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Anna's African stroy

PUBLISHED: 07:38 14 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010

CAROLINE CULOT

You could call it taking a belated gap-year. Because when Anna Cottrell retired as a teacher, she decided to take a break from her husband and family in Norfolk and pursue her dream of going on an adventure in Africa.

You could call it taking a belated gap-year. Because when Anna Cottrell, 61, retired as a teacher, she decided to take a break from her husband and family in Norfolk and pursue her dream of going on an adventure in Africa.

Mrs Cottrell, a former French teacher at Flegg High School at Martham, near Yarmouth, decided that gardening and going to WI meetings in her retirement was not for her - so she looked up volunteer work on the Internet and found herself on a three month trip of a lifetime to Ghana.

Her experience took her to the town of Klikor, in the Ketu district of south-east Ghana, and to a nearby village where she met a fetishist chief and his vestal virgins and agreed to help save a dying African tradition.

Mrs Cottrell, from Brundall, went to Ghana armed with traditional stories such as Cinderella and Goldilocks, which she told to local school children but she never imagined that she would discover an age-old tradition of African story-telling.

She befriended a group of story-tellers who regularly recounted tales in the moonlight to children after they had done their chores. These stories had been re-told for generations but never ever written down.

Mrs Cottrell recorded the stories and had them translated into English to bring back to Norfolk. But more importantly, she also helped record the stories in the native Ewe language in the hope that the tales could be made available to people who lived far away.

“It is thought to be the first time these ancient stories have ever been recorded and I wanted to help keep alive the tradition of story telling in Africa,” said Mrs Cottrell.

A retired headteacher Togbi Kumassah took Mrs Cottrell to a village chief for permission to do the recording. In the village, rituals were performed including vestal virgins being kept as the property of a shrine, but Mrs Cottrell said she had no qualms about the meeting.

“He was a very cultured man and we met in a basic, brick built house. He pulled out this bottle of white French wine but had no corkscrew - so it was passed round with everyone trying to open it.

“Eventually someone did and then a huge tumbler was passed to me and I thought - how much do I put in, what is acceptable and then I thought it's only 10.30 in the morning.”

After being granted permission to record the stories, she then listened for over an hour while the group recounted about six different tales which have been translated to be titled The Catfish and the Birds, the Elephant and the Tortoise, the Goat Farmer and the Thief, Gosevide the Hunter and Zomanagh the Rich man and the Spider. The group of narrators, eight men and one woman, also used handmade instruments to accompany their tales.

Each of the tales has a moral and is aimed at teaching people about what is acceptable behaviour in their own community.

After recently returning from Ghana, Mrs Cottrell is now hoping to tell the stories to local school children or use them as part of a project for secondary schools as well return to Klikor and help Mr Kumassah circulate the taped stories.

t If anyone is interested in Mrs Cottrell coming to a school or in listening to the African stories, she can be contacted by email at cottrells@waitrose.com


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