Griots share tradition of stories

BY C.C. SONG
Daily Staff Reporter

Published February 16, 2006

In some West African cultures, griots are an important part of oral storytelling tradition.

Jess Cox
Griot Antoine Kabwasa, a professor at the University of Toledo, shares treasured stories and poems yesterday in celebration of Black History Month at the Ann Arbor District Library. (BEN SIMON/Daily)

Ann Arbor has its own griots, or storytellers, who maintain the stories that are passed down to them through their families.

Last night at the Ann Arbor District Library, several griots told an audience their stories.

Elizabeth James, a professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, performed a story that she had heard from her grandmother when she was a child.

With vivacity, James conveyed her grandmother's first encounter with ice fishing after she moved from Louisiana to Detroit.

James inherited the griot tradition from her maternal grandmother, who is of African descent. James's grandmother inspired her to perform when she was a child. Her mother also told stories on a radio show, James said.

She remembered being astounded when she heard her mother on the radio telling stories in a theatrical fashion that differed from the casual bedtime stories James was used to hearing from her mother.

"Hearing her got me interested in it," James said.

The tradition of griots originated in West Africa, where people perform oral stories American men are married to white spouses and 37.1 percent of Japanese females have a white husband.

Japanese interracial dating is common compared with other Asian American groups, especially South Asians, Chinese and Vietnamese, which all had interracial marriage rates below 20 percent.

American culture Prof. Phillip Akutsu said Japanese Americans are often more assimilated in the United States than other Asian groups because they tended to immigrate earlier.

"If you live three, four generations in the U.S., you're much more acculturated," Akutsu said. "(The Japanese) have come to see themselves as being American."

Music school senior Luci Kagaya, who is half Japanese and half white, said Japanese immigrants she knows engage in interracial dating because they think it's "cool" to date someone who is white, black or from another cultural group.

Chinese Americans and Indian Americans have relatively low rates of interracial dating.

Akutsu said both groups recently immigrated, and that this may contribute to low rates of interracial dating because they are more likely to have stronger ties to their heritage.

Statistics also show that Asian women are more likely to marry outside of their race than Asian men.

For example, 83.1 percent of Filipino men marry Filipino American women, while only 62.7 percent of Filipino American women marry within their ethnicity.

LSA junior Stephen Lin, who is a Chinese American, said he believes one reason is that negative stereotypes of Asian males are prevalent in the media.

"You definitely see more Asian women with a non-Asian guy and not the other way around," Lin said. "(In the media), white guys are more confident, more aggressive than Asian guys."

Asian men are often portrayed as nerds who are asexual, quiet, socially awkward and good at martial arts, Akutsu said. He said stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan have never acted in movies where they had serious romantic relationships with non-Asian women.

He said these stereotypes persist because white Americans usually don't have much interaction with Asian Americans, especially since they only make up 4 percent of the U.S. population.

Kagaya said Asian females are also often stereotyped in the media.

"Some white guys think Asian girls are more exotic and subservient," she said.

Akutsu also said Asian women are portrayed as hypersexual in the media. He used actress Lucy Liu as an example.

"A lot of non-Asians ask (Asian) women out hoping that they will fulfill these stereotypes," Akutsu said.