African heritage comes to life through the art of storytelling. Indeed, this powerful art form has deep roots in Africa and is a carrier of language and by extension, culture as it has long been used to imbibe morals. In this digital age however, the beauty of this tradition continues to be disregarded and it is fast becoming a forgotten art.
Generation Y would rather listen to a podcast or read from a Kindle than listen to a griot, the West African term for storyteller. Digitization is further leading to the commercialization of stories and storytelling.
Storytelling in Africa has always been a communal event. People would gather to recount past happenings, taboos, beliefs, and myths. From the Azmari in Ethiopia, to the Iggawin in Mauritania, the Halaiqui in Morocco, the Imbongi in South Africa, and the Akewi in Nigeria, Africans have always been an oral people.
Written literature was not always easy to come by in the past. Storytellers combined the use of language and rhythm repetitively to make stories simple to remember. Plants, nature, and animals featured strongly in folktales, myths, epics, and legends.
These stories told of concepts that were unique to ethnic groups, villages, and regions. They helped to understand the universe, inform citizenry about natural phenomena, physical phenomena, methods of survival, religion, medicine, ancestry, social values. and history. Why then has storytelling become redundant?
One perspective is that the abundance of written literature has made oral narration less important. The industrial revolution has also meant that more and more storytellers have abandoned the art form in pursuit of opportunities that offer better pay. This revolution has further brought about urbanization and broken down the family structure, which is a cornerstone of traditional storytelling.
Ideal settings for storytelling such as forests or open fields have been replaced by cities.
Television, radio, and the Internet provide an alternative way of telling stories and allow storytellers to capture their narratives on camera and broadcast them to a large number of people.
Today, storytelling podcasts have become all the rage. Such podcasts involve recording one’s voice to form a digital audio file that is made available for download on the Internet. Once downloaded, the file can be stored on a computer or portable media player. The file may be available as a series of installments which subscribers can obtain automatically.
A podcast is very convenient because one is not bound to a television or radio station’s programming clock. The podcast can also be as long as the creator wants it to be. Most importantly, you can listen to a podcast while doing multiple activities, including exercising, studying, or cooking.
While modern technology has nearly killed the traditional format of storytelling, it can also be used to give it a new lease on life. Oral tales are being recorded virtually and archived for future use and for purposes such as conserving memory and collective identity.
Theatrical performances, television, and film are also keeping the art form alive. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are providing a platform for personal narratives. Ultimately, storytelling needs that arise from changing times must be met with technological innovations that help foster communication.