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How Orisanmi Chose His Head

Teacher Study Guide


Developed by Michelle McElwaine, October 2004

A Yoruba tale from Nigeria adapted for the stage and directed by Nefertiti Burton. Produced by the University of Louisvilles Department of Theatre Arts

In this one-hour theatrical presentation, 11 actors transform into traditional Yoruba characters to perform a coming of age story. Through storytelling, ritual, drumming, dance and song, they enact the story of three young spirits who undertake the journey to be born on earth as human beings. The story reveals the traditional Yoruba values of patience, humility, respect for parents, and courtesy to others. Each performance is followed by a talk-back with the actors. Performances April 13-17, 2011

Dear Educators, Thank you for your interest in How Orsanm Chose His Head for your students! Thank you also for thinking about using the play as a teaching tool in your classroom. This performance was created, written, and directed by Nefertiti Burton, but the story comes from a huge cannon of oral literature that is preserved among the Yoruba people. This study guide is a work in progress designed to make your job easierwe would welcome any feedback on how it works for you. The term Yoruba simultaneously refers to the people, the land, the culture, the language and the religion.
The Variance Points of the Standards and Indicators for School Improvement

"4.1i Multiple communication strategies used to disseminate info 4.1k Equity and diversity valued and supported

The Variance Points of the Standards and Indicators for School Improvement in JCPS show that the primary characteristics of successful K-12 school systems in Jefferson County are overwhelmingly strong leadership and a positive learning environment. This performance of How Orsanm Chose His Head, in conjunction with use of the classroom companion that we developed with the Core Content Curriculum Standards in mind, can contribute to the development of an effective learning

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community by addressing at least points the two points in Standard 4 that are listed above. By viewing the performance, How Orsanm Chose His Head as part of your curriculum, you send a message that Africa specifically, and cultural heritage in general, are important components of the world in which we live. Students who do not belong to the dominant discourse community often do not see their own life reflected in their learning environment. You honor the important ancestral heritage of the Yoruba, by providing your students with the opportunity to view the play, thereby contributing to that positive learning environment in which students tend to learn more effectively. By placing the performance in context through thoughtful instruction, you are letting your students know that real cultural diversity in the classroom means providing space for contemplation of the complexities of human experience and culture. In looking more deeply at How Orsanm Chose His Head, you allow the learning environment you create to be shaped by authentic cultural materials. By being willing to learn about Yoruba culture yourself, you set a model of cultural understanding and a willingness to learn about other people in a safe, judgment-free space. Just as we respectfully study classic written literature, it is important to honor the
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knowledge that pre-literate peoples have not only developed, but held on to through space and time. It is our hope that the study guide we have developed to accompany viewing of the play How Orsanm Chose His Head will help: a) b) c) Provide interesting information on Africa and traditional Yoruba Use the play as a teaching tool to address some of the KY Core De-mystify some of the cultural vestiges of slavery in the culture in Nigeria for both you and your students; Competency Standards at your students' level; African Diaspora and contribute to affective learning in a positive environment; d) Encourage inclusiveness and bring people together by making it easier for you to infuse Africa into your everyday curriculum, based on sound multicultural education methods. In researching how teaching about the performance How Orsanm Chose His Head address some of the standards listed in the Kentucky Core Competencies, we became amazed at how many different subjects, fields, and disciplines can be cross-fertilized with the study of the Yoruba people. From Arts & Humanities to Math, How Orsanm Chose His Head is a jumping-off point for a multiplicity of content standard areas. Drawing from specific scenes in the performance, we can effectively link this Nigerian tale
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to learning across the curriculum. Also, the next time you visit Gheens Professional Development Center, note the poster on display, entitled "A Flowchart for Studying About Africa". The Teacher Center has created an effective, alternate method of illustrating the relevance of teaching about Africa across the boundaries of subject areas.

Relevant Aspect of How Orsanm Chose His Head


Based on a traditional Yoruba tale from Nigeria Traditional stories in West Africa are intended to teach grownups and children about good character and good behavior

Core Content Standard Area

Classroom Companion

AH-H2.3.31/3.3.31/4.3.31 Ancient and lineagebased CulturesAfrican SS-2.3.1 Various human needs are met through interaction in and among social groups

Teach about the Yoruba people and their culture Ask the students to say why they think telling stories out loud, or reading them, is important. Ask them to talk about what stories they know that they think most other kids know too. Do they teach a lesson? Teach about the Yoruba people and their culture

Based on a traditional Yoruba tale

AH-M-4.2.33 Cultures ancient and lineage-based culturesAfrican mlmcelwaine@yahoo.com 10/2004, Revised for Full production by N Burton 3/2011

Yoruba culture exists today all over the world, in places where Yoruba people were enslaved.

