Saturday, April 7, 2012

Super stories and the methods of telling them

If I say to you: Paokwa

Then you should respond to me: Pakawa

Why? Well because that is how to start stories in Swahili (albeit probably spelled incorrectly) as passed down by the amazing professor, Dr. Ochieng’ O.  K’Olewe, who came to visit our class. He shared with us the traditions and facts about oral literature (once again that question comes up about how it’s literature if it’s oral, check out my earlier post about ASL)in Kenya, in which interaction and audience participation is extremely important, especially as it's the main way of keeping records due to a previous lack of writing. Keeping the audience active is one way to keep them attentive, something that can be important when you want to get a message across. Another way is to keep them in the dark; however this method served multiple purposes. Kenya has many agricultural communities and therefore nighttime, when it is dark, is when all the work is finally done for the people. The darkness also allows for imagination and the empowerment of the voice and its intonation. Characters can be extremely easy to voice and the story takes a life of its own. When Dr. O was telling us the first story in the dark conjured up an image in my mind for sure:
Yes, that is a monkey riding a shark, they both eventually ended up trying to trick each other, but more on that later.

Now remember that before I said audience attention is important, but why? In Kenya stories are used to convey a community’s origin, as determined by history and myth, its social foundation, the reasons behind current beliefs, and affirmations of what they are. These stories, goals, and rules can also be communicated through song (our song and dance was probably my favorite part of the lesson, possibly my favorite thing from this entire year. I tried to find a video of one of the ones we sang but sadly was unable to).

The community origin aspect is important because it helps strengthen the community itself. These experiences are shared (hey guys, Jungian ideas and archetypes!)
He's so happy we're listening to him
and communication is intergenerational due to the importance of the elders in the telling of the stories.

The communication aspect also allows for acquisition of language skills, the teaching of observational skills, the acquisition of rules and taboos through the asking of morals, intellectual growth and sharp memory. But then we must ask ourselves, why do these things need to be taught? The African setting is extremely competitive and those with wit are celebrated. It is easier to learn through stories, especially when the lessons are things such as how everything is interconnected, even if you think it doesn’t pertain to you and be thankful for what you have, especially if you don’t deserve it.

The most interesting part of these stories is that they can also be used to tell origins of natural and historical things such as the maintenance of order and why things happen. Everyone has heard of why the mosquito buzzes in the ear due to its previous infatuation with the ear and its current I’ll-show-you-how-pretty-annoying-and-fun-I-can-be-after-the-breakup attitude. It is less likely that you’ve heard the origins of Somali pirates finding canoes as young boys and selling them for money, eventually evolving into taking them hostage.
Go from this:

To this:
After this presentation I could not help but wish that more lessons were taught through story and song in Western cultures. This is definitely something I plan on doing as much as I possibly can when I have my own classroom. I know that doing things this way keeps kids entertained and in an active mindset to relate things back to themselves and learning. As Dr. O urged us to continue, I too will encourage you to keep oral tradition alive: tell a story at your next social event, it may be the most entertaining thing you do.

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