Stories are a key part of our rich legacy of intangible heritage: language, memory, ritual, traditional knowledge systems, practices, etc.
This presentation is about:
Collecting indigenous stories
Recognising indigenous storytellers
What do we mean by a story?
Folktale / parable/ Nonwane / Ntsomi
Fairytale / buntsomi
Praise poem (imbongi / izibongo tradition)
Life history Historical narrative / siganeko or mbali (even modern ones like the TRC narratives)
Why are stories important?
All societies tell stories to their children, and each other, as forms of entertainment and education. Stories bring the community and its members together in a shared understanding of the world and their place in it.
The medium of language is as important as the message. In fact, ‘folktales, legends, proverbs, epics and praise songs in the indigenous languages,…[are]… the bedrock of any meaningful national literature’ (Bhebe 2002)
Even if a story is about talking frogs or talking dogs, it speaks to real issues. ‘Storytellers [may] deal in fantasy images, [but] those images are meant to … shape our experience of the real’ (Scheub 1996:150)
Stories are our knowledge base
Stories are ways of transmitting and safeguarding knowledge about society and the world.
This includes knowledge about:
Who we are and where we come from (identity, history)
How society should work (spirituality, moral issues, education, beauty, power)
How the world works (philosophy, agriculture, medicine, science)
Stories tell us how the world began
The creation story of Ngiyaampaa country in Australia (told by Aunty Beryl Carmichael) tells how the ancestral spirit Guthi-Guthi calls on the water serpent Weowie to come out of the mountain so that the land can become green
The shepherd trickster Huveane, the first human in BaPedi and BaVenda legend, who made a baby with clay and breathed life into it
Stories tell us about nature
Scientists today find stories useful in learning about the geology of Northwestern America. Indigenous people there still tell stories about roaring two-headed serpents and epic battles between Thunderbird and whale that relate to large earthquakes around AD 900 and 1700 that caused massive flooding, tsunamis and landslides.
Among the Tswana, the stars of Orion's sword are traditionally known as `dintsa le Dikolobe', three dogs chasing the three pigs of Orion's belt. Warthogs have their litters while Orion is prominent in the sky --- frequently litters of three
Stories tell us how to make rain
Our mothers used to say that when a star falls from the sky, it goes into a waterpit. As it enters the waterpit, it sounds like a quiver … enters water which also lives, as does he who is a !gi:xa … For this is the water from which !giten are wont to fetch water-bull
The Ngoni of Mzimba district in Malawi sing praise poems that tell the history of Ngoni chiefs and clans which illustrates their historical link to Zwangendaba and the Zulu
Their proverbs still use the Nguni language, although its use is fast fading: Iqhude alikhale emzini wabanye (the cockerel does not sing in a foreign land)
Stories tell us who we are
As in Mbeki’s I am an African speech, the storyteller relates the past, shaping a shared reality that people can use to develop a sense of identity and imagine the present and the future.
I am an African…
“I owe my being to the hills and the valleys,… to the Khoi and the San,… the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land … In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East … My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert. … I am a child of Nongqause …
“I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression… The constitution whose adoption we celebrate … aims to open the doors so that those who were disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals … Today, it feels good to be an African.”
Stories teach moral lessons
In Decolonizing the Mind, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o discusses the importance of oral literature in his childhood. He says:
I can vividly recall those evenings of storytelling around the fire side. It was mostly the grown ups telling the children but everybody was interested and involved. We children would retell the stories the following day to other children who worked in the fields …
Hare being small, weak, but full of innovative wit, was our hero. We identified with him as he struggled against the brutes of prey like lion, leopard and hyena. His victories were our victories and we learnt that the apparently weak can outwit the strong.
The danger of greed
When Nomxakazo is born, her warlord father promises her when she comes of age so many cattle that their dust would cover the sun. At her insistence, he acquires enough cattle through war, but afterwards, she is captured by his enemies to compensate, her parents become impoverished and on her return to them, she marries the son of one of her father’s former enemies.
AC Jordan, Tales from Southern Africa
Abner Nyamende, ‘The relevance of folktales to 21st century society’
Stories tell us what happens when we die
A star does in this manner, at the time when our heart falls down, that is the time when the star also falls down; while the star feels that our heart falls over … For the stars know the time at which we die. The star tells the other people who do not know that we have died.
Dia!kwain, a San man from the Katkop hills, 1870s (direct translation by W. Bleek & L. Lloyd)
Collecting stories is not new
For centuries, people have protected their stories from loss by telling them over and over again.
There have also been a number of efforts to document stories in Europe and Africa since the 19th century.
Encouraging people to submit stories to the Xhosa newspaper Indaba in 1862, Tiyo Soga said, ‘The activities of a nation are more than cattle, money or food… Fables must be retold; what was history or legend should be recounted.’
Why collect stories?
Safeguard our intangible heritage (the practice of storytelling and the content of stories)
Enrich and promote indigenous identities
Enrich national identity
Honour neglected stories and storytellers
Value and access indigenous cultural, historical and scientific knowledge for communities, and where appropriate, for the nation and the world
Distribute commercial benefit, if any, to owners of indigenous knowledge but minimize negative impact on social cohesion or heritage practices
Why focus on indigenous stories?
Stories are particularly important in societies that value orality, which include many indigenous societies in Africa
Under colonialism and Apartheid, and with industrialisation and migration, indigenous African communities have experienced massive social disruption and loss of social cohesion
In this process, stories have been neglected and devalued
Many stories, and mechanisms for transmitting them have been radically changed or even lost
Finding neglected stories
Getting out into rural communities: Kramer’s music project
Looking in unexpected places, looking at little stories as well as grand narratives
Looking in our own communities for taken-for-granted stories
Recognising indigenous stories in life histories: the heritage we hold within us
Indigenous language texts collected in the past
Programs to collect stories
Enhance national facilitating, coordinating and funding capacity
Broaden programs on indigenous knowledge to include storytelling