AH-E-4.2.34 Cultures: Native American, early American, West African

Teach about the Yoruba people and their culture. Discuss the relationship between Native American and African people who were enslaved in early America.

If, the body of sacred oral literature that includes the story of Orsanm,is an important part of Yoruba culture.

AH-E-3.2.32 Discuss specific cultures (West Africanperiods, and styles (folk tales, myths, and legends) within dramatic works

If stories are intended to teach about good character. How Orsanm Got His Head includes elements of West African cultural performance.

Explain the meanings of If and oral literature to your students using the attached vocabulary sheet. Play the "I went on a trip & I brought..."memory game" to show the memory strength of pre-literate peoples. Require that the story have a moral. AH-E-3.1.42 Use the attached Create a performance lesson to help using the elements turn your of production students story representing into a specific cultures, performance. periods, and styles (folktales, myths and legends of West Africa, Native America, and Colonial America) Revised for Full production by N Burton 3/2011 6

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African cultures did not die during slavery. Sacred traditional stories, like How Orsanm Chose His Head, continued to be told among African people in the Americas.

SS-M-5.2.1 Americas diverse society began with the great convergence of European, African, and Native American people beginning in the late 15th century

Discuss the convergence of African culture in the New World. Yoruba people were taken to the "New World" after Britain had already abolished slavery. The largest concentrations of Yoruba people today can be found in Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, Puerto Rico & the USA. Many Yoruba descendants across the world still practice their traditional ways of culture and religion. Use a map of the world to show students where Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo Republic, Ghana, Sudan, and Sierra Leone are located (All can be found in West Africa.). Yoruba people live in all of these countries. Note how the Berlin Conference of 1885 drew arbitrary borders dividing 7

Yoruba people can be found in many different countries in West Africa.

SS-H-5.3.5 After World War IInew nations formed in Africa

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Yorubaland. In forming new nations, cultural groups can be divided. How Orsanm Chose His Head shows the importance of making choices that show respect for others. How Orsanm Chose His Head includes a scene where one friend deals with peer pressure effectively in making the right choice. How Orsanm Chose His Head demonstrates standard elements of production and performance in the staging of this Yoruba tale. In Africa storytelling PL-E-1.1.1. Individual behaviors (e.g., etiquette, fairness, politeness, sharing, listening) show responsibility and respect to others (e.g., families, peers, teams) PL-E-1.8.1 There are effective strategies (e.g., assertiveness, refusal skills) for dealing with peer pressure. Talk about the behaviors of the two friends in the play. What kind of respect toward others did the different behaviors show?

What did Orsanm do when his friend tried to get him to make the wrong choices? How did he deal with his friends?

AH-E-3.1.33 Identify and discuss elements of production (scenery, costumes, props, sound and music, makeup, and roles) and elements of performance (character, movement, vocal expression, speaking style, listening, acting, storytelling) in a

Highlight the elements of production and performance in the play. Talk about the scenery that the actors create in your imagination, costumes, music, characters, etc.

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is an important part of life. Sacred oral literature

variety of works. AH-H-5.2.31 Explain how thoughts, feelings, and cultural traditions are reflected in literary works. AH-H-3.2.32 Identify cultural, historical and symbolic clues in dramatic texts which should be researched to assist in making artistic choices for formal and informal productions. What values do you see as important to a society that created and continues to tell the story of Orisanmi? Ask students, How much creative license can an artist take with a dramatic work that is considered sacred?

How Orsanm Chose His Head conveys meaning on many different levels: from dialogue to costuming, all aspects of the performance have been researched for cultural accuracy. The content of the play is great meaningmaking, storytelling material.

AH-E-3.1.32 Revise a short story passage into a simple dialogue format.

Choose one scene that you remember well from the play. Write a summary of that scene in short story form as best you can. Then rewrite your summary into a dialogue format, using correct punctuation.

