On Friday, 19 November, the Office of Multicultural Affairs sponsored a presentation by Onawumi Jean Moss, a Soulful Storyteller. Moss is also the Associate Dean of Students at Amherst College. The event was part of the sixth annual Black Studies scholars weekend, which is designed to give high school students a view of the College and specifically of the Black Studies department.
Soulful storytelling is an interactive process. Moss began the presentation by making everyone in the audience stand up and sing, “We’re gonna tell some stories here; We’re gonna rhythm and rhyme here.” Though slightly embarrassing for some of the shyer members of the audience, she eventually drew everyone in.
Then the actual storytelling began. She told several African folktales, the first dating back to the 15th century. Most of the stories were allegorical, detailing the trials and tribulations of various animals. Perhaps the most amusing was about a watchdog who became intoxicated after licking the wine goblet of his master. As a result, he was unable to stop a cat and a mouse from dueling with knives inside the house. The duel got out of hand and the house ended up collapsing, killing cat, mouse, and master.
Moss also told a slightly more realistic story about a small African American girl who spilled a pail of milk all over the ground and her new dress. The little girl was very upset at this because she knew she would be punished. Fortunately, a little devil appeared and offered to magically restore all the milk to the pail and make the girl’s dress as good as new, in exchange, naturally, for her soul. The little girl agreed, telling the devil he could come for her soul on her 29th birthday. When the devil appeared on that day, the girl (now a woman with husband and children) tricked the devil by giving him the sole of her shoe, instead of her actual soul.
Several times during the stories, Moss got distracted from the actual plot and went off on a tangent about the amazing food the characters were eating. She spoke of cinnamon spices, fried chicken, collard greens, and sweet tea. Perhaps next year she will offer a presentation in soulful cooking.
The audience represented all ages of people, from babies to senior citizens, but Moss managed to captivate everyone with her rich voice, her catchy rhythm, and most importantly, her intense passion for African folklore. When asked what inspired her to become a storyteller, she replied, “I believe it was God saying to me that there is something different you need to do.”