Ep#18 The Griot’s Tale: Building Legacy with Our Words with Baba the Storyteller
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Baba the Storyteller, a professional speaker and one of the few recognized US-born practitioners of the ancient West African storytelling craft, Jaliyaa. He has won numerous awards for his work as a folklorist, traditional harpist, storyteller, and community activist.
Baba speaks to us about his African heritage and how his upbringing led him to become a storyteller. He shares why he works with children and shares many words of wisdom on the power of sharing your stories and knowledge with others. Towards the end, Baba shares a beautiful musical experience with us while telling a story that takes me back to my young self when I first heard his stories in school.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
My grandmother was a Christian Baptist and she would teach us to pray every night before bed. One night when I was a kid, I was praying by my bedside, and she came in and said, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” I was confused. She said, “As you’re young, this is how you’re taught to pray, but now you have to get up off of your knees and make your life a living prayer.”
Every morning I celebrate that my heart is beating once again, that I’m breathing once again, and that there’s the potential for me to contribute another day.
How would you describe your medicine?
Relationship. Those I cross paths with and those I choose to engage. My medicine is being on this path and encountering people, embracing them, learning from them, and sharing whatever I have to share.
What is your ancestral lineage and how has that influenced your medicine today?
I lived in a very segregated society when I was born which began to integrate as I was growing up. I spent a lot of time with my family and they made sure I spent a lot of time with my great grandfather, who lived to be 110. His mother and father were both born into slavery, so I’m a descendent of the people in this country that were at one time enslaved. Spending time with my great grandfather was powerful to me because it was a close connection that many of us only read about. One thing he stressed was knowing who you are. He’d talk about our African lineage so I grew up immersed in that already. When I came of age, I embraced the idea that my responsibility was to contribute and to build on what my ancestors left behind, so that those who come after me can build on that.
That knowledge has propelled me to where I am today. I was drawn to the ancient oral tradition and oral historians of West Africa because I saw the parallels between the preservation of knowledge in Africa and the preservation of knowledge that enslaved peoples had here through an oral tradition.
Why work with children?
It was very purposeful. When I was young, I travelled a lot and there was a level of trauma I was exposed to because of racism. I knew Klan members, I saw crosses being burned, and some of my family members were lynched, so I had an intimate relationship to this trauma as a child. I remember feeling like adults didn’t have the ears for me or didn’t have the capacity to listen to me in the capacity that I needed to be heard. I felt neglect, even as my family members were trying to protect me. I swore I would never forget what this felt like. I made a pledge that as I got older, I would be someone who could speak for children and I never let that child in me die. When I walk into a space with children, I don’t see them as children. I know they can reshape the future so I’ll spend my time reshaping the future with them instead of fighting or reacting in the moment. I see it as being proactive.
What would you say to the person who loves telling stories or sharing knowledge but thinks they don’t have the professional qualities to put themselves out there?
How selfish you are to think this way, to not share your story, when your story could be the medicine that another human being needs. Withdrawing and holding that back is very selfish and what you have to do is overcome that selfishness and realize that you are a part of a whole and you are needed. Your story has value and is important. It has to be transmitted. Every story has the potential to save another soul. Once you see that, you can see yourself as a purposeful changemaker. Your story is a part of your medicine.
What are you doing to stay grounded right now and what are you learning to release?
Before I turn on my technology, I put myself in a space where I’m going to enjoy this, where this is going to resonate with me. I also listen more to the physical body and its needs and wants. I listen to my soul through my body. As I’ve been jumping time zones, I don’t feel this feeding frenzy to do and take everything.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would you say to young Baba?
Love you, love who you are, and know that at your core that you are loved. That’s what comes to me right now.
Conclusion: Our childhood selves are always within us, they never die. If you have a story, share it! If you feel called to listen to more stories, your inner child will certainly thank you.
Action Integration: Explore Baba’s website and discover some of his music and resources he has been sharing online. Tap into that younger version of yourself and have fun with it!
Learn more about Baba and his offerings:
Visit his website and check out his book: www.babathestoryteller.com
Follow him on Instagram: www.instagram.com/babathestoryteller
Connect with him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BabatheStoryteller
Check out his book, Road of Ash and Dust: www.roadofashanddust.com