Culture: Story Telling

I was raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic Democratic of Congo.  For some in more rural areas of the country, Kinshasa was the big city.  In part, it was true.  We had electricity on a regular basis (African-style…I shall explain shortly) and piped water distribution (hmmm…sometimes).

Morijo-camp-fire-2_thompson eastafricanblog

While we seldom had to make a wooden fire and sit around it as depicted above by thomsoneasafricanblog, we frequently sat outside during blackouts.  You see, even in our big city Kinshasa, electricity was ‘available’ but irregular so we would spend nights or weeks without it. However, blackouts turned into storytelling hours.  We (the kids) would sit on the porch of my parents’ enclosed parcel and listen to stories from my mom, my grandmother, my uncles and occasionally, my dad.

My grandma’s Sophie were the funniest.  Coco Sophie, as we call her, did not live with us at the time and would visit once a month to check on us.  If her visits coincided with a blackout, she would proceed to tell us stories of her childhood, how she learned the hard way to be obedient, why family is the most important bond, how a friend of hers fared poorly due to arrogance and selfishness, how hard she had to work as a child, etc.  My grandma is a very petite lady who loves to chatter and laugh. However, when she would tell her stories to the city boy and girl my baby brother and I were at the time, she would take that rare, deep voice and look dead serious.  Because we never took her seriously, and her stories always felt extreme, we would laugh to no end.  She would in return shake her head, smile then remind us that one day we would understand.  And we do today, Coco.  Sad but true, we have seen it happen too.

storytelling_african_businessaimimage credit (via Google)

When Coco Sophie was not available, then one of my uncles would fill in.  Sometimes, they would ask my mom to chime in to validate a point.  Otherwise, they would just sing together songs from their childhood and laugh, completely forgetting our existence…When nobody else was around during a blackout, my mom would sing, which would attract us out of our rooms.  Usually, she would then stop singing once she had an audience, and begin telling her story.  On occasions, she would keep singing and we would join…

I was not fond of blackouts growing up.  They always happened when I was watching Lois & Clark, Sunset Beach, the original Beverly Hills, the French Open, Jamais Deux Sans Toit, etc.  Otherwise, they happened when I was chatting on the PC in the computer room, or while I was studying for my many exams or quizzes.  However, I always looked forward to the resulting storytelling, because it felt like a special family bonding moment.

Today, I am sitting on my bed in the states.  It is dark (I did not switch the lights on) and I am soon to go to work but I miss it; I miss storytelling during blackouts back home.  I miss the musical duets by my uncles and my mom. I miss my mom’s voice. I miss Coco Sophie’s deep voice.  And I wish I could still laugh to no end to her stories, instead of finding out that the reality of life is indeed as ridiculously extreme as her stories….She knew better and my baby brother and I were only kids…It is your turn to laugh now, Coco.  We have learned 😉


Culture: To My Mom by Camara Laye


Image credits to

My African heritage begins and ends with my mother, the lovely woman who has given her whole for her children and remains a beautiful lady inside and out, despite all the trials and losses she has experienced throughout the years.  A picture of my lovely mother below:


While I was searching for my first topic on African culture, a song that I learned back in primary school* played in my mind.   The song is an excerpt from the book ” L’Enfant Noir” by Camara Laye. This translates to the “Black Kid”.  The book was published in 1953 in Paris.


Camara Laye was born in Haute-Guinée in 1928 and decided to write about his childhood at age 25 while in Paris.  His book is a powerful description of customs and traditions of his people, back when he was a young boy.  The excerpt that is forever inscribed in my memory is his poem to his mom.

The original text in French below, and my attempt to english translation further down.  Laye’s poem rings true to the African mothers I have known…and I hope that the newer generation of mothers stays true to this description.  I can only hope…

*As a background, the Belgium system I was raised in, back in Congo-Kinshasa, segments education into two categories: primary school and secondary school.  Primary school starts from age six (or five) to 11-12 years old, grades are one to six.  Secondary school begins at age 12 to 17/18.


Femme noire, femme africaine,

Ô toi ma mère je pense à toi …

Ô Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui me portas sur le dos, toi qui m’allaitas, toi qui gouvernas mes premiers pas, toi qui la première m’ouvris les yeux aux prodiges de la terre,

Je pense à toi …

Femme des champs, femme des rivières, femme du grand fleuve,  ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi …

Ô toi Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui essuyais mes larmes, toi qui me réjouissais le cœur, toi qui, patiemment supportais mes caprices,

Comme j’aimerais encore être près de toi, être enfant près de toi !

Femme simple, femme de la résignation,

Ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi … 

Ô Dâman, Dâman de la grande famille des forgerons, ma pensée toujours se tourne vers toi,

La tienne à chaque pas m’accompagne,

Ô Dâman, ma mère, comme j’aimerais encore être dans ta chaleur, être enfant près de toi …

Femme noire, femme africaine,

ô toi, ma mère, merci;

Merci pour tout ce que tu fis pour moi, ton fils,

Si loin, si près de toi ! 

English Translation by Sissi:

Black Woman, African Woman,

Oh, you my mother, I am thinking of you

Oh, Daman, oh my mother, you who you carried me on your back, you who breastfed me, you who directed my first steps, you who opened my eyes to the marvelous works of the earth,

I am thinking of you…

Woman of the fields, woman of the rivers, woman of the big river, oh you my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh you Daman, oh you my mother,  you who dried my tears, you who rejoiced my heart,  you who patiently endured my whims

How I wish I could be close to you again, be a child close to you again,

Woman of simplicity, woman of resignation,

Oh you, my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh Daman, Daman of the large family of blacksmiths, my though always revolves around you,

Yours is with me at each step,

Oh Daman, my mother, How I wish I were in your warmth, to be a child close to you…

Black woman, African woman,

Oh you, my mother, thank you

Thank you for all you’ve done for me, your son,

So far, yet so close to you

What is your memory of your mother? Please share!