“Tea-Chings” uses cooking as a medium for ancestral storytelling

Siobhan Barker invites the audience to her kitchen in a fun cook-along

Siobhan Barker wearing a blue outfit, stands under a tree holding one of its branches full of green leaves gently, smiling upwards.
From Barker’s living room to mine, the cook-along felt like a night in with a friend. PHOTO: Siobhan Barker

By: Jocelyn Stevens, SFU Student

This year’s rEvolver Festival by Upintheair Theatre presented Harvesting Ancestral “Tea-Chings,by Siobhan Barker in a live screening Zoom event and Q&A on May 26. The event featured cooking and storytelling intertwined to share experiences about cultural roots, intersectionality, and the Black/African diaspora. Despite it being a virtual screening, Barker made us feel like we were all present with her: it was a stunning and approachable experience

What intrigued me about this performance was that it interactively focused on reconnecting to cultural roots through storytelling and traditional cooking. Barker opened the performance with a call to her ancestors, where she rattled a shekere and chanted to them

Barker called in two helpers, Jahmira and Athena, who prepared the dish as Barker guided them onto the next ingredient. Barker then introduced the dish they were going to create, pepperpot callaloo soup. As a vegan, I was delighted to hear them say they were going to make a gluten-free vegan version of the traditional soup.  

One of the stories  Barker shared was about how the women on her mother’s side have deep connections with the land that run generations back. These women know the importance of the “sights, sounds, smells, [and] tastes” of the land and how they can connect us to our past and present.

Growing up, my parents had always taught us the importance of the land and appreciating all that it has to offer. Hearing Barker say these words reminded me of these lessons. The connection that Indigenous communities have with the stolen ancestral lands we live on now are very similar to Barker’s story, and people tend to forget this fact. 

Another powerful story Barker shared was about living with and around disabilities. She explained she grew up with an understanding of disabilities because her father was someone with an amputation. Her father tended to try and bear the struggles around his disability on his own. Having grown up seeing this, Barker said she is now unlearning being silent while living with her own disabilities. 

The last unforgettable story Barker shared was about her longing to connect with family roots and ancestral knowledge in Jamaica. She shared a quote that resonated with me: “Family was named and claimed not by how you looked, but by blood, bone, breath and body.” I loved this, as members of my own chosen family are not based on conventional ideas and “looks” but rather who they are as a person and the deep connection that we share.

The different ways Barker would tell each story showed the care put into the performance. At one point, she sang a wonderful song from her culture called “Fanga Alaafia” to welcome us all into the space, and for another story, she had us close our eyes and just listen. 

At the end of the performance, I found myself wishing I had the ingredients to join in on the cooking. The whole performance was casual and comfortable despite the serious messages it conveyed. Barker’s vivid descriptions, vulnerability, and sense of humour kept me in anticipation of what she was going to say next. The tidbits of humour amplified the relaxed nature of the performance and made you feel like you were in the room with them. 

The pre-recorded performance will be available to view online for the entire duration of the rEvolver Festival. You can learn more about Harvesting Ancestral “Tea-Chings” here, along with more about the annually returning rEvolver Festival on the Upintheair Theatre website.