Compliments to Nkechinyere Nwobani for majority of the pictures.
This was an incredible festival and I am glad the day that I finally decided to go. The first time I came across it was some time last year. At that time, I was just as eager to attend but circumstances did not permit it. Fast forward to 2018 and luck would have it that I not only heard about this event again but this time, I managed to establish contact with the event organiser, Griot Chinyere, who graciously invited me to not only a pre-festival taster but ultimately, the Nne Agwu storytelling festival that followed a month after. The nature and purpose of the event was just as admirable as the strong community-building rhetoric that Griot expressed in her periodic communications prior to the event. It always expressed love and a firm belief in regaining our sense of self and culture through storytelling.
Once I made up my mind to attend this festival, there was nothing stopping me. Not even the prospect of driving 2-3 hours after a full day of work was going to change my mind. There was a full line up of activities that I was not keen to miss and they included yoga in the morning, storytelling workshops, fireside traditional storytelling, traditional African instrumental performances and forest walks in the night! When I first arrived, I was greeted by an Ethiopian queen at the registration desk who was full of warmth and extremely gracious throughout the whole registration process. I was also kindly assisted by Effy who was part of the wonderful group of volunteers who were at hand to provide support throughout the duration of the event. She kindly supported me with my bags and helped me to get to my communal tent where I was greeted by just as much warmth by fellow campers. Oh yes, that was another highlight of the festival - the prospect of camping out in what was largely unspoilt and natural surroundings where we were surrounded by trees and had the opportunity to awake to the sound of birds and clean, fresh air. I was so thoroughly in my element at the festival that I found myself walking in the rain happily when we were blessed with occasional showers. Surprisingly, I found it extremely invigorating and very enjoyable!
For fear of making this post as long as a book, I will just focus my efforts on those activities that resonated most with me. The first was the storytelling sessions by the fireside. Griot has an incredible ability to whip the children and adults into an excited and playful mood through her chants of "Igbo Kwenu" (we are here united) to which we responded "Eee" (Yes). Afterwards, we were graced with the presence of incredible storytellers who expressed everyday themes of love, trickery, bravery and hope in creative and captivating ways that were not only profound but very meaningful. All of it was done in the spirit of love and in commemoration of those who are committed to continue the spirit of storytelling not only out of amusement and entertainment but also in the spirit of rewriting what has largely been a skewed and negative slant to what we've adopted to be our history and legacy. On this note, I give special thanks to Griot Chinyere, Eli Anderson, El Crisis and Sandra Agard who did a wonderful job every night. If you are keen to have a taster of Griot's storytelling prowess, please contact her via the following link: https://www.shanti-chi.com/performer.
The second thing I found thoroughly enjoyable was the food! I died and went to vegan heaven each time I tried Aneno's wraps and the one I loved the most was a sweet potato and chickpea wrap that included a mild spicy sauce, houmous and mixed vegetables. It was so good that I refused to eat anything else throughout the whole festival. Whoever said that food is only enjoyable when meat is included LIED!
Eli Anderson also did a workshop called "Introduction to Storytelling". This morphed into a very deep discussion that helped us to recognise how often we are fed one-sided stories which are cleverly repackaged as adverts, news feeds and even ideas and opinions that we are subliminally absorbing about people and situations. The most significant part of this talk was the children's involvement in the dialogue and it was wonderful to see how their opinions and ideas were encouraged throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop and was even more awestruck when (later in the festival) Eli shared his personal story which explained how he slowly transformed into the fantastic storyteller that he is today. It was also clear that he will forever be an ardent believer in preserving our history and culture through storytelling. Thank you for all the love and happiness that you shared through your stories Eli!
Another workshop that I thoroughly enjoyed was conducted by Griot Chinyere. Under her supervision and guidance, we worked as small groups to build our own stories around the common theme of self-love. This was portrayed through our own narration about a character who, despite all odds, managed to overcome their adversity and transform into the best version of themselves. Not only did it get our creative juices flowing but it culminated in laughter, playful narration and a wonderful bonding session. I loved how we were challenged to explore the world from the perspective of how we wanted it to be rather than how it currently was. Griot encouraged us to think the impossible and for that, I will be forever grateful. THANK YOU GRIOT! Should you wish to train as a storyteller, please see the following link for more information: https://www.shanti-chi.com/griot-training
The next event that quickly became a favourite for everyone was the African instrumental performances at nights. These performances were jointly delivered by the extremely talented kora player, Jali Bakary, and lovely guitarist, Theo Calliste. Together they formed a dynamic and incredible duo and as Jali expertly struck each chord and skillfully built a beautiful melodic composition, Theo skillfully kept stride with the variable and sometimes fast paced tempo. Considering that they did little to no practice before their first performance, they certainly did a fantastic job! I never missed any of these sessions and it was always a wonderful lead up to the nightly forest walks that followed afterwards.
Last but not least, we had the nightly forest walks! I must admit that I was wondering if Griot was joking (or in her right mind) when she suggested that we walk in the middle of the night, in the forest, without the aid of any light lol. Nevertheless, she very confidently but firmly reassured us that our eyes would naturally adjust to the moonlight and this ultimately illuminated our path. Before we started the walk, she reverently opened the session acknowledging our ancestors, setting an intention and also setting some ground rules about the do's and dont's during the walk. I found the experience rather sobering because it made me realise that there was nothing to fear in the dark and also how beautiful nature was at night. Those of us who were not as quick or struggled a bit during the walk were lovingly helped by those walking in front or behind which reaffirmed how much we developed such a strong community spirit in such a short space of time. I highly recommend this to everyone. It is definitely an experience worth having. If you would like to participate, please visit the following website: https://www.shanti-chi.com/night-walks
Well that is it my lovelies! What I've shared does not come close to describe all the other incredible experiences that I had and the wonderful people that I had the privilege of meeting but I hope it's enough to encourage you to participate in this event in the future. As groundbreaking and wonderful as the festival was, it is not without a more important cause which is focused on raising funds for land acquisition for the benefit of the Black community. If you wish to support, please do so via the following link: https://www.shanti-chi.com/membership-form.
Also, if you enjoyed the kora player and would love to find out more about lessons, please see the flyer below for contact details and more information. You can also visit the website http://www.kontehkunda.org/
If you are also a fan of conscious lyrics and meaningful spoken word, please check out the highly talented artiste, El Crisis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC3UsBp-ils.
Also, if you are interested in having a reading by a highly intuitive sister or are considering changing your name to something in keeping with your African ancestry (or looking to conduct certain ceremonies), then please reach out to Aama Sade via the following website:
Tree Circle Ceremonies or email address: email@example.com.
Lastly, do you want to have a personal portrait done of yourself like I did (see below)? Then check out the talented artist, Morris Thompson, via the website mgt-artwrks.uk