Four Traits of African Storytelling

“Crick?”

“Crack!”

African storytelling may begin with this type of “call and response” from the storyteller and then from the audience, indicating that an important storytelling experience may be just about to begin. Although every storyteller may use audience-grabbing storytelling techniques, there is something special about the various ways that an African storyteller may check in with an audience.

Along with this very special audience focus, there are four other elements that are common to this type of storytelling. Here are hallmarks of what makes a good story.

1. African storytelling is fun to experience.

A “Griot” is one of many titles for someone who is a storyteller from one of the various countries of Africa. The Griots of times ancient and present know that an audience won’t be very interested in all the deep meanings of a story if the story is not interesting. Like any other opportunity for teaching and learning, the students and audience need to be engaged. If you are going to tell an African story, make the experience fun for the audience.

2. Storytelling in the African tradition is used to express history.

A typical story from the continent of Africa may be used to express history, authority and a connection to the past. While many of these stories told throughout North America now are often presented with generic, place-holder roles such as “King” or “the people,” authentic African tales use the names of people and location rather than these generic terms. Storytelling in all cultures precedes written records of history. Stories from Africa are no exception.

3. Nature and wildlife feature prominently in stories from Africa.

Like many folktales, many of the stories from African countries contain multiple references to animals, plants and earth. Some characters such as Anansi the Spider make appearances in a multitude of stories across many different cultures and languages.

4. African storytelling may have morals or life-lessons.

In many ways, the first Griots served not only as entertainers but also as teachers and shamans. It was very common to have folktales from Africa teach values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, patience and selflessness. With stories, the Griot could subtly slip powerful teaching into his or her entertaining presentations.

In the United States today, many storytellers make their livings with these great storytelling techniques. Using instruments inspired by ancient designs, they still make their audiences laugh and sing while passing on strong community values. Now, with modern media such as the CD,.mp3 files and easily accessible video equipment, African storytelling is available for anyone to enjoy.

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