“Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.”
Chinua Achebe [African Proverb]
A Short Essay by Elvis Ngonga
I was born, raised, and completed my primary and secondary education in the city of Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, a country situated in Central and West Africa. Like every young Cameroonian, I read histories about Cameroon, and the colonization of Africa that were written by French and English historians. African author, Chinua Achebe said, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” My grand-parents told me their story and their ancestors’ interactions with westerners. After the independence of many African countries in the 1960s, African authors such as Chinua Achebe revived the African oral history tradition through novels like Things Fall Apart. Africans, nowadays, understand that their history cannot be told only through western historians’ voices. They need to take into consideration the account of their oral history heritage that writers such as Chinua Achebe revived in his literary work. Now, people around the world and Africans can re-examine their history through the lens of the Western historians and their own historians. Therefore, in Achebe’s term, “the history of the hunt” belongs now not only to the hunters, but also the lions. The lions here metaphorically represented all the oppressed cultures that have their story told by the oppressors.
Africans like Native Americans have been colonized by Westerners. Africans, as Native Americans, transmitted their history orally through generations. Until recently Western historians narrated the history without these African or Native voices. When I started working at the University of South Dakota Oral History Center, I was very excited when I came across transcripts of oral interviews with Native Americans. After reading some of these interviews, I realized that African cultures share similarities with Native American cultures and traditions. One particular aspect that immediately caught my attention was the importance of oral history to both cultures.
The art of story telling has kept a living memory of Native Americans. The same tradition lies in the African cultures and societies. For instance, an elder in a Native American community tells stories about the past, just as a grio, a storyteller in an African village, tells stories of the old generation to the new generation in an attempt to keep the memory of their ancestors and the way of life alive.
Today, these interviews provide people, in particular students and scholars, the opportunity to listen and to witness these other version of the history. In doing so, people have both sides of the story and should be able to detach the facts from the fiction. Working at the Oral History Center has given me the opportunity to understand the wisdom of Chinua Achebe when he said, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” In other words, these interviews clearly demonstrated that the Native Americans constitute a vibrant part of American history despite the fact that their history has largely been ignored, or reported partially through the voices of Western historians.
Elvis Ngonga, a native from Cameroon, West Africa. He obtained a BA in English and BA in Political Sciences at the University of Utah. He is currently attending The University of South Dakota School of Law, 2nd year. He is working as a Graduate Assistant at the South Dakota Oral history Center.
For more information about the South Dakota Oral History Center visit http://www.usd.edu/arts-and-sciences/native-studies/oral-history-center.cfm and/or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.