Thursday, February 17, 2011


At this point in the semester I can hardly ignore the overarching topic of storytelling contained in the three major texts we have read. In Things Fall Apart, proverbs are part of the oral tradition, and are essentially lessons that members of the Igbo have learned and memorized. In Love and Longing in Bombay, the storytelling is done on a much larger scale, as the "main" character (although it's arguable to call him a main character) is actually more of a bookend inbetween long recited stories.

In Potiki, storytelling is equally present but perhaps a bit more ambiguous. I believe it's a bit more ambiguous because it is often the topic of storytelling that seems so important. Rather than in Things Fall Apart and Love and Longing in Bombay where the proverbs/stories are simply presented, in Potiki they are both presented but also talked about. That is to say, there is a definition created between what stories can and can't be remembered, and by whom. Some of the most important stories come from the grandmother, because she can remember what the land was like long ago. Toko is also presented as a character who knows things before they happen, and has a wisdom beyond his years.

Let us question now the importance of these stories. To the casual reader they can at times derail the central plot--but that's exactly the point: what is the central plot of Potiki? Told in shifting narratives and jumping backward and forward in time, Potiki may be a collection of stories surrounding one family. These stories are important to the members of Maori because they are what tie them to the earth and to their traditions. In a time when they are in political and social upheaval, evidenced by the moneymen's desire to seize their land and roads, it is imperative for them to hold on to their culture. By learning the stories of their people, nothing can be taken away from them. Even if, for example, all their land was seized and they were forced to move to a land not their own, if their stories still remained then they would at least still know who they are.

As I was realizing the importance of storytelling to the Maori, as well as the postcolonial Indians and Igbos in Nigeria, it struck me so easily how important it also is to my family. My mom grew up in Baltimore, but Baltimore back then was obviously very different than it is today. She is one of ten children, and when everyone is together it's a crazy time where one person tries to outdo the rest with a story, usually about growing up in Baltimore. My dad is one of seven, and he grew up in rural Ohio, so the stories his family tells are drastically different but no less impassioned. I, myself, am the middle of five, and although we are not middle aged or even elderly yet, we too like to tell stories. Since my two older brothers live out on their own now, one in Washington State and the other in Tokyo, my family is somewhat disjointed. Stories help us to remember the way it used to be, and to remind us that the past doesn't have to be the past if only we talk about it.

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