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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Is story-telling a dying art?

Auntie Alice with children
A story telling session in rural Zambia
The winner of this year's Caine Prize for African Writing will be announced on Monday.

The prize is awarded to the best African short story published in English and is gaining a reputation for rooting out the best and brightest, young African literary talent.

But what about the real roots of African story-telling?

The BBC's Africa Live wants to hear your favourite folk tale, let's get you started:

Auntie: Once upon a time

Children: Time, time

Auntie: Many, many moons ago

Children: Mmmmh

The BBC's Africa Live asks: Is story-telling a dying art? What would be lost if this happens?

This debate is now closed. Read a section of your comments below.


These wonderful stories must not continue to go unnoticed. Please continue to make storytelling a regular feature and gather stories from around the globe. This will help the art of story telling to survive in the wider world.
Charlotte Nightlinger, USA

There was a story of how the sky used to touch the earth and an old lady used to wipe her hands on the moon after each meal. The sky eventually got angry and moved away from the old lady. Since artificial lighting has brightened our night sky, it drives people indoors after supper. Story telling is now no longer fashionable.
Chigab Uyo, Nigeria

Children were not only excited to hear these stories but they learnt important morals from the characters which shaped their lives and relationships. The less emphasis there is on story-telling amongst African children today, the more this has led to immorality.
Anslem John-Miller, USA

When I was growing up, I often had to prepare the evening meal and look after my young siblings. We used to gather around the wood stove in our tiny kitchen and I would keep them amused by telling them stories each night as we waited for our parents to come home from work. My brother and sister would listen attentively and correct me if I got something out of character or accidentally contradicted a previous story. Now I write creatively and tell stories. This is my way of continuing the invaluable work of traditional story tellers. I cannot live without these stories.
Lavinia Moore, Australia

The world of talking frogs and birds or heroic boys outwitting ogres is no more. Civilisation has killed off that world and it will never come back
Ndung'u Ndegwa, Nairobi, Kenya

Just like most African cultures, story telling has died a gradual and natural death. It's sad but true. There are no more hearths to sit around, fires to poke or rising smoke to watch as granny takes wide eyed kids thousands of miles back in time. Gone is the world of the man eating one eyed ogres, luring pretty girls into marriage or the strange world of the hare and tortoise competing for the hand of a beautiful girl. The world of talking frogs and birds or heroic boys outwitting ogres is no more. Civilisation has killed off that world and it will never come back. The extended family has been fatally wounded and broken. Families have been urbanised while grandparents must stay back in the distant villages and waste away their talents. They only meet their grandchildren during the occasional, short holiday which are not long enough for story telling sessions. Even if there were time, the urban kid would have read the latest Harry Potter book or would have watched enough blood curdling movies which would stun these old folk.
Ndung'u Ndegwa, Nairobi, Kenya

Of course story telling is still alive and well! It goes on even in Europe in the form of bed-time stories to put the kids to sleep. The only difference is that Western stories are written down and illustrated in books, whereas ours are mostly passed on by word of mouth. "Utushimi" (tales) are what we called them and we absolutely adored them. We cuddled up and listened in the dark, visualising every detail and wondered if we'd ever meet the evil monster ourselves. Even though I am in my late 20s, I would still sit down and listen now. Maybe I should write down the stories I can remember for posterity. Who knows, I might even make a few quid!
Joy, Zambia

Story telling gone? What a lot of wisdom we used to get from these stories. Now our children do not have access to this pleasure. TV and movies have taken away our children. In southern Sudan, story telling used to be a part of peoples' lives during the dry season. During the day, the youth were busy running errands and at night they sat and eagerly listened to stories. Sweet good old days - this art has gone.
Agnes Ponilako-Lukudu, DRC/Kinshasha

Even though I was born and raised in the US, my mother has been very good at telling me about the lessons and folktales she learned as a child in Nigeria. A lot of the stories are based on village lifestyles that are not familiar to those of us brought up in urban settings and that will make it harder and less likely for us to pass them on to our children. It is too bad, because they have been invaluable teaching tools and are a good way of bringing parents and children closer together.
Uchenna, USA

A lot of the stories are based on village lifestyles that are not familiar to those of us brought up in urban settings and that will make it harder and less likely for us to pass them on to our children
Uchenna, USA

We cannot leave an important and fundamental art behind which has significantly contributed to our morals and cultural values.It's pretty urgent that we adopt some measures to help preserve the legacy that links us to our past.
Leonel Muchano, Mozambique

