know what I would do without these stories – I find them comforting and enriching.
It seems that in human history, ideas and beliefs wax and wane. The Nordic lands became Christianized a thousand or more years ago, and worship of the old gods slipped into the background. In the Celtic countries, it was five hundred years before that when Christianity became dominant. It’s been only in relatively recent times that some folks have been looking to our pre-Christian beliefs and practices as a way to connect with and heal ourselves and our Earth. The spiritual organization through which I received my training now has 25,000 members around the world. Wikipedia says there are a million neo-pagans in the U.S. The stories of our Ancestors are alive once again and making a difference in how we live today.
But back to the Voices of the Ancestors project. When we wrote the grants to fund the project, we planned to focus on preserving the myths and legends of a particular cultural group in Ghana, the Ewe; to transmit these stories in communities where storytelling is not a regular event, to archive the stories for future generations, and to share the wisdom in the stories with the wider world. We also wanted to learn if the stories contain teachings about caring for the environment, and if they do, to create lessons around the stories for schoolchildren in Ghana. We hope that through our work, this ancestral wisdom will be available to many people for all the years to come.
But the more I think about it, more layers of meaning of this project emerge.
Godfried is reconnecting with the wisdom of his own people and taking part in something that will bring meaning and cultural pride to Ghanaians who are struggling to preserve their heritage. He’s doing something that has the potential to make a real difference in healing the natural world that he loves so much and that grieves him every time he sees the pollution - and notices that birds he used to hold dear are no longer around - and feels the pain of his family who can barely catch enough fish to feed themselves and who watch their trees yellowing and dying.
Gail is going to immerse herself in the culture of her genetic ancestors and sit with storytellers like herself. They’ll share a common love of the oral tradition. Through them, part of her ancestry will come alive. She’ll experience some of the most beautiful places in Ghana, where her people originated before being taken from their land as slaves. She’ll hear the history of the Ewe and their related cultural groups, learn of their ancestral religion, eat their traditional foods.
I can’t help but think that the Ancestors, who never die if they are remembered, are watching from their spiritual home and urging us on. They are watching as the ecosystems of the Earth falter and collapse and they want to help us humans change our path to destruction. They love their human children, and they want us to live happy, productive lives. They are making this project possible by helping us manifest the means by which to carry it out.
The Ancestors have wisdom they want to share with our world today, and we are their vehicle and their voice. I am constantly awed at being chosen by Them to do this work. I think about those men and women of my own ancestral past who chronicled the stories I read today, and the honor I feel for them. I feel blessed to be joining their company.
Side note: Godfried is scouting out communities to visit and storytellers who are willing to share their stories RIGHT NOW!! Gail departs for Ghana in just ONE WEEK!! Please consider making a donation toward our project. The storytellers in the villages in Ghana are poor and struggling financially, and we will be paying them for sharing their stories with us. Your donation can make it possible to gather more stories, beyond what we budgeted for! Thanks so much for your interest in this project!
MAKE YOUR TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK
Sub-Saharan Africa has lost most of her identity, culture and religion. We know we have no written history. Our tradition of oral history which reminds and tells us of our past through storytelling has been replaced by the new world's tradition of television.
Our elders, the custodians of our stories and myths have almost as well have forgotten of this tradition and the youth of today have no idea of these stories. Collecting and preserving these myths and stories may change the situation hopefully, when one day we again remember who we are.
The tradition of myths and stories telling around the bonfire under moonlight to educate and remind our youth of the past to correct the future must be revived. We need to save the myths and stories of the African continent.
I spent my early childhood growing up years in a small village in the Volta Region, and I remember sitting around the fire in the evening while my grandmother told the stories of our people. My father was a Voodoo priest (our traditional religion) and my mother was a devout Christian. There was never any problem between them because of religion. My mother would sometimes go to the Voodoo temple, and my father would attend church. I was raised with both traditions, and in adulthood, I chose to follow the Voodoo path and become a priest myself. For me, I think I was very lucky to have learned both ways.
