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Jan Blake: What does gender have to do with wisdom?

  • Published at 04:50 pm November 9th, 2019
Jan Blake- DLF 2019 day 3
World-renowned storyteller Jan Blake in her interactive session titled The Bold and the Brave yesterday at Cosmic Tent | Rajib Dhar

Each of the traditional African stories she performed, inspired by African folklore, gave the audience a taste of the strong presence of women in the ancient African society

Jan Blake, a world renowned storyteller, enchanted the audience of Dhaka Lit Fest 2019 at capital’s Bangla Academy on Saturday afternoon with her dynamic, and generous storytelling.  

The Cosmic Tent was full to the brim in this rainy weather while cyclone Bulbul is about to hit the coastal areas of the country. Jan's local and foreign fans enjoyed three short stories performed by her from the Carribean, and African region in the session titled The Bold and the Brave.

The most compelling one among them was the story of a hunter who goes in search of leopard cubs, to sacrifice in honour of his newborn son, and their shape-shifting leopard mother is determined to see them returned home safely. 

Another story portrays the life of a frustrated farmer who chastises, bullies, and repudiates his wife, but regrets it immediately when he feels the absence of her warm love, and excellent cooking.

Each of the traditional African stories she performed, inspired by African folklore, gave the audience a taste of the strong presence of women in the ancient African society.  

Her magical engagement with the audience is another marvel to witness. Before beginning her narration, she trains her audience to move their bodies for different parts within her story. She also teaches them lines from African folk songs, which are part of the storyline. 

An intrigued audience member asked, during the question-answer session, "why would the strong, intelligent, and women in Jane’s stories need to go to wise men for answers?," referring to a story where a farmer divorces his wife out of anger, and the couple search for a wise person to solve the issue.

Jan replied: “In this world, we have to live together because I believe wisdom comes in all forms or shapes, all sizes, and all genders. And so I don't think it gives a woman more agency in the world, to not engage in a dialogue with men."

Pointing at a Caucasian audience Jane went on: “What is the name, Joseph? What we have to do is listen to the pool. It doesn't matter what gender you are, doesn't matter what skin you have. So you are white, and I can't come to you for advice because I'm black. What if we [women] don't have the answer? 

"To me wisdom comes from a pool of people.  She asked the man so is she not strong or wise? She's not herself? What if a man does have the answer?

“She's herself because she chose to go to that man. No one asked her to go to that man. And even if they did, it’s because she doesn't have an answer. She goes to the elder woman too, and then she goes to a man. 

"You know, some of my stories, value lies in the debate it creates afterwards. It's not just a story. I do not tell my stories to suit the contemporary means or tropes. Yeah, that's for you to do when you hear the story then you unpack it, and pick up the details but the most important thing is that you are entertained by the story," she added.

Jan Blake had been performing worldwide for over 30 years specializing in stories from Africa, and the Caribbean. 

Her highlights include being a resident storyteller at the Hay Festival, curating William Shakespeare’s stories in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, touring with the award-winning story-telling performance "The Old Woman, the Buffalo, and the Lion of Manding." The story is about a Malian hero, king Sundiata Keita. 

Besides regularly performing for children in school settings, she works with teachers to help them become better storytellers in the classroom. 

Her performance videos earned hundreds of thousands of views on social media platforms, and gave her an international audience base throughout the world.

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