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

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