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Yoruba Groundwork in Preparation for Learner Viewing of How Orisanmi Chose His Head Includes VOCABULARY & PRE-PLAY FOCUS QUESTIONS
for classroom use only. Please do not bring papers into the performance. It interrupts your experience!

PRE-PLAY FOCUS QUESTIONS

(general/elementary-middle)

Or(oh-ree) Head:

The Yoruba believe that each person has

their own inner head, which lives inside the head you see. This Ori is said to be each persons divine guardian that travels with them wherever they go. People go to the house of jl (ah-jah-la) to choose this inner head before they get born. There are two hundred and one heads in his workshop. *As you watch the play, pay attention to what you imagine the heads would look like in jls house.

Orsanm(oh-ree-saan-mee)
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Orsanm is the name that

Afwp gets after he came to earth and became a great person.


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How Orsanm Chose His Head is the story of three friends, Orsanm Orileemere (oh-r-lay-em-er-ay) and Orsk (oh-ree-say-koo), who decide to leave heaven and go to earth to make a better life. In the performance, you will see what happens on the way to jls house, when they get there, and after the three reach earth. *As you watch the play, think about what do the three friends do differently during each part of the story. *What different situations do the friends encounter? *How do they act in each circumstance?

Iwa Pele-- (ee-wah

pway-lay) Gentle character: Patience is

the greatest virtue among the Yoruba people. It is said that if an old person shows patience, then that person must have all the other good qualities too. It is a gentle, patient personality that deserves to be powerful. Respecting others and yourself makes others respect you! *What do you think are good personality characteristics? *Brainstorm a list of what things a person of good character might do. *As you watch the play, think about what personality characteristics each character shows.

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Adup --(ah-doo-pway)

Thank you: In Yoruba culture, proper

greeting and going away is important. People touch their shoulders when they meet their friends in Yorubaland. This way they greet with the chest, which is the symbol of love and friendship. In our culture today, when we hug our loved ones, we honor an old African tradition. Friendship is the greatest part of every human relationship. One of the sad things about racism is that it denies us the chance to make more friends. Notice that, in the performance, when the three friends meet an older person or their parent, they kneel down on the ground or touch their chest to the floor. This is a sign of respect for a superior.

*As you watch the play, notice when Afuwape, Orileemere and Oriseeku stop traveling together. *Why do they part ways?

PRE-PLAY FOCUS QUESTIONS

(general/middle-high) In the play, you will notice that there are three major characters in the story (Orsanm, Orsk, Orilemere), but that some of the

* As you watch the play, notice how the performers set a scene without using much scenery. What elements of production and performance are used to place the story in a West African setting?
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Look for: costumes, props, roles, sound, speech, music; character, storytelling as you view the performance.

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movement, vocal expression, speaking style, acting, listening, and

actors also play different characters throughout the performance. Pay attention to costumes and props to help follow the story line.

Ors(oh-ree-shaa)

The Yoruba believe that there is one

Supreme God, but that to try to describe or represent this Great God would only be an insult, since this God is too vast for humans to even comprehend. However, humans can communicate directly with divinities, or aspects of god, called orisa. There are 400+1 benevolent (good) Ors. (The +1 means that there is always that possibility that more orisas may be discovered as the earth develops and changes.) Orsanm, Orsk, and Orleemere are both children of Ors.

s--(eh-shoo) Among the Yoruba, Es is the divinity who makes a


daily report to the Supreme God, and who stands directly between humans and their gods. Although Es is a benevolent deity, Es is the only divinity who has control over both the good and bad sides of the universe. That means that, although he does not cause bad things to happen, he can prevent them if a person is willing to put something down in a ritual ceremony to achieve their goal. Es will then deliver the sacrifice (money, food, drink, etc.) to the evil power that the person is trying to avoid, and trick or command them to leave that person alone. Every human and every divinity has their own personal Es. His colors are red and black.
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Which scenes show someone wearing a red and black clothing? What do you observe to be the personality characteristics of this character?

rnml--(oh-roon-mee-la) Ornml is the father of Orsanm.


