Shhhh! It’s now storytelling time


Oral storytelling is a beautiful and powerful art and one that Africans have used for many generations to preserve and share their heritage. In many African societies, stories have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.

To unravel it, storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Importantly, this means of sharing and interpreting experiences can be adaptive for all ages and leaving out the notion of age segregation. Since it transcends age segregation, storytelling can be used as a useful method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences.

This means learning institutions in countries within and across the great African continent should embrace storytelling as an effective way to promote children’s literacy since it is a vital tool in literacy development.

This is so because stories are effective educational tools and learning is most effective when it takes place in social environments that provide authentic social cues about how knowledge is to be applied.

Listening to a storyteller can create lasting personal connections; promote innovative problem solving; foster a shared understanding regarding future ambitions; and after this, the listener can then activate knowledge and imagine new possibilities.

Sadly, storytelling sessions in most – if not all African countries – is fading away and because of this, Bongani Godide, a professional storyteller highlights the importance of reviving it through poetry events.

Godide says: “Storytelling traditions have almost died away, but, mostly through poetry events, we have seen a new development of storytelling. This helps stories to find their way back into this urban jungle.”

To effectively revive storytelling, stakeholders in the education and culture sectors should organise for more poetry events.

Public libraries in African countries should also organise storytelling sessions to restore to life, folklore and oral communications of the past which are comparable to the electronic media that transcend time and place.   

Story telling sessions promote and strengthen intergenerational relationship between children and parents since parents do stay and to some extent participate in story telling either as storytellers or just mere listeners.

Furthermore, a return to the concept of “libraries without shelves” or “oral librarianship”, as part of the decolonisation and demystification of library services is also of paramount importance in promoting storytelling. It is also critical to note that storytelling can provide the African child with a sense of togetherness or the ‘we feeling.’

According to Chinua Achebe (1994), storytelling is a critical tool to educate and provide children with a sense of cultural identity.

“…The story is our escort, without it we are blind.

“Does the blind man own his escort? No… it is the story that owns us and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from another,” notes Achebe.

Sharing the same views with Achebe, South African storyteller Rinae Sikhwari says stories are valuable because they teach children so much about their history as human beings.

“Stories ensure that our children understand the importance of preserving information and also learn about other people and their cultures,” says Sikhware.

This means that African countries must use storytelling as an effective way of documenting the African history. The African story is valuable and precious and it needs to be passed on to the younger generations.

Thus to preserve indigenous cultures of Africa, storytelling should be used as an oral form of language associated with practices and values essential to developing one’s identity. More so, to preserve African stories and restore storytelling, radio stations should have story time slots.

The time is now for African countries to fully prioritise storytelling sessions since stories are self-contextualising, sustained symbolic representations of possible worlds, they provide the child with the opportunity to learn some of the essential characteristics of written language.

October 2013
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