It could be said that story telling is still prevalent in rural Africa where there are no TVs or modern electronic gadgets, but, with the current rural-urban migration in Africa, a couple of decades from now, there will be no more story telling.
Larry Isang Akpan, Nigerian in USA

I believe that story telling is a way to let children use their imaginations and build up communication skills in a high tech world. Story telling is a simple and wonderful art form, an outlet for creativity which helps the mind grow. I used to love listening to my grandmother's stories. Many of them were folklores and fairy tales. Others were meant to teach me about my heritage and my ancestors. If we lose this art, we lose what is wonderful about ourselves.
Anne, US

Today it's about paying bills, watching television and playing video games. Now faced with such competition, the story teller is running a losing race.
Tulani Nhamoinesu, USA

We are losing our culture by losing the art of story telling. In the old days whoever didn't know how to narrate a story was considered unwise.
Monyoro Alex, Sudanese in Australia

To understand why storytelling is becoming a dying art we need to look at the degradation that has characterised the social structures of most African countries today. The peace and contentment that were once enjoyed in those times are now replaced by war, instability and famine. The satisfaction which was once the beauty of village life where those arts are better appreciated and treasured are giving way to the greed for a better life in the cities - a life which is elusive.
Lanre Olabamiji, Nigeria

The art of storytelling would never die. It will evolve into whatever the times dictate. As long as the subtle pretenses veiling "white supremacy" continues to grow, there will be story tellers to pass on the tales.
Kangsen Feka Wakai, Ambazonia (southern Cameroon)

Story telling is like the DNA of our ancestral heritage - if story telling dies, so shall our human species
Joel Orona, USA

As an American Indian Doctor of Educational Psychology and story teller, the treasures of story telling are quite evident to me. From the standpoint of educational psychology, storytelling as a teaching tool offers a wide and varied, positive learning process. As a story teller, I have witnessed time after time, the soothing calmness and attentiveness brought on by a good story. The learning objectives of any discussion, course or curriculum, are best remembered through a story. Story telling is like the DNA of our ancestral heritage - if story telling dies, so shall our human species.
Joel Orona, USA

As darkness chases away daylight, civilisation has chased away our tradition. My grandmother used to tell me interesting stories about Kings, Queens and Chiefs, but today we talk of presidents and ministers who have nothing interesting to offer our generations other than hell and wars.
Aaron Anye, Cameroonian in South Africa

Yes it's a dying art and I wonder how many people are mourning? Times have changed. I have some faint memories of my family telling us stories in the evenings. In those days there were TV, Cartoon Network or Tom and Jerry. Most of those folktales revolved around animals like rabbits, tortoises and elephants. How many of us typical 21st century people have seen these animals? These stories have been overtaken by events and seem somehow irrelevant.
Pacharo Kayira, Malawi

My favourite stories were the sing along ones. My mother would sing a song that would summon us to sit around her and we would sing with her. The stories had lessons to be learnt. Our children have not been spared the story telling, we do it in the car as we drive long distances and at any family gatherings. There may be no fires to sit around in our urban settings, but story telling lives on - on our sofas! Stories were told to make children aware of the world and to encourage good values in their lives. The venue for story telling may change, but story telling lives on! As a member of the Zimbabwe Women Writers Association, we were encouraged to write down those stories so they may live on in print. Story telling is not just about the words - you must invest your mind, body and spirit, to deliver the values that bind African societies together.
Zorodzai Machekanyanga, Zimbabwe

As a child, I always enjoyed the tales in the moonlight or by the fire. Now, I see their hidden wisdom. Those contemplative stories, given to us for free, were priceless. Today, nothing is free. Perhaps the BBC can help by encouraging students and writers to explore the development of this art.
Chidi Okoye, Nigeria

Story telling should be upheld as the surest way of preserving a dying culture in some continents like Africa. Stories told to me by my great grand mother have stood out as my reference point when it comes to pressing matters in my life.
Christian Merenini, Nigeria

Many of the stories developed my curiousity towards the objects around me and taught me the importance of family gatherings
Juliana, Nigerian in USA

Growing up in the village, I looked forward to the nightly story times that took place at the centre of our compound when the moon shone or inside the obi which is a small gathering hall for the kindred. Many of the stories developed my curiousity towards the objects around me and taught me the importance of family gatherings. More importantly, due to the fact that many of our parents were illiterate, these special times allowed me to learn about my lineage thereby helping me to better trace my family tree in my adulthood. It is unfortunate that modern life has taken away one of the significant aspects of rural characteristics.
Juliana, Nigerian in USA

