Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Griots and Oral Historians in the Family

Isabel Harrell age 7
My mother Isabel Harrell Cook is the griot and oral historian of our family. She never hesitates to seize the opportunity and to share family stories with me about the Harrell, Richardson, Gordon, Vining and Jackson Family. I soon realized just how important oral history is to family history. My mother is the 5th child of ten children born too Jasper and Josephine Richardson Harrell. My mother grew up in Amite, Louisiana. She and her siblings assumed responsibilities early in life. They worked in the field picking beans, pulling corn, picking cotton, tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables that her father Jasper Harrell, Sr., planted.

She didn't like to work in the field so she decided to take on the responsibility of cooking for her siblings and parents at an early age. She spoke of a happy childhood although they were not rich or wealthy people--but they had everything that they needed.  Her mother never worked outside of the home, she was a housewife who took care of the home and children.

I enjoy hearing my mother talk about the good "old days" one of the stories that she often talk about are the time when her paternal uncle Alec house burned down and he couldn't talk because he had a stroke. He was trying to tell everyone that his money was inside the house. My mother and her brother knew what he was talking about because he would give them a nickel to buy candy and they would help him count his money every week.

My mother attended West Side High School in Amite, La., she graduated in the class of 1958.  She and her first cousin Samuel Richardson were in the same class.  At that time all schools in the South were segregated. After graduation she went on to Southern University in Baton Rouge for one semester, she said college wasn't for her and my grandparents made the decision for her to come home.

By that time her oldest sister Catherine has gotten married and moved to Violet, Louisiana and my mother decided that she would move with her sister and find her a job in Violet or New Orleans, Louisiana. You know come to think of it, I really don't know much about what happen at this point.


 I will always honor the legacy of our family history that my mother passed on to me. Now, I will passed the legacy of oral history down to my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Every family has a griot or family historian to keep the family oral history. Not only did my mother keep the oral history, she also kept photographs, family funeral programs and other documents that is important to our family history.

Isabel Harrell Cook
Family Griot and Oral Historian
Every one's family has unforgettable memories that we all would like too hold on to and share.  Powerful family stories are the fabric of our family history. My mother enjoys sharing those unforgettable family stories with anyone who will listen. Some of us will just listen, others will pass what was told to them by the family griot or oral historian to others in the family and quite often they will share it with a friend.

When we share our oral family history, we can learn so much about ourselves and how the past influence our lives today. We stand in the present looking at the future and passing down our oral history for generations to come.

One thing I would like to point about the oral history my mother passed down to me. She knew names, dates, events and places. I can't stress how helpful this information was to me when I started looking to outside sources. My mother is a repository of oral tradition. Thanks mom for maintaining the tradition of our family oral history. You have passed down our history to generations.