NEIGHBORING THROUGH STORYTELLING

Story of Orunamamu
Artist: Leif Aamot
Writer: Bonnie Borucki
Original completed 2007
Restored in 2018
Link to full interview text
Link to original interview audio
Orunamamu_2019.jpg

Are you lookin’ for me?

are you?

Are you lookin’ for ME?

Well you won’t find me

cause I be DANCIN’

I be dancin’ with the

THUNDER and the

IRRESISTIBLE RHYTHM OF LIFE!

 

Mary Beth Washington took on the name Orunamamu in the 1970s while she was teaching Black

History in the Berkeley School System. She did not want to be called Mary Washington be

cause “Mary” was too common and “Washington” was the name of a slaveholder. She chose

“Orunamamu” because it is a royal name that means Morning Star in Nigerian.

 

She shared how she became a professional storyteller:

“In my life I’ve changed jobs so many times. I first started teaching in Wisconsin, then in Palo Alto, then

in Utah, then here. Between jobs people would ask me what I do, and I’d say, ‘I’m a storyteller.’ I made

that term up. It wasn’t as honored as it is today. As time went on, it got to be real. It got to be a real job.

The first training I took was at UC Berkeley in a class called ‘Storytelling as an Art.’ I think storytelling is

an art and I think we have neglected it. I want to leave a legacy of storytelling as an art.”

 

“Storytelling is a way for people to express and understand themselves better. It’s a way for people

to appreciate history, the fact that something has happened whether it’s true or not true. There are ways

people can express their anxieties through stories. Storytelling is three parts, the story, the listener and the

teller. I play all three roles, sometimes I’m the listener, sometimes the teller, and sometimes I’m the story.

Three is a magic number in storytelling, so I like to use that image of three.”

 

Orunamamu calls what she does “neighboring through storytelling.” She believes we are too isolat-

ed and she wants to work on projects that can bring us together. She tells a lot of jokes on her front steps.

People pass by and she thinks of the poem “Neighboring” written in the 1800s: “Let me live in a house

by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”

 

Here is a story she tells about the “Neighboring” philosophy of life: “My daddy was a supply ser-

geant. Instead of letting food spoil because of lack of refrigeration, he would give food away. This was

before homelessness was invented. My daddy was in the military 30 years. We always had plenty, a lot

of food, a lot of stuff, which reflects my life today. I have a lot of things. Paraphernalia, Accumulations,

Collections. These collections have come about because I have shared this house with students for over

30 years.”

 

“My name is Orunamamu, which means Morning Star in Nigerian. If I were in Nigeria and some-

one said ‘Orunamamu,’ it’s a royal name and they would bow gracefully.”