The beauty behind African Storytelling

Firstly, to everyone engaging and reading this specific Blog Post, I would love to wish you all a blessed and beautiful European New Year’s Eve 2018-2019. Please don’t drink and drive because spending time in Prison over New Year’s Eve is never a simple encounter. So, let’s have a look at the following. What in general, are oral traditions? Oral traditions are messages that are transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages may be passed down through speech or song and may take the form of folktales and fables, epic histories and narrations, proverbs or sayings, and songs. Oral Traditions make it possible for a society to pass knowledge across generations without writing. They help people make sense of the world and are used to teach children and adults about important aspects of their culture. Many international cultures obviously pass history down from one generation to the next, in order to prevent past mistakes from recurring. But the most beautiful storytelling has to come from pure African tribes (disregard of location). African (or Bantu) elder tribe individuals tell some of the most stunning and exciting Story’s imaginable. In my personal opinion based on my past experiences, the most charming storytelling always ALWAYS came from true African (Bantu) elders. (image by YouNeek Studios)

     + The art of storytelling

There is a rich tradition throughout Africa of oral storytelling. Although written history existed for centuries in Africa, most written memories (history) has been captured in Arabic, hence the majority of people did not read or write in Arabic. So the transmission of knowledge, history and experience in generally “West Africa” was mainly through the oral tradition and performance rather than on written texts. Oral traditions guide social and human morals, giving people a sense of place and purpose. There is often a lesson or a value to instal, and the transmission of wisdom to children is a community responsibility. Parents, grandparents, and relatives take part in the process of passing down the knowledge of culture and history. Storytelling provides entertainment, develops the imagination, and teaches important lessons about everyday life.

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Traditional African Storytelling (photo from Pinterest)

A storyteller’s tools are not just words, but gestures, singing, facial expressions, body movements and acting to make stories memorable and interesting. Sometimes masks and costumes are used via dance or performance to help with the folklore understanding or to support a spiritual ritual undertaking. Many African storytellers perform epics that can be hours or even days long that relate history and genealogy, battles and political uprisings of a community. They use riddles, proverbs and myths to educate and entertain. Storytelling is an important shared event with people sitting together, listening and even participating in accounts of past deeds, beliefs, taboos, and myths. Gifted or well-known storytellers often repeat the story with the same words and same expressions in each performance as they travel. They also add new material to an old story to make it more interesting or meaningful to different audiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Traditional African Storytelling combined with a song and dance performance (photo from Face2Face Africa)

Oral storytelling emphasizes the repetition of the language and rhythm, which are two of its most important characteristics. Storytellers often repeat words, phrases, refrains, sounds, whole lines and even stanzas. The use of repetition helps the audience remember the chorus and allows them to join in with the storyteller. Most… or almost all African storytellers pays close attention to the beat and how the words sound. Using short phrases makes the stories easier to understand and recall from memory. When audiences who are familiar with the stories actively participate in their telling, they feel a sense of belonging to the community. This is true with almost all African Tribes, no matter if Oshiwambo, Bushman (San), Zulu, Xhosa, Swahili or many, many others.

For instance, the Griot (pronounced “gree-OH”) is a storyteller and oral historian in West African culture. He is the social memory of the community and the holder of the word. The Griot is the keeper of facts and important events of his time. It is his responsibility to pass this knowledge on to future generations, as well as that of past times passed down to him by his ancestors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Baba the Storyteller in West Africa (photo by Sierra Madre Weekly)

Originally the Griots were court musicians who sang at weddings, naming ceremonies, and religious celebrations. They later evolved into advisors to nobility and messengers to the community. They sing songs of praise for their leaders and recount the great deeds of ancestors and the history of the society. Griots are also advisors, ambassadors, negotiators, mediators and advocates of the king to his allies and noble families. They are rewarded for their service to individuals and the community. Their fee varies and ranges from a few coins or a blanket to more substantial payments depending on the audience and the skill and popularity of the storyteller. In World Affairs Council of Houston page 2 West Africa, Griots have been practising their craft for hundreds of years. Griots are described as “the all-seeing, all-knowing eyes of society.” There is a spiritual and ethical dimension to their performances and it is believed that special forces are released through the spoken or musical part of their performance.

     + What is African Storytelling?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo above from Getty Images – Artistic Development offering African Storytelling with Princess Ayo Durodola

Traditionally, African people are rooted in oral cultures and traditions and as a result, they have esteemed good stories and vibrant storytellers (Ngugi wa Thiong’o 1986, Vambe. 2001, Chinyowa 2004, Vambe 2004). Ancient writing traditions do exist on the African continent, but most Africans today, as in the past, are primarily oral peoples and their art forms and stories are oral rather than in written form (Achebe 1958, Chinyowa 2001). Since olden times, storytelling within the African culture has been a way of passing on traditions, codes, values of acceptable behaviour, as well as upholding and preserving good social order. Before writing and reading were developed in ancient Africa, Africans used storytelling as the most form of preserving their history, traditional culture and ritual ceremonies (Chavunduka 1994, Vambe. 2001). The tradition of African storytelling is one of the oldest in African culture, across the continent (Vambe. 2001).

