Our stories matter. They define who we are as a people and provide us with a sense of community. We all share stories. Around the world, people share stories about anything and everything. Storytelling is an important part of the human experience. We tell stories to entertain and connect with each other, teach others valuable lessons, and document history.
Within the Caribbean, storytelling has always been central to the preservation of our history, culture and identity. From the Indigenous peoples who were here before the Europeans arrived to the enslaved Africans who journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean and the immigrants from India and China who came as indentured labourers, storytelling is integral to the survival of our history and ensuring that future generations know where we came from.
Rooted in West African folklore, Afro-Caribbean storytelling is an art that has been passed down from generation to generation. The oral tradition of telling stories was a way for enslaved Africans to connect with their ancestry, reminisce on the past, record their experiences, and share time-honoured tales and fables.
Every Caribbean country is different and has a unique way of storytelling. Despite our rich history of storytelling, the region has often been underrepresented and misrepresented in the media. Seeing Caribbean people and culture represented in television and film is essential, but how we are portrayed is equally important.
We need to be in charge of telling our own stories, both fiction and non-fiction. Christal Clashing, author of ‘Yemoja’s Anansi’ speaks on using various platforms to share our culture through folklore.
Christal said, “When people come to the Caribbean, I think they would like to hear about and experience Caribbean things. Even for us as Caribbean people, I think we need to experience our own history and culture more.”
Folklore is often seen as a thing of the past. Christal believes that we can use various mediums to bring folklore alive and more contemporary. While books are a start, she asserts that we have a rich landscape of different storytelling mediums.
“I don’t think we hear our stories in sufficient ways or in different mediums,” said Christal. “I know we have many Caribbean stories in books, but I want to go beyond books.”
Christal recognizes the power of interactive, immersive, and visual storytelling experiences. She envisions a future of Caribbean storytelling that uses virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). “In some form or fashion, I’m trying to preserve what we can before some big catastrophic environmental event wipes out the Caribbean,” said Christal.
“I’d like to get to the point where I can share my stories across different mediums because that is what future generations will be gravitating towards… and that’s how stories will be shared as well,” said Christal.
Regarding ‘Yemoja’s Anansi,’ Christal has made the Anansi character female and changed the story a little bit. While stories need to evolve, Christal emphasizes that we need to keep the essence of the original stories. She said:
“We have so many mediums now that we can transform things and it doesn’t have to be a static story. In fact, Anansi's stories were never static. They were always dependent on the storyteller and changed from island to island. They had different characters so it was never static.”
Lastly, we discussed the importance of Caribbean storytelling. According to Christal, storytelling is important because we’ve lost so much of our history and connection to pre-European interventions. “One of the things I loved learning about Yemoja was that Yemoja was a pre-European presence,” said Christal. Additionally, most of the enslaved Africans came from coastal areas of western Africa where water was an important part of their way of life. “This meant that the water was meaningful for people of African descent and people in Africa.”
This is in sharp contrast to the narrative that Black people and water don’t mix. Christal asserts that this is not true. “It’s not a true history or reflection of our actual pre-slavery lifestyles,” said Christal. “The power and strength that we had before were stripped from us… we retained a lot but we’ve lost a lot, and some of these stories help our reimagining of what things used to be like and where our strength was… and it helps us figure out where we want to go and fill in gaps of stories that are just missing.”
Support Christal and purchase your copy of ‘Yemoja’s Anansi’ today! It is available as an e-book on her website and the print version is now available on Amazon.