Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Which one is the heroine?

Outside basketA good story lasts and a good story travels. In the course of this week, I received a request from one of this blog’s readers. Steph who works in South London and whom I met at my Waterstones event a few weeks ago was asking for suggestions. She needs good hero/heroine stories for when she’ll be telling stories in a South London Primary school during Black History Month in October.

A Nigerian folk-story known as The Swallowing Drum was one suggestion that quickly popped up in my mind. The story was first introduced to me by my fellow storyteller, Karen Tovell. It’s brilliant for involving older-age, Key Stage Two primary pupils in participation, debate and story-creating. Adults in workshops, too, can get an enormous amount from it. Besides, there’s a fascinating tale to be told about how this story travelled from a telling of it I did in London to a large class of 11-12 year old children in one of South Africa’s black township schools. And, for me at any rate, the story raises an interesting question:  Who is the heroine of this story – the mother or the daughter?

But all that is too much for one blog. So this week I’m simply retelling the story, reserving the rest for next week and perhaps  the week after that.  

The Swallowing Drum:

Once in a town called Ikom, there lived a girl called Ibanang. While her father went off to work on his land each day, her mother would sweep their hut, fetch water from the river and prepare their food. Then, when the father came home at mid-day, Ibanang’s mother would go off to work in the field while Ibanang’s father did all kinds of other jobs about their home and taught Ibanang how to weave.

Ibanang’s parents always had one important rule for Ibanang. They’d tell her she mustn’t go into the nearby forest – not on her own or without any grown-ups. Sometimes, families would go into the forest to collect wild honey or mushrooms. But Ibanang knew she mustn’t ever go there alone. Her friends’ parents said the same thing to them: Do not go into the forest on your own. But when the children were playing, they all  used to wonder what could be in the forest that was such a problem. Wild animals? A witch? What could it be?

One day, when Ibanang’s father came home from the fields, he sat down against the wall of their hut and started going to sleep. Ibanang had been looking out at the forest nearby and the idea came into her head that, while her father was sleeping, she would go a little way into the forest and then quickly come home. But just then, her father woke up. ‘Ibanang,’ he called. ‘Where are you?’ Ibanang called back, ‘I’m here.’ However, a little while later, when her father had gone fast asleep, Ibanang went through the gate and into the forest.

DrumA little way inside the forest, Ibanang saw a little drum beside the path. Indeed, she’d started to hear it before she saw it. It was calling out, ‘Ibanang, Ibanang, go back home.’ But Ibanang didn’t go home. She went on. Soon, she heard a middle-sized drum. It was calling the same thing, ‘Ibanang, Ibanang, go back home.’ But still Ibanang went on. Before long, she heard a big-sized drum. It said, ‘Ibanang, Ibanang, go back home.’ Ibanang didn’t listen. She went on.

Then Ibanang came to a fork in the path. Which way should she go? Well, after wondering about it, she took the path on the right and before long, she came to a  clearing amongst the trees. In the middle of the clearing was a huge, great drum, bigger than you could ever imagine. At the same time as she saw it, she heard it. It had the sound of a beating heart.

As Ibanang looked at that enormous drum, she saw the top of it begin to move. The drumskin slithered towards her like an open mouth and before she could turn and run, she felt herself being lifted and carried and then she was falling down with a bump. The drum had swallowed her up. She found herself in almost total darkness.  She was trapped. She was scared.

Then in the shadows, Ibanang began to see that she wasn’t alone. Around her were other people. Children, grown-ups, they began speaking to her. ‘We’re all trapped here. We’ll never get out. The swallowing drum has got us.’ As Ibanang thought about her mother and father back home, she began to cry. What would they say when they realised she was gone?

Back home, Ibanang’s mother was saying to Ibanang’s father, ‘Where is our daughter? Where has she gone?’ When she realised that Ibanang was missing, she said, ‘I am going after her.’ First, Ibanang’s mother got ready. She went round their hut collecting everything sharp she could find – knives, forks, nails, digging tools. Each of these she tied to a long piece of rope and when she’d finished tying, she wound the rope round her body. Then she fetched out a huge animal skin they had in the hut and she draped this around her till she looked like a great big bear. Then, telling Ibanang’s father to fetch everyone in the village and follow her, Ibanang’s mother marched into the forest.

When Ibanang’s mother came to the clearing, she didn’t turn and run away. She saw the top skin of the drum move towards her and allowed herself to be swallowed up. Inside the drum, she saw Ibanang. You can imagine what an enormous hug they had. But then Ibanang cried, ‘Now, my dear mother, you are trapped too.’

p1020173Ibanang’s mother did not waste a moment. She listened to the sound of the drum’s beating heart and as soon as she looked up and saw it at the top of the drum, she began organising the people inside. She asked them to make a human ladder, one person on top of another’s shoulders, until the ladder was high enough to reach the heart of the evil drum. Then she handed up one of the knives she’d been carrying and told the person at the top to stab the heart until it stopped beating.

And as soon as that happened, everyone inside the drum felt safe. Now it was time to get out of the drum. And that’s when all the weapons that Ibanang’s mother had brought got used. People used them to smash holes in the wooden sides of the drum so they could climb out.

When all the trapped people stepped out of the enormous swallowing drum, they saw Ibanang’s father. With him were all the villagers he’d brought with him. Everyone was overjoyed. Over the years, so many people had gone missing. Now they were all restored and safe and that night there was great celebration. A great fire was made with the wood from the drum and everyone sang songs of thanks and praise. The swallowing drum was defeated and gone.

Next week:

So next week, it’ll be ideas for telling and working with the story of Ibanang. Meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the story itself and also thinking about that question as to who is the heroine of it. 

And for Key Stage One?

For Key Stage One pupils, the story I suggested to Steph is the story of Abiyoyo. It’s a South African folk-tale for which the American folk-musician, Pete Seeger, created a song. He also retold the story, with song, in picture-book form. Look up Abiyoyo on the net and you’ll find several versions, including one with Pete Seeger himself doing the story and song. 

 PS: Photos this week are of course of drums. Coming out of your story basket or bag, even these small items make very good props for introducing the Ibanang story.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Which one is the heroine?”

  1. Meg Says:

    Dear Mary. Oh my, you start telling stories and my memory sparks! The swallowing drum is a good story I haven”t heard. A little Indian story I’ve told is called ‘The Magic Drum.’ where an old woman outwits hungry jackal, then wolf , then panther and gets safely home inside the drum.
    I love Abiyoyo, too. It almost hypnotises the audience when you sing it. I’ve only been telling it a couple of years and it always goes down well.
    The other African heroine story I love tell is The Udala Tree. Margaret Read MacDonald has it in her collection “Twenty Tellable tales.” I made the main character a girl and made up a song which Margaret liked. It’s a bit of a standby for me.
    Thanks again for stoking my storytelling fire again. Kind Regards. M.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Meg

    Story-memories spark indeed. The version of The Magic Drum that I tell involves the old woman getting home in a big clay pot she makes while she’s still at her daughter’s house. I love the things that children say when I get to the point where she has arrived home inside the pot and is trying to judge when it will be safe to get out of the pot and run into the house. The answer in the story is of course that it’s when she hears the animals snoring. Then she knows they are asleep.

    As for The Udala Tree, I’ve told it many times too. I love Twenty Tellable Tales and Margaret Read MacDonald’s approach. I’m fascinated to know how she got to hear your song. Did you get to meet her?

    So storytelling fires spark. It’s great to know that happens from one side of the world to another! All the best, Mary

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