An Old African Folktale

by | Mar 19, 2018 | Articles, Eating & Metaphor, Eating Disorder Recovery | 0 comments

Anita Johnston uses the art of storytelling to connect women to their innermost feelings. Here is a condensed version of one of the stories she tells along with a condensed version of her interpretation:

There is an old African folktale about a girl who lived in a village that was beset by hard times. Food was so difficult to come by people had to trap birds, dogs, lizards and rats just to stay alive.

One day when the girl was sent out to check on the bird snares she found only one Tutu bird in the snare, singing such a sweet song she let the bird go. The villagers were so angry they dragged her into the bush where they built a windowless hut of thorn branches all around her and left her there.

The frightened girl cried until she had no more tears and then began to sing the most beautiful song, a lament to the bird whose life she had saved. When she stopped singing she heard a sound like a bird cry and, looking up, she saw a small hole at the top of the hut and the Tutu bird hovering above. The bird sang and a sweet, juicy fruit landed at the girl’s feet.

Every day the bird returned, dropped another fruit down the hole and sang a sweet song. And every time it sang it made the hole bigger, bringing light into the hut. Finally the hole was big enough for the girl to climb through and she was freed. To celebrate her freedom all the birds in the forest made a feast of fruit and nuts, which they gave to the girl and the villagers. The villagers were so grateful they welcomed the girl back into the village, hoping they could benefit from her good fortune. But the girl refused their offer and went off with the birds, never to be seen again.

According to Dr. Johnston’s interpretation of the story, a woman’s song is her truth. The expression of her innermost thoughts and feelings is the sweetest song she can sing and it should not be muted.

Many women, she says, who struggle with disordered eating fail to hear the sweetness of their own song because they are too busy listening to the singing of others. Rather than searching for the essence of who they are and expressing it in their own voices, they allow others to define the conditions of their existence for them.

Because they feel so disconnected from themselves, they cling desperately to their relationships with others to provide the nourishment they need.

Cautious of anything that might be disruptive to the relationship, they discard their own ideas and values and see their own song as threatening. By being unable to listen to and respond to their own needs, they become depleted rather than nourished in their relationships. And so they turn to food. Much of the time they are unaware that they once had a voice that could sing a song so sweet it could fill their hearts with joy. And so they look for joy in eating or in losing weight. To be free, to find true nourishment they must reclaim their own voices and refuse to participate in relationships that do not value their songs.

Wisdom Tales

Traditional folk tales and multicultural myths can be used as powerful tools in the treatment of eating disorders because they are repositories of ancient wisdom about the human condition and because they teach the language of symbolism, imagery, and metaphor. These...

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