Most of these stories have been translated into books, CDs and other electronic media such as the internet. It was during the full moon in the village that our elders came out to tell us stories with very meaningful morals. These stories are now called literature in high schools and colleges. The traditional aspects of these stories have gone down with history. The essence of belonging to a community has significantly faded. No wonder our youths are now engaged in civil wars and civil unrest.
Moses S. Wilson, USA

Story-telling began dying with the colonial invasions which made it compulsory for the children to speak their language rather than studying in their native tongues. The subsequent generation of children couldn't tell or write the native stories, but had to learn about the story of Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama and the western monarchy.
F.W.Sims, The Netherlands

Oral story telling is a dying art for those who have access to computers, watch TV and live a cosmopolitan life-style. However, story telling, by word of mouth, is still very much alive in rural areas.
K T , S. Leone, US

Friday night Ananse stories were great! Yes I can recall when my auntie "Abuya" will be telling us about Kwaku Ananse the trickster or about the horrors of not being good or of being disobedient. Close by on the charcoal fire, the smells of either ground-nuts toasting or cocoa-yam roasting. We always go to bed either trembling or laughing. Today's youth is missing out on a lot. What a shame!!
Thy-will Koku Amenya, Ghana/USA

It is not by chance that the art of story telling is dying. Normally in the process of passing the story fro a generation to the other, one generation ends up 'adulterating' the story to make it more interesting.
Maxwell Eyram Afari, Brazil

Talking of the art itself, it is there in our creative old men and women. But who will they tell the stories to?
Mazuba, Chikuni-Monze, Zambia

Thanks again for bringing up this story telling issue. Television has taken away those gloriouse years. I remember when my mother will sit us down and tell us stories at night before we go to sleep. It'll be real hard to go back to those times.
Yakinn Bello, USA

Here in Chikuni, southern Zambia, we have a story-telling programme on Chikuni Community Radio. It is one of the most listened to programmes. The fable stories are narrated in such a way that both the old and young are glued to their radio. But this is not what happens in most places. Our societies are becoming more literate and they have less time to listen to old men and women talk. They would rather read the stories themselves. But talking of the art itself, it is there in our creative old men and women. But who will they tell the stories to?
Mazuba, Chikuni-Monze, Zambia

I believe the very existence of this topic having been chosen tells us that there is a market niche for this kind of thing, even if it's a TV show that asks for people to send in entries about thier grandparents' stories. Here in South Africa, we have a superb "storyteller" named Gcina Mhlope whom, I am sure, is known to BBC Africa. For every problem, there is a solution!
Duncan, Jo'burg, SA

Story-telling isn't exactly a dying art. It is simply being transformed into tv and radio programs. Oral history and literature is also being immensely collected and published so that the stories are not lost. Examples of folklorists who are ensuring that the next generation will read the old fireside stories are Dr. Ezekiel Alembi, Ruth Finnegan, Roger Abrahams, Taban lo liyong, Oyekan Owomoyela, Harold Courlander to mention but a few. Through story-telling, diasporic Africans are beginning to know more about the jubilations, tribulations, trepidations and cultural heritage of their African forebears. Yoruba stories such Ijapa/Ajapa are also found in Costa Rica, Cuba and Brazil. The famous Anansi/Anancy of Ghana is called Bra Takuma (after his son, Ntikuma) in Jamaica. There are Gullah griots in Sea Island and Sapelo, in South Carolina who tell their stories very much like the Mande speaking Djeli.
Sitsofe Kwaku Agbemenu, New York, USA

Story telling is now a dying art because of so many factors that have invaded the african way of life. We used to live together and from the older generation, the children would learn but now because of economic hardships and the westrn concept of family, extended families are no longer encouraged.
Barnabas Bowa, Zambia

It is about time we take a second look at stort telling as a good channel for development communication. This is because it forms part of the traditional media which can be used to mobilise people and communicate with them. Therefore, there is a need for development agents and other organs to capitalised on story telling to maintain the tradition and the cultural values of African society. I am always happy to watch by the fireside on Ghana Television, where "today's" children are told stories by the elderly.
Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, Ghana West Africa

The new forms of media have overtaken the earlier forms of entertainment, which was previously done by story tellers. It is in many ways regretable as we are also losing not only the joy of listening but also the history of our ancestors handed down over generations. Ah well, such is progress.
Stuart, USA