     + Our favourite African proverbs:

Proverbs are an illustration of a vivid and fundamental truth. In our opinion, globally the most mesmerising proverbs come from elderly African’s (Bantu) and South American Indian Tribes.

• It takes a village to raise a child.

• When a king has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

• No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.

• One falsehood spoils a thousand truths.

• Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.

• When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.

• It is best to bind up the finger before it is cut.

• The fool speaks, the wise man listens.

• Do not say the first thing that comes to your mind.

• A little rain each day will fill the rivers to overflowing.

• Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

• Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.

• Do not follow the path. Go where there is no path to begin a trail.

     + In conclusion

As writing this Post, I honestly believe the African Tribal elders truly understand and have mastered the delicate art of true storytelling. The character trait of the Storyteller most probably has been created due to the lack of Television, Internet, Radio or similar. Hence the artistic nature which creates the beauty while sitting down to tell a story (history) to the young ones around. I honestly urge every national or international visitor to engage in a conversation with a tribal elder (disregard of location) and openly listen to a story which is being shared with you as a person. Should you listen with an open mind one will notice that the story told comes with a form of “bare-honesty” and first-hand experience which so often isn’t present in Hollywood Movies or the like. The true African individuals just tell the most enchanting storeys. Some sad, some romantic, some dangerous, some thrilling but definitely always open and honest. To be bluntly honest, from almost all the many awesome people which I have met in my life, it is very straight-forward: “African elders make the best Storytellers on mother earth”. Without any doubt!  But nevertheless, we would like to wish everyone celebrating the European New Years Eve a safe and sound evening. Take care of yourself and looking forward to seeing you in 2019. 🙂

     + Extra download(s) and link(s):

• The immigration calender (pdf.)

• An African Storybook Guide for children (pdf.) 

• Visit Africanstorybook.org for diverse children-books/comics for download

• New Years Eve in Africa

Ethnic Tribes in Namibia

San people Namibia

THE CAPRIVIAN
The Caprivi people live in the fertile, swampy land between the Chobe and Zambezi rivers at the eastern end of the Caprivi strip. Their language is of the Bantu family. Like the Kavango and the Owambo, they farm a variety of crops, raise livestock and they fish for substance. The agricultural potential of the area is one of the highest in Namibia but, despite that, the potential has been largely unrealised. Before the war with Angola and the heavy involvement of South African troops (which brought roads and infrastructure), the whole of the Kavango and Caprivi  region was one of the least developed in Namibia.
Caprivians make up about 4% of Namibia’s population and most can be considered members of one of five main groups – the Masubia and Mafwe, and the smaller Mayeyi, Matotela and Mbukushu. Their traditional crafts include extensive use of baskets (used as fish traps and for the carrying of grain), wooden masks and stools, drums, pottery, leather goods and stone carvings.

DAMARA
Along with the Nama and the Bushmen (San), the Damara are presumed to be the original inhabitants of Namibia, speaking a similar Khoi `click’ language. Like the Nama, the Damara were primarily hunting people who owned few cattle or goats. Traditionally enemies of the Nama and the Herero, they supported the German colonial forces at Waterberg against the Herero uprisings. In gratitude for their loyalty, the German authorities awarded them an enlarged homeland appropriately named Damaraland. The area is adjacent to the Skeleton Coast, now the southern part of the Kunene province.

Of the 80 000 Damara today, only a quarter manage to survive in the area. The rest work on commercial farms, in mines or as labourers in the towns. Damara women share the same Victorian style of dress as the Herero and Nama women. They make up 7.5% of Namibia’s population and they share their language with the Nama people. Until the end of the 19th century, Damara people worked as miners, smelters, copper traders, stock farmers and tobacco growers. Their subsequent relocation to Damaraland precipitated a move towards agriculture.

Their traditional crafts include leather goods, glass and metal beadwork, wooden bowls and buckets, clay pipes and bowls and, more recently, `township art’ such as wire cars.

HERERO
In 1904, the Herero and the Hottentots staged a massive uprising against the German colonial troops in South West Africa (Now Namibia). It ended in the bloody massacre of over half the total Herero population at the battle of Waterberg. The few Herero that survived fled into the Kalahari, some crossing into what is now Botswana.

Today the Herero constitute the third largest ethnic group in Namibia after the Owambo and Kavango – about 8% of the total population. Their language is Bantu based. In Botswana, they are a minority group inhabiting Ngamiland, south and west of the Okavango Delta.

