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Storyteller Imhotep offers life lessons to students

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

About 65 Morrow Elementary School students screamed in disbelief on Thursday as Domingoes, the grape farmer, taunted his wife, Mia De Água, the "water woman."

The tale of Mia and Domingoes was one of four stories told at the school's Black History Month Celebration by Akbar Imhotep, a storyteller and puppeteer who travels around the state.

Imhotep's visit to Morrow is part of the Black History Month Celebration offered by the school's Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at its February meeting.

Mia and Domingoes were characters in the Brazilian tale, "The Man Who Married the Water Woman." Mia had been hesitant to marry Domingoes because another water woman once married a man who lived on the land, and she was teased by her husband. Mia did not want to experience any taunting, but Domingoes insisted he was different as he courted the woman dressed in blue sequins.

After Mia left Domingoes because of his taunting, she sought the advice of the students. Mia wanted to know if she should forgive her husband for his behavior. A slim majority, 35 students, convinced her to take Domingoes back.

"She should have forgiven him because you shouldn't live with hate in your heart," said Nike Obijuru, 11, a fifth-grader at Morrow Elementary.

"No, she shouldn't have forgiven him because he was making fun of her," said Tayah Ledford, 9, a third-grader.

"All of the stories I try to tell are about doing the right thing," Imhotep said. "I like the stories that make a person smile, but you have to leave them [the audience] with something to think about."

The Black History Month celebration also included a song, performed by the students, about important figures in African-American history, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver.

"Black history, black history, this month we celebrate. We learned about Americans we appreciate. Their skin was dark. Their eyes were brown, but nothing got in their way, of doing great things large and small across the U-S-A," the students sang.

Students who participated in the musical performance said they got a lesson in United States history by singing the song.

"I figured out they were important people, not just some regular, every day, people," said Shimoei Obijuru, Nike's brother.

"They are our history," Nike added.

The students turned around and sat in front of the school's stage. Imhotep then took the stage and invited the children to "open the door" to their imaginations. In addition to "The Man Who Married the Water Woman," Imhotep also told the Nigerian tale, "The Turtle's Tug-of-war", the story, "Anansi Learns a Lesson," which comes from Ghana. He also told the story of "Skat the Cat," which he learned from a young girl several years ago.

Imhotep has been a storyteller since 1979, when he began his career at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. He decided to branch out on his own in 1985, and has been touring the state, performing at schools, libraries and churches, ever since.

Lee Casey, principal at the Morrow Elementary School, was pleased to see her students enjoying, and eagerly participating in Imhotep's stories. The school also had another storyteller, Mama Koku, visit the school in January. Giselle Escobar, the school's media specialist, tried to get the storyteller to perform at the PTA meeting, but scheduling problems prevented it from happening.

Mama Koku then got Imhotep, whose schedule is packed with daily performances these days, to agree to perform instead.

"Anything we can do to enhance what we're already teaching in the classroom is a plus," Casey said. "With both of these storytellers, we've been able to help teach the children lessons about life."