Storytelling in the African Continent

The communal activity of storytelling
Communal activity of storytelling
Storytelling accompanying mimicking
Narratives often accompanying shows/mimicking

Storytelling is an integral part of our societies all over the world.

Oral storytelling forms the spine of oral tradition. When stories are told and passed down, it happens generationally. A grandfather tells a story that is passed on to his son who in turn passes it to his own son, and so forth. Storytelling compounds in effect as time moves along with it. This is how a simple story could either inspire a reform or catalyze a war.

Stories are simple. Throughout pre-colonial Africa, the organization of people was simple too. In the confines of a group, a story would gain audience and most importantly a chance to disperse. Whether communities grouped into clans, or families, there was hardly a lone person in the society. They offer an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the storyline and learn from it.

Stories also “grow” alongside those who receive them. They contain relevant virtues, characters and lessons that are drawn from the community itself. This way, members of the community can relate to the elements of the story in the fullness of their environment. As a story is passed down, the increase in the number of people who receive its teachings and values and who are most importantly impacted strongly by them determine the story’s growth. The less a story “touches” the heart of the community, the faster it is discarded and its opportunity to impact the society is squelched.

Fortunately, the countless legends, epics, trickster stories and moral stories entrenched in African society have empowered children, women and men in African communities towards character growth, discipline, morality and deeper understanding of their culture.

And that’s why the compounding effect I was talking about earlier is really important. Because if a story can influence and deepen a culture, then it becomes paramount that the preservation of our stories and storytelling is nudged way higher on the “global to-do list”. On the extreme side of the spectrum, it is also viable to erase a culture by simply inhibiting storytelling. Else, how can the world be aware of your existence devoid of your culture? It is called the way of life, for a reason.

Stories underpin culture and behavior in ways we easily undermine. When talking about the power of storytelling, Media Partners’ The Science of Storytelling: How Storytelling Shapes Our Behavior records that: “When used effectively, storytelling is a vehicle for change. It helps us unpack ideas, expose alternate realities, comprehend different perspectives and, ultimately, change our behavior for the better.”

The less a story “touches” the heart of the community, the faster it is discarded and its opportunity to impact the society is squelched

Avid Conquest, on the impact stories have

Considering this, therefore, it should not solely be the creative community’s concern to preserve the art of storytelling. Anyone who proudly anchors themselves to the safe and acceptable cultures and traditions of their communities should be willing to protect and spread their stories.

All other societies pale in comparison to Africa, in particular, in regards to the diversity of people she has which would generally point to the wealth and richness of stories her people possess. There is no denying that communities in Africa and those descended from the continent take pride in their history – and the way to communicate this is through different ways that actively propagate a message.

Storytelling, dancing, singing and mimicking(acting) demonstrate how an idea or a thought can be transmuted into a powerful lesson through expressing yourself.

Our brains on story telling
This is how involving storytelling is!

As a writer, I have adulated the art of storytelling for years and often accord my writing ability to it many times. I can hardly pinpoint an exact epicenter of inspiration for my writing, but as I recorded in My Inspiration Story and What Scares Me post, inspiration constantly shows up anywhere for a creative. Listening to or reading stories impacts the imagination profoundly, and I later found out that the more I continued consuming stories, the easier it became to tell them through writing.

The people of Africa have not relented to spread their stories and express their ideas. It is clearly evidenced in the preservation of African culture throughout time and its influence in contemporary media, the film industry, food and entertainment and the beauty industry, among a growing list of industries.

Somehow, one would wonder why the culture of the African people has yet to be diluted even after foreign colonialists invaded their homeland and pilfered, destroyed and killed. The scramble and partition of the African continent brought with it a merciless siphoning of people in mass numbers The risk of the basic unit of the society crumbling was high. The disintegration of clans and families during raids, wars and shootings would mean that the successful group(community) dynamic that existed in the pre-colonial era faced an imminent whittling-down.

Stories would cease to be told!

Nevertheless, even in the face of such tumult, and with the hand of the white colonialist bearing down like a Damocles sword on them, the African communities persisted in their storytelling and with great verve. As they stared down the barrel of death, they never stopped dancing, or singing or storytelling.

When used effectively, storytelling is a vehicle for change. It helps us unpack ideas, expose alternate realities, comprehend different perspectives and, ultimately, change our behavior for the better.

Media Partners, on The Power of Storytelling

Weathered and new stories continue to be told, and retold to generations of Africans regardless of their societal groupings. A study done by North Dakota State University reports that: “In informal and formal settings, the telling of stories in Nigeria is and was used by professional narrators, educators, and parents to teach respect, moral instruction, norms, societal values, and preservation of the historical, cultural customs.”

I admire West Africa, just to single out, and the depth of their writing. One can easily tell that the average West African writer is proudly entrenched in his community and its culture. The level of industry showcased by storytellers and writers from Africa is an indicative sign of a culture-driven society that is ready to preserve its roots.

So tell stories. Read stories. By doing this, you will be saving your culture from a probable chance of eradication (the odds are.0095%, I checked). Africa is chockfull of stories waiting to be told and for the world to listen.

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Avid Conquest