Traditionally pastoralists, the Herero prefer raising cattle to growing crops. Cattle are symbolic of wealth and the number of cattle possessed influences status in the community. Today the majority of Namibian Heroros use their cattle-handling skills on commercial farms.

Herero women wear very distinctive long, flowing Victorian gowns and head-dresses. Multiple layers of petticoats made from over 12 m of material gives a voluminous look. Missionaries, who were appalled by the Hereros’ semi-nakedness, introduced this style of dress in the 1800s. Now the Herero women continue to wear these heavy garments and it has become their traditional dress.

Traditional Herero crafts include skin and leather products, basketry, jewellery, ornaments and dolls in traditional Victorian-style dress. These are very popular curio items for visitors.

HIMBA
The Himba people share a common ethnic origin with the Herero, having split from the main Herero group on the Namibia/Botswana border and moved west to present day Kaokaland in search of available land. The place they found is mountainous, sparsely vegetated and very arid. Cattle are central to their way of life, with the size of the herd an indication of wealth and prestige but overgrazing of the poor soil is a major problem. The Himba are a minority group in Namibia (less than 1% of the population) and live almost entirely in their traditional areas in remote Kaokaland.

Traditional Himba crafts include work in skin and leather (head-dresses, girdles and aprons), jewellery (copper-wire neck-bands and bracelets), musical instruments, wooden neck-rests, basketry and pottery.

KAVANGO
The Kavango people share their name with the Okavango river, which forms the northern border of Namibia with Angola. Not surprisingly, they have based their traditional agriculture and fishing existence on the fertile land and good weather supply afforded them by the environment.

Many of the Kavango, who used to live on the northern side of the Okavango river in Angola, came south of the river into Namibia during the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s. They fled from the civil war raging between South Africa backed UNITA rebels and the Soviet/Cuban backed MPLA regime. As a consequence, the Kavango population in Namibia more than doubled in size during the 1970s and now forms the second largest ethnic group in the country, making up almost 10% of the population.

Closely related to the Owambos, the Kavanga people are traditionally fishermen and crop and stock farmers. Their craftwork includes woodcarving (bowls, spoons, mortars, masks, boxes and furniture), basketry, pottery, jewellery (grass bracelets and copper-bead necklaces), mats, spears, daggers, pipes, musical instruments and head-dresses.

NAMA
The Nama people are perhaps the closest in origin to the Bushmen, traditionally sharing a similar type of `click’ as in the Khoisan language, the same light-coloured yellow skin and a hunter-gatherer way of life. One of the first peoples in Namibia, their tribal areas were traditionally communal property, as indeed was any item unless it was actually made by an individual. Basic differences in the perception of ownership of land and hunting grounds led in the past to frequent conflicts with the Herero people. Today, 50 000 or so Nama live mostly in the area that was Namaland, north of Keetmanshoop in the south of Namibia, and they generally work on commercial farms. Nama women share the same Victorian traditional dress as the Herero and Damara women.

The Nama people make up about 5% of Namibia’s population and are traditionally stock farmers. Their crafts include leatherwork (aprons and collecting bags), karosses made of animal skins, mats, musical instruments (eg. reed flutes), jewellery, clay pots and tortoise-shell powder containers.

OWAMBO
The Owambo people (sometimes called Ovambo) are by far the largest group in Namibia and make up just over half the population. Their language, Oshiwambo (sometimes known as Ambo or Vambo in Namibia), is Bantu based. The great majority live in their traditional areas – Owamboland – away from the main transport arteries in the remote far north of the country, straddled on the border with Angola. The area receives one of the highest rainfalls in the country, and supports a range of traditional crops as well as allowing good grazing for the extensive cattle herds.

Before independence, the existence of half a million indigenous Namibians on the border with (socialist) Angola seriously perturbed the South African administration. By investing money into the region, the administration hoped to establish a protective buffer against Angola to protect the areas in the interior. The policy backfired – Owamboland became the heartland of SWAPO during the struggle for independence. The consequent harassment by the South African Defence Force, and a rapid population increase (exacerbated by a large influx of refugees from Angola), have left the area over-pressurised and undeveloped. The SWAPO government has long pledged to redress this imbalance.

Most of the Owambo belong to one of eight tribes: the Kwanyama, Ndongo, Kwambi, Ngandjera, Mbalantu, Kwaluudhi, Nkolokadhi and Eunda. Most still live in Owamboland, and have traditionally been traders and businessmen.

Traditional Owambo craftwork includes basketry, pottery, jewellery, wooden combs, wood and iron spears, arrows and richly decorated daggers, musical instruments, fertility dolls, and ivory buttons (ekipa) – worn by women and conveying their status and indicating their husband’s/family’s wealth.