I've been in the tourism industry as a tour operator for all my adult life and have traveled extensively throughout Africa. One of the things I really enjoy is explaining traditional African religion and culture to my tourism clients. There are many Africans today who don't understand our traditions and our history. I think this project will be important in helping us remember who we are as a people, and to take pride in our heritage.
I have two loves: (apart from my daughters, granddaughter and husband) theatre and storytelling. By storytelling, I mean the oral kind, the very foundation of theatre, writing and culture. I am often dismayed to see how this most ancient of art forms is misunderstood in our present world. Storytelling is not reading from books, and it is not solely for children. In fact, storytelling is not primarily for children, although children benefit from it. Storytelling is a traditional way of transmitting the beliefs, mores and roots of culture. With a few exceptions, we have lost the magic of that direct connection between teller and listener, and the link to ancestry, place and tradition that comes with oral storytelling.
In 2015, I visited Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the Women Playwrights International conference. It was wonderful to hear and see the work of playwrights from Africa and around the world. I am sorry that I was not there long enough to seek out some oral storytellers. Therefore, I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Volta region of Ghana, to immerse myself in the culture and the people and to hear their stories. This will be only my second time in sub-Saharan Africa, the place where some of my ancestry lies. By seeking the stories of the elders, perhaps I will connect with some deep ancestral memory.
Much of my work has touched upon Africa. Most recently, my stage play, The Oba Asks for a Mountain, ran at Talespinner Children’s Theatre in Cleveland. This is my version of a tale from Nigeria. I have found inspiration from Zimbabwean stories and history for my Chalmers award-winning children’s play, Mella Mella, and the book, Mella and the N’Anga: an African Tale. This book was shortlisted for The Governor General’s Award in Children’s Literature, and other prizes in Canada and the US. My second YA novel is Star’s Reflection, a novel set, mainly, in ancient Egypt.
Some of my storytelling and stage work is created for adults, including the storytelling performance My Bones Shall Rise Again, based on the nineteenth century freedom fighter, Nehanda, who is revered in Zimbabwe to this day. Another of my plays, The Waters, received a staged reading at Cleveland Public Theatre, where I was a Nord Family Foundation Fellow in 2015-2016. My newest work for theatre is called In Plain Sight.
OUR WORLD’S ENVIRONMENT IS IN CRISIS.
Climate change. Sea level rise. Pollution. Mountains of plastic waste. Poaching of wildlife. Human encroachment on wild places and loss of habitat.
OUR COMMUNITIES ARE IN CRISIS.
Economic insecurity. Crime. Lack of civility. Loss of family cohesion. Loneliness. Boredom.
WHERE DO WE TURN? WHO DO WE TURN TO?
Could the Elders be our link to the Ancestors, and our antidote to despair?
This project has been in our hearts and minds for the past three years. When the three of us first started talking about Gail coming to Ghana to collect and transcribe ancestral stories of the Ewe people, our focus was mostly on preserving stories for historical and cultural reasons. As the project developed, we came to realize that there is a deeper significance. Stories carry meaning and wisdom. Through all times and places, people have relied on the experience and wise words of the Elders to help them navigate difficulty. That seems to be lacking worldwide these days - and as well, in many villages in Ghana. Meanwhile, like the plastic bottles and bags that no one knows how to deal with, problems keep piling up too. The combination of societal and environmental problems are overwhelming and leads to a kind of ennui. Then we realized that maybe a key to revitalizing communities and finding guidance for how to effectively deal with these challenges could be found in the stories...
“Without memory we are adrift. Stories are memory; they are the present and the future. Stories matter. In our industrial and post-industrial malaise, stories re-connect us to our roots: those of our ancestors and those of the earth itself. I hope that by bringing attention to the stories of the Elders, we can re-mythologize the land, and with it find our old soul.” Gail Nyoka, Storyteller
We are so excited that this project is now funded, and we can get started!
Thanks to grants from The New England Biolabs Foundation and The Canada Council for the Arts, Gail Nyoka and Healthy Villages, Inc. are teaming up to collect ancestral stories from the elders of the Ewe tribe in Ghana’s Volta Region. Stories that are in danger of dying out with this generation of elders. Stories that contain wisdom that needs to be preserved.
You can journey along with us by following this blog, and join our Facebook community too!