Griot weaves colorful tales at Carroll Community College


February 19, 1993|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

A roomful of people -- black and white, young and old -- joined hands, some with heads bowed and eyes closed, and listened to a recording of the black anthem "Lift Every Voice."

It was a moving moment Wednesday at Carroll Community College, capping off an evening of storytelling designed to share the black experience.

"I have accepted a very heavy responsibility, and that responsibility is to pass on the culture of my people," said Stanley "Bunjo" Butler.

Mr. Butler, 46, is a griot, an African storyteller. He also is manager at the Holling-Paysons branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. He has been there for 15 years, and it was through his job that he started telling stories.

"The children's librarian was out one day, and I filled in for her telling stories to the kids," he said. "She was a member of a storytelling group and she encouraged me."

That was 10 years ago. Mr. Butler has been telling stories to anyone who will listen ever since. He is a member of the National Association of Black Storytellers and the president of the Griot Circle of Maryland Inc.

The Griot Circle presented its 10th National Festival of Black Storytelling in November in Baltimore, Mr. Butler's hometown.

He is in demand and does numerous programs around the state. He even incorporates being a Baltimore native in some of his stories: "I'm fond of saying to folks that I can see the world from Baltimore."

His reputation reached the Carroll County Women on the Move, who, in conjunction with the college, sponsored this week's program.

"We wanted to observe Black History Month," said Cheryl Crandall, president of CCWOM. "And we thought the best way to do it was through a griot.

"African-American history needs to be told accurately, so we need griots," Mrs. Crandall said. "Black history belongs to everybody, not just blacks."

Mr. Butler uses instruments and audience participation in his show as he tells African folk stories. The children get to play authentic African instruments in an impromptu orchestra he compiles from the audience.

His presentations are not just for children, however.

"Storytelling is that medium in which a properly told tale can get anybody into it," Mr. Butler said.

"I work with all age groups and they give great energy.

"Adults and young adults have a different level of thinking and can get some things that children can't," Mr. Butler said.

His stories appeal to children because of the simplicity and because of Mr. Butler's dramatic presentation.

"I enjoyed it. I thought it was nice," said James Joyce, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at East Middle School.

"My Mom is in CCWOM and she brought me, but I wanted to check it out anyway," James said.

Butler's stories appeal to adults because they teach moral and historical lessons. One lesson he has learned is that improvisation in storytelling is sometimes necessary -- especially he forgets part of a story.

"Most of the time the audience can't tell," he said. "Audiences are forgiving. Usually you get through it."

His learns new stories through reading and word of mouth. He also composes his own. Before each story, he pounds on his drum.

He calls himself "Bunjo the West Baltimore African Talking Drum," and uses different drums throughout his presentation because the drum has long been a part of the black culture.

"Africans could talk with each other with their drums and, because of that, when slaves were brought over drums were outlawed," Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Butler wants to make sure history is never silenced again.


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