Sunday, April 8, 2012

Origin Tales: Africa

Recently Dr. Ochieng visited our class and gave us some great renditions of African folk tales. Dr. Ochieng made great use of everything in the room: the light switches, the blackboard, the drums he brought, and even a few students.
Turning of the lights each time he told a story set the mood, and he began each story with a call and response typical of Kenyan story-telling. (Yes, this meant that each of us had to memorize a short Kenyan phrase.) In this way, he was able to recreate at least to a small extent the traditions of Kenya; stories there are typically told in the dark because as long as it is light outside, there is work to be done.
As Dr. Ochieng told more and more stories, the theme became very clear: origins. The stories all in some way explained the world, giving clear reasons for why things happen. These explanations focused mostly on animal behaviors, and many ended with the phrase "And that is why you never see a _______ doing _______. The motif that was most prominent throughout was that of wit: one animal tricking another. My favorite example of this was the rabbit that was sentenced to drinking a pot of boiling water. He requests, and is granted permission, to have each of his family members personally inspect the water before he drinks it. Being a rabbit his family is enormous, and by the time he has to drink it, it has cooled off. This motif reveals the cultural emphasis placed on wit and smarts.

By far the best part of Dr. Ocheing's lecture was when he asked us to join him in song and dance. Using a repetitive chorus, we were somewhat able to follow along, and while Dr. Ochieng provided the majority of the singing, two of our own led the dancing. It was very fun and at the same time a great tool for us to learn more about the culture of storytelling in Kenya.

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