The Silence of the Lambs – A case for Cultural Diversity in Literature by Sade Fadipe #DiversityMonth

sadeSade Fadipe trained to become a teacher in the United Kingdom, after her first degree in English Linguistics. She taught in London primary schools and later managed a British school in Nigeria. Between 2006–2010, Fadipe dedicated some of her time in Nigeria, to a reading initiative for Nigerian public primary schools, training teachers on the skill of reading; the use of fiction books and helped set up class-based reading corners where libraries were non-existent. She currently lives in Essex, and is happily married with two daughters.

@SadeFadipe

The Silence of the Lambs
A case for Cultural Diversity in Literature
by Sade Fadipe

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In my mind’s eye, I like to perceive fiction writing as an exotic samba, mystically shared between two passionately promising partners.  The romance of pen and paper, where together they embark on a seemingly vivid destination with the aid of a skilful moderator, exploring adventurous ideas that only unfold, as the beat goes on.  These skilful moderators (the writers) are like the rusty church bells bellowing away in high places; or to bring it home, the distinct sounds of the African talking drums, beckoning to its community, far and beyond.

Drums are synonymous with all ancient traditions in Africa.  Each beat had a rhythm, a tone, a timbre, a pitch for sending messages far and wide.  A skilled drummer or town crier could beat a message of joy at the arrival of a new baby, a recital of felicitation at special celebrations, sounds of sadness at the death of a loved one, warnings of war with a neighbouring clan or peaceful embraces at reconciliations.  All the people needed, was an ear for the beat. The town crier did the job of today’s BBC, Sky or Aljazeera Reporter and thankfully, Africans have maintained this strong tradition, albeit mainly, for celebratory purposes.

Storytellers on the other hand, simultaneously played the role of entertainers, as they  told of tales passed down from previous generations with dramatic gusto.  There were always times to join in a refrain or song or chant either before, during or after the story, which ideally commenced at sunset.  It was an enjoyable time for all children, as they ended their day together, in a spirit of unison.  Certain animal characters such as the tortoise for its craftiness and the monkey for its wit, featured predominantly especially in Yoruba folklore.  So did tales about gods and magical deeds.  The storytellers were revered people respected for their embodiments of knowledge and always had something worthy, revealing, exciting, entertaining, frightening or brave to impress on a child and its community. The storytellers used to have a strong voice within their society. But not anymore.  So who and what silenced the lambs?

Today, oral re-telling has little or no place in our communities or homes. Colonialism happened.  Then came culture fusion, migration, lifestyle, western education and a lot more.  A new tongue arrived and Linguistic dominance forced our town-criers to learn a new language, to read and write in a new lingua-franca; a completely different tongue.  We used to have a strong voice.

May 2006 Nigeria, and I was employed as a ‘Reading Consultant’ to the ministerial equivalent of our Department for Education, here in England.  While on the job, I began to explore the concept of diversity within diversity and how homes of the elite overflow with traditional European tales such as Goldilocks and the three bears, The Three little pigs, Rapunzel, but none true to our own identity.  The nursery rhymes too flourish with Mary’s Little Lamb and Polly Puts the Kettle on: even in the heat of day.  The classics also thrive on the most prominent of shelves: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Gulliver’s Travels, the many works of Shakespeare and the list goes on.  I couldn’t help but wonder why, on African land, these diverse books took prominence and filled our libraries while African books and tales remain few and in the minority, even on African soil.   For if our books are referred to as diverse in other lands shouldn’t it be the reverse, on our own soil?  Who and what silenced the lambs: something is surely amiss.

For me, diversity is contextual and should be treated fairly so.  For we tend to refer to diversity as those that differ from the majority, those fewer in number in terms of race, ability, gender, sexuality, religion, language, ability etc.  But these are all layers of diversity and realistically, we all are diverse.  Male. Female. Christian. Protestant. Catholic.  So in itself, diversity is multi-layered and dependent on numbers and ones’ current geographical location.  Any individual could easily tick two, three even four layers of diversity simultaneously.  Isn’t this the more reason why all children, regardless of their level of diversity, need to see not just themselves in the books?  They need to benefit from being transported to worlds they can either identify with, be a part of, or learn about.  Hopefully a time will come when perspective, numbers, and location would fully archive the word diverse and diversity, but until then and for the sake of clarity…

 Cultural diversity and before the print…

Most African stories were retold at routine gatherings of ‘brothers and sisters’ from another mother: the equivalent of a bedtime story.  The storyteller may have been referred to as mother, father, aunty or uncle.  Never would they be called by their first names as this was deemed disrespectful.   They were respectable people within the society.  For today’s children, this may help them understand why an African parent instinctively, looks out for their neighbour’s child or why an African child could have numerous uncles, aunties, mothers or fathers.

Drums and music would always be a part of the story telling.   Children of diverse backgrounds may relate well to books reflecting the presence of drums, dance, rhythm and music thus urging them to bring personal experiences on board, heightening their self-esteem.  Books endorsing oral tradition with rich citations of the supremacy of nature, the glorification of wisdom, the celebration of major life events, such as marriage and death will resonate with any child, of any culture, and provide an opportunity to be themselves, to talk about themselves, their differences and more especially their similarities.   Such themes lead to healthy discussions on how the same life experiences are expressed.