If is another one of his names. Ornml is the divinity who controls divination. Yoruba priests who have studied If for many years memorize thousands and thousands of stories about the Ors. When they divine (or use ritual objects to communicate with divinities to shed light on a persons fate and what they can do about it), priests of Ornml can identify the conflict in a persons life and recommend a sacrifice that will help resolve it. When Orsanm hears his fathers rattle, he hears the sacred ivory horn that Yoruba priests shake to divine and bless people. This is called an Irok. In this case, the sacrifice recommended is 3 bags of salt and 3 times 12,000 cowrie shells. Salt became very valuable in terms of nutrition and taste (in ancient times people used ashes from a certain kind of wood to flavor their food). Cowrie shells, found only in the sea along the shores of Africa, formerly were used like coins because of their rarity, beauty, and value.

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*Pay attention to the scenes where divination is happening. Who are the diviners? What objects are used? What do they say about the problem? What do the diviners recommend to do?

If(ee-fa)

If is another name for Ornml. But this word also

refers to the thousands of sacred stories that are memorized by priests of Ornml during the years they spend studying with their elders. Many stories from cannon of sacred oral literature known as If are told today among descendants of Yoruba people in Brazil, Cuba, the USA and elsewhere in the Diaspora. The colors of If are brown and green in Africa, but the colors have changed as Yoruba people were forced to move across the globe. *What part of his sacrifice does Orsanm get to keep? Why is this important later?

gn(oh-goon) Orsk is the child of Ogn.

In Nigeria,

Oguns color is indigo (something like dark denim blue). In the Diaspora Oguns colors are green and black (and red, too, because Es is his friend). Ogn is the divinity who clears a path for humans to trod; he lives in the forest and knows every tree and animal therein.
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He is the greatest hunter and warrior of all, but generally tries to resolve conflicts through force. When Orsk hears her father taking up his quiver, she is hearing the sound of the bow and arrow that Ogn uses when hunting for animals in the forest. As you watch the play, pay attention to the colors each character wears. Use the costumes, props and behaviors of each character to decide when gn and If are being represented.

The movements of each character are also an important part of the production, and give you more information about the characters. These dances are significant in the ritual context in Nigeria. Particular movements are used to represent and communicate with particular benevolent forces in nature; hence, each character, associated with a different divinity, will dance in a unique way. The movements tell you something about the personality of the orisa. The dances can be calm and steady, fierce and abrupt, tricky or sweet, etc. Pay attention to the way each major figure in the play both moves and behaves. Is there a relationship between the personalities and dances of each character? What similarities or differences do you notice?

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After you and your students have enjoyed the performance of How Orsanm Chose His Head, refer back to the pre-play focus questions to facilitate a rich post-performance discussion. Vocabulary that was taught beforehand will make more sense to everyone now! Please let us know how you enjoyed the play and the Classroom Companion. Thank you for doing the important work of teaching our nations young people!

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REFERENCES Abimbola, Wande, Louisville Lecture on Yoruba Religion and Thought, 2004/pending. Abimbola, Wande, Ifa Will Mend Our Broken World, AIM Books, Atlanta, 1997. Abimbola, Wande, An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus, Oxford University Press, Nigeria, 1976. Abimbola, Wande, Ifa Divination Poetry, Nok Publishers International, 1977. Bascom, William Russell, Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods & Men in West Africa, Indiana University Press, 1991 (reprint). Dieterlen, Germaine, La notion de personne en Afrique noire: Colloque international sur la notion de personne (includes chapter on Ori by Dr. Abimbola), LHarmattan, France, 2000. Deren, Maya, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, McPherson, 1983. Drewal, Margaret Thompson, Yoruba Ritual: Performers, Play, Agency (African Systems of Thought),Indiana University press, 1992. Herskovtiz, Melville, Dahomean Narratives. Murphy, Joseph M., Working the Spirit, Beacon Press, 1994. Murphy, Joseph & Mei Mei Sanford, Osun Across the Waters (includes chapter on Osun by Dr. Abimbola), Indiana University Press, 2001. Peel, J.D.Y., Religious Encounters and the Making of the Yoruba (African Systems of Thought) (Note: text is written by an evangelist with strong Christian overtones), Indiana University press, 2003. Thompson, Robert Farris, Flash of the Spirit, Vintage Books, 1983. http://www.ramimages.com/LAF/links.html

Note: This study guide, by Michelle McElwaine, is intended to be used in conjunction with viewing of the production How Orsanm Chose His Head, by Nefertiti Burton

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