I agree with those who think that we exist differently in the minds of different people. You could stand before a gathering of friends, genuine and real friends (with sprinkles of Judases – they almost never miss), and by the end of whatever made you stand before them, each of them will have a different picture and report of you and what you did while you stood there. Some might even be wondering why you stood before them in the first place. 

The reason for that is that while you tried to communicate with them, to make sense, to crack jokes or sing a song, each of the minds beholding or listening to you formed a story. They built a version that is different from the one you had of yourself and what you said and different from the one formed in every other mind in the room. That’s a lot of stories. If they are African, that’s a lot of good and spicy stories. 

Our stories are lined with prose, they intend to evoke emotion,inspire laughter and can fill one with dread. The mind is a canvas and whosoever you yield it to is master of the portrait you let them paint. The voices you give attention to form the thoughts you carry which birth the actions you execute followed by the consequences or rewards of said actions – good or bad. I needn’t mention that we ought to be careful to whom we yield our minds. 

This is why African storytelling dates back to the beginning of time. We passed on knowledge and customs and norms through stories. We sat under the moonlight or starry nights and were regaled with tales of how we got to various points of our lives and heritage. It is how we received instruction, how obedience was enforced. Communities were despised or revered because of what was said of them. That’s the power of storytelling. 

Stories come in different forms like folktales, fables, legends, myths or even epic tales. What is told depends on the intended lesson or the desired result. There are stories whose narrative was important to preserve as originally conceived. This responsibility lay squarely on griots. A griot is a revered figure responsible for preserving and transmitting oral history, genealogies and cultural values. A griot is a living library or a walking encyclopedia. The stories they carried could not be distorted by retelling or even by time because they carried the blueprint and fabric of tribes and nations. The death of a griot sent a devastating blow throughout the land because, if you can imagine, it was like a whole library had been set on fire, without backups. Thankfully, some griots regarded the finite length of life and had the wisdom and foresight to have apprentices – youngsters into whom they poured their brains who became repositories of the rich histories of entire nations. Sadly, dilution is the spell cast upon retelling. Narration without experience leads to zhuzhing up. Zhuzhing up takes away from originality and originality once removed kills authenticity. When a history or genealogy is no longer authentic, it not worth retelling. The question how do we ascertain the authenticity of what was originally told? 

Life is a web of stories. We weave them in every moment we live. They come from what we see, hear and smell, what we feel and eat, what we know and what we do not. Each of us is a story that will be told. Even though it will be a different one from each of our storytellers, we can dictate what the thread that ties them together will be. That’s just about as much control as we can get.