African Folklore: what is the allure of the beautiful tradition?

There is a rich variety of storytelling traditions across Africa- some of which are gradually being lost with urbanization, while others continue to flourish. Folk stories are a mainstay and often incorporate music and dance. Most of the stories are fiction; imagination and creativity run wild, and magic and witchcraft have their place. With people, animals and nature for characters, a respect and acknowledgement of the power and spirit within them is developed. The folk stories serve various purposes including:

  • Educating people of their history and ancestors.
  • Explaining natural phenomena such as lightening and earthquakes.
  • Teaching morals and values such as obedience, kindness, forgiveness and patience.
  • Passing on traditions and beliefs.
  • Offering tots of wisdom and chiding misbehaviour.

It is often participatory; everyone interactively partakes in the experience and performance. The interaction most often takes the form of Call and Response: essentially, the main storyteller- The Caller– calls out a part of the story, to which the community will Respond, often in chorus.

For example, the Banyankore of western Uganda begin their folk stories with The Call: “Mbaganire? Mbaganire?” which loosely translates to: shall I tell you?
To which the listeners Respond in chorus “Tebere”, this translates to something like: We’re all ears! The listeners continue to respond in this way at regular intervals, encouraging/ cheering the narrator on.

People make up stories or learn them when they visit other homes or gatherings. Herdsmen swap stories as they graze their animals, and women on the way to/from fetching water. Everyone is encouraged to tell stories in turns as they gather to enjoy the cool evening breeze or sit around the fire. Orators are formed, gaining fame across the villages for their skills; humour, drama, emotion or whatever it is, attracts the crowds.

People learn to be attentive for, be it at the next gathering, or out in the fields with friends, their turn to narrate is sure to come soon.

Stay tuned …

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