Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tourists and Folklore in Tanzania

Tanzania is one of the places where humans evolved. They did so through making and using tools, as well as creating and using language. From the earliest days, these were the defining characteristics of human beings.

Making and using tools enabled these humans to wrest a living from their environment, providing food, shelter and other necessities, including the skins, bark cloths and other materials they used to cover their bodies against the elements. Language enabled these early humans to name everything around them, thus codifying and storing vital knowledge for themselves and for posterity. Naming is a fundamental form of storytelling.

As they traversed the landscape, dealing with the environment and with one another, humans enhanced their awareness and curiosity about nature and society, which they expressed through myths, legends and folktales.

There are stories about why the two peaks of Kilimanjaro are the way they are, how the hyena got his spots, and why the bat flies at night. There are stories about human behaviour, relationships and the human condition. Through incantations, prayers and ceremonies, humans sought to influence phenomena in this world and beyond.

All these creations, tangible and intangible, passed on informally from person to person, generation to generation, together make up folklore. Folklore embodies and promotes entertainment, education, imagination and critical thinking, even in stories using what appear to be animal characters.

Such is the heritage that today we call Tanzanian folklore. Flowing to us like a current from the past, it gathers new material and acquires new dimensions, expressing the experiences, consciousness, anxieties, joys, and aspirations of contemporary Tanzanians.

As we travel around the world, meeting people and seeing places, we seek stories. Visiting Tanzania, tourists crisscross the vast Serengeti Plain, the Ngorongoro Crater, villages and towns, armed with cameras, notebooks and laptops--to construct stories about landscapes, animals, experiences and people, through photographs, journals, blogs and videos. The locals, in turn, tell their own stories about the tourists. Through the ages, humans remain what they have always been: storytellers.

(Note: At the request of Thomson Safaris, I wrote this article for the Thomson Safaris Safari Journal, 2007. It appears on this blog revised)

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