Back to all African Modules

Africa Unit 2

Exploring Community Values and Norms through Story Telling Among the Ewe Peoples of Ghana

Name: Nathan Crook, PhD

College: Ohio State ATI

Discipline: Cultural Anthropology

Module Title: “Exploring Community Values and Norms through Storytelling”

Narrative Description of the Module: This module will enhance and broaden understanding of the major components of folk narratives by viewing storytelling through a Ghanaian lens. The module will emphasize studying structure, theory, and the effects of culture on storytelling. Students will develop skills to understand the power of stories more profoundly: to use them in their own lives; within their social groups; and, cultural frameworks.

In this module, students will be introduced to traditional folk narratives from the small towns of the Volta Region of Ghana. They will also learn how the weight and purpose of storytelling change as a society leaves behind many of its old ways and moves into the modern technological world, where television, internet, and mobile devices are omnipresent.

From this introduction to Ghanaian storytelling, Students will learn how the oral tradition of storytelling holds a primary role in traditional societies. Social scientists and humanities researchers explain that telling stories is a political and religious force and an “integral part of the human experience,” particularly important for supporting groups “during times of uncertainty, change and upheaval or in response to crises” (Forster, et al., 1999, pp. 11-17). By encountering stories, outsiders can learn the values and mores of a culture. In academia, “storytelling is considered in a wide variety of academic disciplines” from anthropology and computer sciences to theology (Miller, 1998, p. 1). Researchers have found that “students respond positively to storytelling and their memory is enhanced when ideas are associated with narrative.” It is expected that this module, then, will benefit the student-researchers, too. The fact that “narrative transcends specific cultures is key…[and] stories maintain their integrity even when translated across cultures” (Miller & Jack, 2007, pp. 16-17).

Students will then, move out into their communities to identify, listen to, and interview a storyteller of a culture that is not their own. From this experience, they will craft a paper documenting the session and discussing their impressions.

Educational Objectives of the Module
  1. Introduce students to the academic discussion of Ghanaian storytelling practices, narratives, and cultural sensibilities.
  2. To develop a stronger awareness of how traditional narrative frames are being increasingly used in many academic and practical areas.
  3. To understand and be able to differentiate between different forms of storytelling such as morality stories, fairytales, myths, fantasies, comedies, etc.
  4. To understand how culture affects storytelling practices.
  5. To cultivate skills in how stories can strengthen strategies for social change and to apply those skills to your specific interests and passions.
  6. To enhance collaborative creative abilities through group discussion, giving and responding to feedback, and collective brainstorming.
  7. Involve students in primary research by which they will discover the meaning and value of a culture that is new to them. Students will determine what they can learn about the meaning of Ghanaian stories that will lead to their own personal growth and development.
Detailed outline of main themes (with accompanying content notes) to be included in the Lectures/Discussions Used to Implement the Module
  1. Discuss narrative structure, genera, plot, characters, and narrative point of view. Discuss AT classification system as one way of categorizing narratives based upon characteristics.
    1. Read and discuss: “Introduction to Storytelling Studies.”
    2. Have students view and discuss: “Éwé Storytellers from Ghana” by Library Of Congress. 2015.
  2. Introduce students to narrative context of storytelling events
    1. Storytelling as a community event where young people are introduced to community norms and expectations through entertainment
    2. Have students view and discuss: “Reading Community Social Agendas in Ewe (Ghana)” by Crook & Elder. 2016.
    3. Depending upon the desired depth of engagement and discussion, the instructor may be interested in spending time discussing each of the areas written about in Feintuch’s Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture or other background readings and materials as outlined below.
  3. Assign storytelling reading/ performance in Cottrell & Kumassah, Once upon a time in Ghana: traditional Ewe stories retold in English. 2007.
    1. Students will read stories on their own and practice reading to deliver to the classroom audience.
    2. A portion of the class session will be designed as a storytelling session.
  4. After reading “Designing a ‘Life Skills Questionnaire’” students will collaborate to design an evaluative device for original research they will conduct when they listen to and interview a storyteller of a culture that is not their own.
  5. Students will then, move out into their communities to identify, listen to, and interview a storyteller of a culture that is not their own. From this experience, they will craft a paper documenting the session and discussing their impressions.
Listing of Audio-Visuals Used to Implement the Module (provide electronic links to sites where they can be accessed)
  1. Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales:
  2. The AT Numbering system for cataloging folktales:
  3. All Folk Tales Database of West African Folktales:
  4. Crook, N & Elder, D. 2016. Reading Community Social Agendas in Ewe (Ghana) Storytelling Songs:
  5. Library Of Congress. 2015. Éwé Storytellers from Ghana.
Student Readings (links to sites where readings can be accessed electronically or by purchase)
  1. Khosravani, M., K. Motallebzadeh, & H. Ashraf. 2014. Designing a “Life Skills Questionnaire” for Analyzing the Socio-Cultural Constructs of EFL Textbooks. International Journal of Language Learning and Applied Linguistics World, 5(1) January, 265-273.
  2. Miller, Eric. 1998. Introduction to Storytelling Studies. World Storytelling Institute. Web.
Writing/Field/Experiential Assignments Used to Implement the Module
Students will collect and compile all the materials presented in class and through required reading and write a collaborative paper exploring storytelling through an academic lens. In this assignment, students can choose any one of a number of topics that have come up in class that they find intriguing. To do this, students will work in small groups to consult the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales, then, create a form for collecting information on storytelling so that they will maintain uniformity in their cataloguing of stories from in-class and external storytelling sessions. Students will create an evaluative instrument to assist them in conducting original field research, then, will identify and interview a local storyteller. Using the student-constructed evaluative device, each student-researcher will measure the impact of the stories as they work with the local storyteller. From this interactive, students will craft a paper documenting the session and discussing their impressions
Student Evaluation/Testing Regarding the Module
Students will document the interaction with a local storyteller as outlined in Lecture/ Discussion #5 using the evaluative device created during Lecture/ Discussion #4. From this experience, they will craft a paper documenting the session and discussing their impressions. Resources (Bibliography) Used to Develop-Implement the Module (where feasible provide links to where resources can be accessed electronically)
  1. Anyidoho, A. 1989. Storytelling Trend among Some Ghanaian Children. Journal. Institute of African Studies, 5(2), 71-82.
  2. Assan, M.E. 2002. The Art of Storytelling: A Tool for the Socio-cultural Development of The Youth of Ashanti. Master’s Thesis, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
  3. Cottrell, Anna & , Agbotadua Togbi Kumassah. 2007. Once upon a time in Ghana: traditional Ewe stories retold in English. Leicester: Afram (Ghana) ltd.
  4. Crowder, L. V., Lindley, W. I., Bruening, T. H., & N. Doron. 1998. Agricultural Education for Sustainable Rural Development: Challenges for Developing Countries. The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 5(2), 71-84.
  5. De Groot, W. T., & Zwaal, N. 2007. Storytelling as a Medium for Balanced Dialogue On Conservation in Cameroon. Environmental Conversation, 34(1), 45-54.
  6. Goodman, A. 2015. Storytelling as Best Practice: How stories strengthen your organization, engage your audience, and advance your mission. Goodman Center.
  7. Feintuch, Burt, editor. Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
  8. Forster, N., Cebis, M., Majteles, S., Mathur, A., Morgan, R., Preuss, J., et al. 1999. The Role of Story-telling in organizational leadership. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 20(1), 11-17.
  9. Haven, K. F. 2007. Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  10. Miller, S. K., & Jack, Z. M. 2007. Storytelling as Narrativity: Rural Life through the Prism of Social Tensions. Southern Rural Sociology, 22(1), 15-27.