In African literature, every phase of life is held in high esteem and gives cause to gather in unison for a huge celebration.  Such is the unison of heart and mind that the celebrants ensure their guests turn up in uniform attires!  While the above may not be solely captured in print, there is no doubt that these rich traditions still have an impact of the way we currently live and  Children become familiar with or are exposed to cultures other than theirs.

A FUN ABC June 2016.  New Release!  I am thrilled about A FUN ABC, my first children’s fiction published by Cassava Republic Press.  Any piece of literature attempting to capture a lush and alluring culture, would be an adventurous one indeed.  This book seeks to do this successfully, with its richly suggestive illustrations and prose depicting the value placed on family life.  The main character reveals the manner in which our elders continue to maintain significant roles in our lives, even in the midst of evolving westernisation.  While the setting reflects a rural community with basic infrastructure and a slight disconnect from the reality of the main characters day to day life (a bedroom full of toys versus a mattress surrounded by a mosquito net).  Notwithstanding, her parents are more than willing for her to embrace and experience a deeper aspect of diversity thus encouraging empathy.

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Personally, A FUN ABC continually reminds me of how multi-cultural we have become as a continent as a result of our adopted educational systems, the influence of western ideals and overriding linguistic influence.  And while this is a truth, we must be attracted to a deeper truth, our Origins.  For the next three weeks, a school Essex will be focusing their topic work around my book and this event gives me hope.  On my interim visit, a group of sixty 6 year olds keenly asked numerous questions about the food and lifestyle reflected in the text.   They also provided a rhythm to my retelling.  I was truly excited and so were they.  You could tell from their faces – I had taken them to land beyond their reach! Just by sharing my ‘diverse book’.

For who best can tell the stories of a land,

Where voices once, were loud and clear? 

The demand of letters leaves us bare. 

The retelling of folklore, of recitations by moonlight,

Passed down from generations,

Is a revelation needing, printed translation.

Into languages blessed,

With the unfair advantage; for the world to hear.
But there is yet one fear…

Would it still, have its flair?

But who best can tell, the tales of our land?

Whilst there are so many reasons for limited diverse books, and the prominence of the norm, both sectors need to go back to the drawing board, for the sake of change.  There is an urgent need for diverse books by diverse people – we need to regain our authentic voice.  The preservation of culture and the endorsement of culturally friendly books, by all people must continue to be an item on the agenda for todays’ literature, for today’s global village: without which we are incomplete.  Publishers need to be bold enough to embrace diversity and writers with diverse names.  While writers need to do everything possible to make our rich resounding voice heard again.  Learn the skill to attract the ear but this time, in written form. For the drummers have become cell phones and the moonlight tales, e-books.  Yet somethings never change – our race, our skin tone that tell of our origins.  And origins matter. They speak loud and clear.  The weak voice, struggling to survive a tide in an ocean of norm literature gallantly maintaining its place on our oak-polished shelves, must begin to say;

We now know what silenced the lambs. 

We used to have a strong, resounding voice! 

But wherever there’s a beat

There’s sure to be a samba.

And so the beat, must go on!

Sade Fadipe

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Join Adanah on an alphabetical adventure as she goes to visit her grandfather in Modakeke, Nigeria. Every letter, from A to Z, is featured in this African alphabet book. Written in a bouncy rhyming style, children will learn while having fun, as they join Adanah on her school break adventure!

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6 thoughts on “The Silence of the Lambs – A case for Cultural Diversity in Literature by Sade Fadipe #DiversityMonth

  1. Sade thank you for bringing back our ‘tales by moonlight’. My daughter loves her ‘Adanna book’ as she calls it. Aside from the story within the book, we love the imagery used, the colours, the characters, the environment, everything in the book screams HOME! This couldn’t have been just from your imagination. That answers your rhetorical question ‘who best can tell the tales of our land’. Thank you for letting your authentic voice speak loud and clear. I’m inspired and encouraged to carry on doing the same, the beat must go on indeed!

    • Gbemi thank you for your comments. I know how much your daughter loves Adanah. There is certainly more to come! And yes you are right. The book evolved over 5 years of not just imagination, but the skill of an authentic artist and a passionate publisher. For the sake of the Nigerian child, our diasporan kids and the world at large. I know some may never be opportuned to visit the continent, so I sort to bring home to home – still in line with layers of diversity.

  2. There is a growing awareness now amongst Africans and African Americans to expose our children to books/cartoons/dolls which feature Africans and African culture. Tapping into this awakening is a must for us all. Well done, Sade. Nice article.

  3. Well done Sade. This is quite a laudable effort; it’s high time we raise the tempo of the beats to give voice to our lambs. We as Africans have to do it ourself, let’s value and promote our rich culture and values… I am very passionate about our languages which going along with your thoughts seem to be going more and more ‘silent’ towards ‘extinction’?

  4. Yes indeed Bukky, sadly this is the case. Especially with fictional representation. If our children cannot relate to characters in the books they read, they are forced into an identity, far from theirs. A good balance is needed. Same goes for our languages. We all have to play our parts in this.

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