This March to celebrate Read to Feed Baba Wagué Diakité, Malian artist, illustrator, storyteller and author, tells us how it is vital that people understand their culture and their past through the use of storytelling and literature…

''I became aware of the richness of our histories and traditions through the eyes of my paternal grandmother. My grandmother learned the healing powers of herbs from her own grandmother; this made her realize how important our surrounding nature was to our community. She truly valued our traditional way of life. She shared our histories with the younger generation in the form of storytelling, proverbs, song and dance. We learned many of the old ways so we could live in harmony with each other and with nature.

Acknowledging our elders was the key to traveling back into our African past. We were encouraged to hear many stories of our elders’ lives, even at times when we would rather be out playing in the moonlight. Nothing else connects a child to another time and place like a story.

Inheritance

Our curiosity about our grandmother and the way she looked and acted as a young girl always made us hungry to hear more stories. Grandma often said:

''Words must come out of old mouths to new ears. All that the youth in Africa need right now is to know about their own past histories and traditions; this African education will leave a profound and guiding mark through their entire life.''

Unfortunately, I did not realize what a great treasure my grandmother was until after she passed into the night in the mid 1990s. She is the reason I am who I am today. I remember the tales she told me during those 14 years that I spent with her, and her voice still echoes in my “new” ears.

Proud to be African

When I was a young teen I read Camara Laye’s “Dark Child” which tells the story of his life in Guinea.  As I read his book, I noted similar interactions between my family members, and identified with all the detailed interactions--proverbs and teasings--that are still unique in African households today. It also opened me to the mysterious ways that life presented itself with when living close to nature.

As an African boy, Laye’s book made me nostalgic for my native village and encouraged me to visit often. The feeling of pride of being an African at that time was unquestionable.  African literature helps generations of people of African descent know about the past lives of their forefathers, their histories, traditions and cultural values.

As a writer and storyteller based on African traditions, I want to see younger generations of Africans and African Diaspora being exposed to and learning about their history and traditions through the eyes of past Africans--‘from old mouths to new ears’--not solely from Western history books. Just like my grandmother, when I had children of my own, I wanted to connect them to my culture. But living in the West, I found that there were few storybooks that were from the continent of Africa. This is when I began writing and illustrating my own stories from folklore. The youth of the African Diaspora need to know who they are and where they come from.  Often our youth lack pride and self-confidence because the classroom studies of the world do not include a lot of African achievements, values, or belief systems.

Sharing our stories

We have the opportunity now to share our cultures.  Our stories, small and large, can give inspiration and a new perspective to others across oceans. African heritage and culture, needs to be a lot more than side-line scribbles on the paper; the presence of books by Africans is a statement of honour, respect and wisdom about our own lives.''

According to the most recent 2011 census, there are over 1.1 million people with African heritage in the UK. Send a Cow’s sponsored reading scheme -Read to Feed- is encouraging UK school children to read more African-inspired literature, by celebrating some of the wonderful and diverse stories the continent has to offer. Send a Cow believes that increased access and awareness of African stories can widen horizons, not just of African diaspora but all of the UK's school children.

To find out more about Read to Feed and to access this years African inspired reading list, go to sendacow.org/read-to-feed

To find out more about Baba and his work, go to babawague.wordpress.comhttps://babawague.wordpress.com/