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African Festival Has Story to Tell About Traditions

The Journal News (Westchester County, NY) , July 9, 2004


Tomorrow, African myths and legends will come alive at the CEJJES Institute of Pomona's first African Storytelling Festival.

To the beat of African drums, master storyteller Therese Folkes-Plair of New Rochelle will sing, dance and invite the audience to join her as she recounts traditional tales.

Heather Carty-Ward, executive director of the CEJJES Institute, said the festival sponsored by the Arts Council of Rockland and the New York State Council on the Arts was geared to both adults and children and would feature stories from Haiti and Jamaica as well as from Africa.

The idea for the festival grew out of the Rockland County Storytelling Festival, which will have its ninth annual scheduling in September and out of a need some parents expressed to teach their children more about African art and culture, Carty-Ward said.

"I'm hoping our African diaspora in Rockland County will hear stories that are familiar to them, stories that they grew up hearing, and want to share with their children," she said.

Africa has traditionally revered storytellers as history's guardians, much in the same way today's hip-hop artists have evolved as commentators on the realities of today's youth, particularly inner-city youth of color. The storytelling traditions upon which hip-hop is based are also vital to people's understanding of their history, Folkes-Plair said. The art of storytelling should continue and grow, despite today's advances in technology.

Folkes-Plair said:

"I don't think we can ever forget our roots, our past ... honoring our ancestors. Every culture in the world has something in it, very germane to it and for us, the oral traditions ... is what has kept us alive. It is really what has kept us alive in this country, the ability to express ourselves when our lives were in danger."

Subjects Covered: storytelling festivals

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