The parable of the blind men and elephant is found in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain texts and there are different variations of it, but broadly here is the story:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
(Source: Wall relief in Northeast Thailand)
This story was retold in brief at the Ghana Association of writers’ literary awards night to honor Ghanaian literary giants, last Saturday – 16TH November. Aside that and the Achievers awards that were presented to deserving contributors, there were speeches with deep undertones such as the one above.
All the speeches given were loaded with nuggets of wisdom, humor, English lessons, Proverbs and presented within the time allocated.
The main point that run through the speeches for the night of which the story is included, was the need to preserve the Ghanaian culture and image by telling the Ghanaian story ourselves.
Writers were broadly defined by one of the speakers as people who transform and transfigure blank pieces of papers into sheets of knowledge and hold the key to make the world- for that matter, Ghana, a better place.
Mr. Kwame Pianim, the Guest Speaker said, “The more you write about the Ghanaian story, the better her story will be.
He had some advice for writers. And they are:
- Cease the narrative and preserve the Ghanaian culture through their writing about proverbs, songs, folklore and traditions.
- Give readers new eyes to look at the world with. Show us also what we need to take out of culture in order to move on.
- Modernize the mode of delivery of writing to include audio books, which he chose to describe as “talking books” and got his audience laughing.
Ms. Elizabeth Ohene, the Keynote speaker, sent us into the classroom by giving us mind opening definitions to the individual words that made up the theme of the night, “Honouring Literary Excellence”. She went on to commend the President, Mr. Francis Gbormittah and the entire planning committee for putting up such a well-planned event to pay homage to the giants and upcoming giants of literature.
On the issue of language, the key note speaker urged the writers and audience to use English correctly when using it as the vehicle to drive home their messages.
Then, she sent the audience laughing when she drew their attention to the difference between “several” and “severally” and how both words are sometimes used wrongly.
She also commended writers for being people who do things beyond the ordinary; who are honest and sensitive craftsmen of words; who can preserve and tarnish images based on the versions of truth they present.
On learning while having fun, the audience were reminded that titles of the army, especially, were sometimes written wrongly. So the right thing was taught. Rather than write, Col. Amos A (Rtd.) as an example, write Col (Rtd) before the name because the person retires from the rank and not the name.
Remember the Elephant story at the beginning of this article?
The story is used most times to portray subjectivity; how one gives an account based on one’s opinion. Thus, if every writer writes their version of their culture, eventually, we will have a better story of who we are as Ghanaians and Africans. Failure to give our own accounts results in the case Achebe precisely describes this way: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
At the 4th Literary Awards Night at GAW, everyone present, I dare say, was fed in total – physically, knowledge-wise and emotionally. You are welcome to give your description of the ‘creature’ you see through the art of writing.You are welcome to become your own historian. Start by writing a paragraph at a time. You can also join the association. Their doors are open.