Nowadays most of the stories we know are either filmed, written or typed, and we often do not take time to sit down and listen to a full story from start to end. Some of us got a chance to enjoy storytelling as kids, but as adults many of us don’t do that often. Amina Blackwood Meeks, an award-winning Jamaican writer, educator and storyteller, has been reviving the storytelling tradition, inviting both adults and kids to gather and enjoy stories.
Her mission of honouring Jamaican heritage and speaking up on issues of human development, education and poverty has made her a cultural icon in her home country. She also celebrates patois, Jamaican creole and predominantly West African roots of Jamaican oral tradition. The Elder Statesman of Caribbean Culture, Ken Corsbie, described her stories as “an outrageous combination of education and entertainment, of glitz and thoughtfulness.” This combination of rawness and humour resonates with a lot of people, Jamaican or otherwise.
The stories Amina tells are not all new: she often brings up culturally deep “hidden gem” stories from older times, making sure the younger generation doesn’t lose touch with their roots. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and has founded Ntukuma, The Storytelling Foundation of Jamaica. Ntukuma hosts an annual National Storytelling Festival in November.
One of Amina’s recent poems was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, it talks about poverty and how we can find motivation to address it. What if we woke up with a fever and other strong symptoms, that were nothing else but our reaction to poverty? What if we fought against poverty the same way we did against COVID-19, mobilizing all of our resources, forgetting about political conflicts and directing communal and international efforts to eliminate it? Amina expanded the metaphor further, imagining what would happen if we could come up with a vaccine against poverty and make it available to each and everyone. The audience empathized with the poem, since it was touching on a significant issue that Jamaica and almost every country faces today. The piece was motivating and empowering, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for No Poverty. Besides, it encouraged both communal and governmental efforts, promoting Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
Amina also presented a funny poem about a kid who doesn’t want to go to school and is arguing with his mother—another situation a lot of people can relate to, whether from a parental or childhood point of view. She concluded with a piece about an ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, expressing her deep concern for the situation.
It is amazing how Amina uses the power of storytelling to honour Jamaican culture and heritage as well as to address global issues. She reminds us that stories play a big role in our societies and “what we teach ourselves to believe about ourselves” is crucial.
You can find out more about Amina and listen to her stories on this website.