Elder Wisdom

A visit from Pencils for Africa Executive Board Member
Paola Gianturco

by

Chyah Weitzman

Editorial Team Member

African Kitchen Table

grandmotherpOn two separate visits with the Pencils for Africa Editorial Team during the Spring 2014 term, Paola Gianturco has so enriched both my life and the life of the PFA team with her wealth of knowledge, her art of storytelling, her depth of insight and her profound wisdom as an elder of our Kitchen Table community.

Paola spoke with the PFA team about wide ranging subjects that all connect and weave together, such as the history of slavery in Africa, the history and craft of beads and the woven cloth tapestries of storytelling. I would like to express my gratitude to our wonderful African Kitchen Table community member, Paola:

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Dear Paola,

Taking a pause from the day and thinking of our time together today, gives me a sense of strength and wonderment. Thank-you so very much for coming back to St. Hilary School. The kids and I feel so honored to have had you come and share with us your crafts along with your words of wisdom.

Ben and Nicolas test out Paola's African toys

Ben and Nick test out African toys

You are such a great listener and draw out the most curious and honest responses from the students, it is wonderful. They feel very safe and open with you.

When speaking about elders, Ben mentioned an elder being the wisest person in the community, he is correct.

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Lucia examines African bowl

Though I know that time is a human construct… it always seems to go by so fast when you are with us.

We spoke of several important subjects that had many interesting responses.

We spoke with the younger girls about the “narrative,” changing the story, or perception of a group of people or of a situation.

Carly, Charlotte and Lucia

Carly, Charlotte and Lucia

I really like to hear their young voices, and see how open they were talking about changing a negative to a positive and a possible. When speaking about elders, Ben mentioned an elder being the wisest person in the community, he is correct.

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Letter dated 1874 on the African Slave Trading Post of Zanzibar

The history of the Slave Trade was such a powerful subject on so many different levels.

When talking about slavery, Chelsea mentioned being a slave to our own lives, always owning money to the bank, and needing money for rent and for groceries.

Map-of-Slave-Trade

When talking of slavery, Chelsea mentioned being a slave to our own lives, by owing money to the bank, rent and groceries.

I thought it was very interesting, as Nicolas and Ben spoke about being owned by another person.

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For me, the slave beads, gave me pause at how grateful I am for my life.

The thought of a persons life equating to the cost of the beaded necklace… priceless.

I thought it was very interesting, as Nicolas and Ben spoke about being owned by another person.

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African Trade Beads used in the African Slave Trade

Paola, you have brought so much to our lives.

The students love the crafts, beads, the stories and discussions.

Please know that our door at Pencils for Africa is always open to you. Even if you just want to come to a meeting to just be with us, we would be honored.

Thank-you for all you do, again for coming back to school, and always, inspiring all of us.

With deep respect and love,

Chyah

Paola

To read the Pencils for Africa Editorial Team’s reflections on the visit by Paola Gianturco click here.

Thoughts on The Gift by Lewis Hyde and on African Elder Wisdom

by Chyah

I have been rereading the writings of Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift.

In reading through anthropological literature I began to realize that a description of gift exchange might offer me the language through which I could address the situation of creative artists.

— The Gift, by Lewis Hyde

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I thought of The Gift when Paola Gianturco visited our PFA team meeting recently and spoke about African elder wisdom and folk wisdom. Here is a quote from Lewis Hyde’s The Gift that resonates with ideas on African folk wisdom and tribal wisdom that Paola shared with us:

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Folk wisdom does not differ markedly from tribal wisdom in a sense of what a gift is… their story describes for us a spiritual and psychological commerce.

— The Gift, by Lewis Hyde

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