While the art is dying in Africa, it is being revived and very much alive in North America
Comfort Adesuwa Ero, Canada/Nigeria

When I got to Canada some years ago, I decided to take to storytelling in schools and the communities to share my culture and to contribute the little I can in preserving the dying art. While the art is dying in Africa, it is being revived and very much alive in North America. Most of the books on African folktales are written by people who are not of African descent. We stand to lose a lot if we promote the death of this age-old traditional form of education handed to us by our ancestors. There is absolutely no excuse for this. As the world changes, tradition should learn to adapt. African schools should include storytelling in the curriculum. There should be storytelling festivals and BBC Africa Live can help by having storytelling contests in addition to African writing contests. The era of storytelling was not as corrupt or as violent as this so-called modern day developed era.
Comfort Adesuwa Ero, Canada/Nigeria

Story telling made me a humble and respectful child since grandpa will not tell his stories if any of the children show direspect to anyone during the day. Story-telling really has a positive impact on children and their lifestyles but it seems it is becoming something of the past. It is dying slowly.
Nana Koduah, Ghana/Sweden

During my childhood, I used to listen to my mother telling us the fabulous stories, mythology and legends of our ancestral Amazigh tradition (native North African tradition). Unfortunately, my younger brother was mostly attracted by the Arabic television programs! We are losing the battle of African Identity, unless we start producing our own programs based on our own oral heritage. The story telling was the only way to keep the tradition alive, today we should use the web-audio-video technologies.
Amayas, Algeria (in Europe)

I would be very sorry to see the art of storytelling die out. I am fairly ignorant about its practice and have just become very interested. I hope you publish as much as you can about it. No doubt an organically brilliant way of coping with problems, fears would be lost. Also storytelling is a wonderful connection to inter - generational joy, belonging in community with meaning.
Carol Smaldino, USA

I'm an anthropologist and when I think of all the oral stories lost around the world across time due to culture change, I am encouraged that now we can begin recording those stories. I urge African peoples and all peoples in areas where recording is easy - such as Europe and North America - to record their stories. You can use cassette tape or video, which can be converted to digital format and therefore theoretically available forever. Oral narratives are part of the heart of a people's history. If you want help recording or want to find a place to store properly your recordings, seek out sociocultural anthropologists and historians at universities, history centers, culture centers, museums or similar organizations. Even if they have not the resources, they can tell you who may be able to assist you. Humanity needs your stories and your memories!Lisa Brandt, PhD, USA

In primary school in the late 1980's my teacher introduced story telling or akuko ifo (in my local language)as the last "subject' for the day on fridays. She usually picks the story teller for the week at random. Since you don't know who will be picked to tell a story, I always made my mum tell me at least one story every week so that I had one ready if I was picked. We learned one thing or the other from those stories we heard. The "subject" became very popular because most of the stories always have choruses which everybody including the teacher sand along to. It also helped those of us who were shy speaking in public because it afforded us the opportunity to overcome our shyness and also helped in boosting our confidence.
Ibeabuchi Chinedu, Lagos Nigeria

I am 20 years old and I have never had a story told to me. The lessons I have missed out on!
Umi, USA, KENYA

I think my own father would be ashamed to tell a story; that's even if he can remember any. Gone are the days when people use to sit and listen to stories, one of the undoings of civilization.
Okwagbe Solomon, Warri, Nigeria

While the die hards may still wish to continue with the art of story telling, can this still be practical for this generation?
Shuttie F.N.Libuta, Zambia

While the die hards may still wish to continue with the art of story telling, can this still be practical for this generation? I have grown up in a story teling or folk tales senario where you could sometimes classify some stories as thrillers or action packed in today's terms, but really, does that kind of fiction upgrade the mind in any way? How does one justfy the turning of a frog into a handsome youngman who ends up marrying a princess and they live happily ever afterwards? My youngest child Lazaro would keep on questioning the authenticity of such a story. He is forteen years old, but he has already got a mind of an adult. I love going back home to my village, but we don't do folk stories. Instead we want to learn new farming methods that'll bring us yields. Roots or no roots, story telling is an almost dying art.
Shuttie F.N.Libuta, Zambia/Kitwe, Central Africa

By year 2035 when most of my generation must have migrated out of Africa, we shall wake up to find a history book containing all the histories of the rest of the world but not of Africa.
Seye Ogunrotimi, Lagos Nigeria.

