Stories of the past to shape the present

Lesson rationale

There is a vast range of inventive combinations of word, symbol and song across peoples and cultures in West Africa. This interweaving of art, communication forms, languages and writing systems lends itself beautifully to cross-curricular learning. Indeed, the cross-curricular approach enhances students’ ability to understand and learn from West African cultures. For this reason, most of the activities combine, for example Art, History, Geography, RE, English Literature and English Language in different ways.

The symbol of the Sankofa bird (from Ghana, meaning ‘reach back and get it’) refers to the importance of knowing the past to help understand and shape the present and the future. The enduring power of the Sunjata story illustrates the role of Sankofa. Often orated and performed by a griot (musician and storyteller), it tells of the founding of the Malian empire.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • Given the history of Europe’s involvement with Africa, and West Africa in particular, how much should we rely on the past to dictate the decisions we make about what we do now?
  • What do the images and articles (see list above) tell us about the role of the Sankofa bird and the Sunjata story in building the Asante and Malian empires?
  • How have these powerful stories and ideas shaped historical developments in these regions?
  • What are some of the positive and negative outcomes of Sankofa for some countries and peoples of the region?