For many in Haiti, sunset announces the time for a traditional evening gathering for storytelling and riddles. On a breezy night, in the comfort of one's backyard, a full moon set just the right mood to fully enjoy this long standing tradition. Storytelling is likely as old as language itself and extends back to the origin of human history in Africa. Engaging in storytelling fulfills a deep seated human need. Our novels, movies, television shows, word games, crossword puzzles are but new expressions of our longstanding need for stories and other forms of word play. In Haiti, this human desire is celebrated as krik krak stories and riddles. Krik krak evenings may also be called family night. It is the time that adults and children gather to stimulate their imagination.
At the beginning of the story telling, the rules are set. The speaker says krik and the audience answers krak. Through this call and response pattern central to Haitian music and story telling, the rules are established. It is call and response and it refers to cause and effect. This implies that the clues given by the speaker, however cleverly disguised, are intrinsically linked to the correct expected response. This cause and effect relationship between the speaker and the audience can be said in a different way. Commonly, instead of initiating the storytelling with krik it is said as tim tim to which the audience responds bwa sèch. This is said because tim tim is the sound made from breaking dry wood. This sound used to be commonly heard in the countryside where people used to gather dry wood to use as cooking fuel.
Krik Krak has fewer syllables than tim tim, bwa sèch and that probably explains why krik krak is the more popular form to begin Haitian storytelling. Edwidge Danticat used this call and response form of Haitian storytelling to entitle one of her famous novels. Apart from riddles, fiction is the substance of krik krak stories. The stories are imaginative and serve multiple purposes. They often emphasize the need to preserve family bond. For a population, coming out of the barbarism of slavery, the celebration of family ties was a sacred act emphasized in the stories succeeding generations would hear from infancy. Countless krik krak stories tell about mothers struggling to be reunited with their children. The Haitian concept of family includes those who came before and children learn this in the krik krak stories that they hear as well. Some popular krik krak stories tell of children singing to their deceased parents for guiding intervention in their lives.
Krik krak stories often reach into the more distant past and reveal its ancestry from Ginen by its similarity with African American stories that used animals as characters through which moral lessons are taught. Often in these stories, the animal that is held in low esteem outwits the one believed to me more intelligent. These stories mirror the relationship of the enslaved and their oppressors. Commonly in Haiti these moral lessons are told through two characters, Bouki and Malice. Malice is believed to be more intelligent but is constantly outwitted by the idiot Bouki whose name means hyena in the region of Ginen around Senegal.
Some krik krak stories are meant to evoke an emotional response. In a moment, stories of Dyab and Ladyablès, still popular in Trinidad, can have one's heart pumping and one's ears standing in attention. These stories are occasionally mined by Hollywood to fill their theaters because they are proven attention grabbers and on the big screen they are big money makers. In Haiti, these stories not only serve as entertainment but they also serve to teach proper behavior. In general, these scary stories are meant to discourage people from wondering at night when all the agricultural goods are unguarded and parents are asleep.
The most fantastic stories end with a cautionary statement to let the audience know that in no way could the story told be thought to be true. One way that a krik krak story commonly ends is with a statement such as: Se yon kote m t ap pase mwen wè bonbon lan boutèy, diven lan panyen banbou, meaning my story comes to you from a place where I saw cookies in a bottle and wine in a woven basket. This statement is a way of saying that the story that was told is fictitious. There is no place where liquids are contained in woven baskets and not in bottles.
The foremost purpose of a krik krak night is to be taken on a narrated excursion where imaginative stories are told for amusement and riddles are told to tease the mind. These stories serve various social purposes and just before the audience goes to bed, they are reassured that none of the stories are real. It is the moral of the stories that matters; not their content. Referring to the fictitious content of the story, often the speaker ends the evening with the statement: Se yon kote mwen tap pase, mwen pran yon kout pye mwen vin tonbe la a, meaning the last place I told this story, they kicked me out of sight and this is how I landed at your doorstep.
Bookmanlit is proud to land at your doorstep to share the roots of krik krak stories and riddles.