In place of the traditional 'sit-around the fire' and tell or hear stories, families are now increasingly gathering in front of TVs or listening to music. This not only make story-telling difficult, but also ruins the cohesion of a family. Less and less time is now available for people to just sit around and talk. In most cases, members of families work at different times thus making gathering itself impossible. Consequently, our old folks, who are mostly in the rural areas, are yearning to narrate their stories, but no one is available to listen to them! Thus, Africans are not only losing the art of story-telling, but also vital information held in the custody of the old people.
Camlus Omogo, Kenyan in USA

When we were growing up, my brothers and sisters used to sit around the fire and tell each other folk stories. I can't even remember one of those to tell to my kid. I can only tell her that we used to tell stories and she begs me to tell her one. It is so sad, but, yes, I think story telling really is a dying art. We used to compete and choose whose story was the nicest. Good old days!!
Ntokozo Mary Dube, UK

Of course story-telling is a dying art. The generation of story -tellers is gone and the new generation x cannot continue the trend.
Hajir, Sweden

I think the children of today are missing the witty sayings and the funny folk tales our grandparents told us when we were growing up
Kwaku Amoh Mensa Tsibu, US

Thanks a million times for bringing this issue up. I think the children of today are missing the witty sayings and the funny folk tales our grandparents told us when we were growing up. If we can go back to those times, the moral uprightness of the child today will be better.I remember the stories of Ama Atta Aidoo, The Border Runners by James Irungu and James Shimanyula, Weep Not Child by Ngugi wa Thiong'o . All those stories were told in the form of folk tales and it helped us to take to reading and learning as well.
Kwaku Amoh Mensa Tsibu, US

I have always been loved by children when I tell them nice stories. The good thing about stories is that you can actually use it to teach children about the basics of our society, for example like learning names, be honest to you parents etc. I told the stories of two children who did not know the names of the village chief and was taken away by some wild strangers while those who could remember was spared for fear of spiritual retribution if chief`s children disappeared. Yes, storytelling is dying and we are losing touch with tradition.
Kenneth, South Africa

The last someone narrated a story to me was 11 years ago.I am 15 years old now, and I still long for someone to narrate a story to me.
Sade, Nigeria

My best moments as a child were the story telling sessions. I remember that almost evey evening just before supper, my friends and I would gather together and tell each other stories that we had heard from our grandparents or other sources. Sometimes one of our parents or grandparents would sit and narrate them to us. Imagine this, the sky is blue, the stars are out and little children sitting close together listening to a story.
Eve, Sweden

Indeed story telling is a dying art. This was the way in which our forefathers passed on the traditions and parables of our unique culture.
T. Catfish Brownell, United States of America

If we are going to bid bye to this art, then our children will take refuge in TV, the idiot box.
Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda

It is very important to tell stories to children. It helps them in many ways: to develop their listening skills, to become effective communicators, to understand the society in which they live, to bridge a gap between their generation and past generations, to understand the meaning of life and to become more creative in what they do. If we are going to bid bye to this art, then our children will take refuge in TV, the idiot box. My son is 2 years and 5 months old. He wants his mom to tell him stories before going to bed. He enjoys listening to different types of stories. As I'm away from him I video record myself narrating stories to him and send those video clippings as email attachments to him. He loves listening to my stories.
Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda

Most people in urban areas would rather watch television, listen to the radio, hang around bars, read books or participate in some form of sports for entertainment rather than tell stories. Furthermore, people's knowledge base has increased so much that the science we know today contradicts most stories we used to be told when we were children. However, this slow death of story-telling is unfortunate because we are losing a lot of information of historical and cultural value reflecting how people used to live a long time ago and the challenges they used to face.
Ndekazi Kaluwa, Zambia

Now few parents spare time for story telling while schools teach pupils only to pass exams but not to learn.
Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, Kampala, Uganda

l remember when my father used to recite to me a lot of tales in our kitchen in the evenings. Then we would compete with our colleagues who could tell the best stories while looking after cattle and goats or at school. But now few parents spare time for story tellng while schools teach pupils only to pass exams but not to learn. The BBC should be commended for raising this issue and Government and Non Government community - based organisations should give this a priority.
Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, Kampala, Uganda

I think we have become more concerned about other issues in life. Villagers are too hungry to listen to long stories. City dwellers are addicted to their television sets. Western influence no doubt is gradually overshadowing African tradition.It will take a miracle to revive them.
Jude Ehi, Canada




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