Wednesday, December 12, 2012

African Storytelling at St. Olaf College

On November 7, I made a presentation at St. Olaf College on African storytelling. This was part of what is called "Africa Weeks," a series of displays, performances, lectures and other events organized by Karibu, a student organization. Africa Weeks is held once a year.  It seeks to foster understanding and appreciation of Africa. Karibu was formed over ten years ago by a Congolese student. Karibu is a very significant Swahili word which means "Welcome."

I regularly get invited to participate in Africa Weeks, talking about African culture, especially the art, meaning and social functions of story telling. In the process, I perform some folktales and invite the audience to talk about them, through questions and observations.

On this occasion, I started with the idea of Africa as the place where humans originated, the place where technology, culture, language and storytelling originated. Humans began to name, describe, and reflect on their environment and on society, encoding their thoughts, sentiments, anxieties, hopes and dreams in proverbs, songs, tales, dances, rock paintings, and other expressive forms.

Storytelling is not just for entertainment; it is also a repository of thoughts and knowledge of different kinds. I offered several African proverbs, as examples, such as "Don't insult the crocodile's mouth before you cross the river."

To illustrate the richness of African tales as philosophical, ethical, and other kinds of reflection, I told three tales: the Maasai tale titled "The Woman and the Children of the Sycamore Tree," published in Paul Radin's African Folktales; "The Monster in the Rice Field" and "Nokamboka and the Baby Monster" both published in my book, Matengo Folktales.

At the end of the event, it was clear that we had all gained much, through thinking together about African storytelling.

It was time to go

Yet, even as we were heading out of the meeting room, the conversation continued.

(All the photos in which I appear were taken by Pumla Maswanganyi. I wish to thank her)