Not a simple message

CIRCULO ZEN

January 16, 1969

It is a Zulu performance, and after the performance, I am expressing an opinion about the symbolism in one of the stories we heard. The Zulu performer stops me, and explains to me that the meaning of the story is the totality of performance, not a simple message. Performance is the thing. The Zulu performer explains to me, “If I am to tell you what this story means, I must tell it again”.

Harold Scheub, The poem in the Story: Music, Poetry and Narrative, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, p. 119
Illustration: Enso
Advertisements

indaba

INDABA

indaba, “matter, affair; case; topic of conversation; business; report; story, tale”

A. T. Bryant, Zulu-English Dictionary, Pinetown, Natal: The Mariannhill Mission Press, 1905, p. 87

Different people have different minds

tortugas_Mimbre_dobles

Yes, of course, some people tell stories one way, some another. Perhaps it is because people sometimes separate for a while and still go on telling stories. But in all these stories about the old time, people use different words and names for the same things. There are many different ways to talk. Different people just have different minds.

!Unn /obe, storyteller of the Ju/’hoansi, in the Kalahari; Megan Biesele, Women Like Meat: The Folklore and Foraging Ideology of the Kalahari Ju/’hoan, Johannesburg: Witswatersrand University Press, 1993, p. 66

Illustration inspired by a drawing of a turtle from the Mimbres Culture

Would that it ended there

HN_RUANDA

We are stories.’ It’s a notion so simple even a child could understand it. Would that it ended there. But we are stories within stories. Stories within stories within stories. We recede endlessly, framed and reframed, until we are unreadable to ourselves.

Ivan Vladislavic, 101 Detectives: Stories, Cape Town: Umuzi, 2015, p. 147

Illustration inspired by a traditional drawing from Rwanda 

Who gives much tribute of words

kamon

[S]hé-mutúro wábinwa/who gives much tribute of words: this is not a praise, nor is it to criticize the individual who speaks too much, but refers to one who gives tribute in words, one who is helpful because of his skill as a judge and speaker.

Daniel Biebuyck and Kahomb C. Mattene, The Mwindo Epic from the Banyanga (Congo Republic), Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, p. 80 note 143  
Illustration inspired by a kamon, a symbol used by the samurai

Not a figure of speech

ancestro

 

If, then, the griots, active today in towns and villages of the Sudan, are still carrying on all the popular culture of African tradition and making the ‘illiterate’ masses perfectly civilized and cultivated people who are conscious of themselves and respectful of others, we must fear what will happen when their voices are no longer heard, for their sons and [grandchildren] now attend the European school and the family profession is no longer handed on.

As for the loss resulting for Africa and for the world we can only measure its importance if we are also aware of the importance of this heritage. For too many foreigners and African who are modern and ignorant, it is only a question of a few unimportant tales. […] However, on looking closer in certain areas of Africa, a very diversified literature is to be found, including different categories [and not only ‘tales’]: epics, cosmogonic myths, adventures, popular comedies, love poetry, oratory poetry (funeral, war, marriage, praise), ritual dram and religious songs, not to mention of course all the sayings, tales and fables, riddles and proverbs. All this forms a whole just as vast in importance and quality as the mediaeval literature of our ‘douce France’. [….]

Every person of French culture should be asked to think for a minute about what a voice this would create and the fresh spring which would be dried up, if by misfortune, this ancestral heritage were lost and with it faith, history and poetry, grandeur, wisdom and experience. It is only after such reflection that one can wonder whether in the name of economic development and European-style education it is right to deny the African of today his foundations in his fundamental original culture.

Theodor Monod said in 1934, not without humor: ‘The African did not come down from a tree yesterday’. Hampaté Bâ warns us today: ‘with the death of each old man, a library is burn’ and it is not a literary figure of style that he means!”

[As far as I know, this is, with its context, the first instance in which this much-repeated sentence was put in print, surely in the French version of the journal, which was published simultaneously to the English one. Kesteloot’s short article deals with the epics of West Africa. The English version is somewhat pedestrian, the last sentence meaning “he doesn’t mean it as a figure of speech” –Ed.]

 

Lylian Kesteloot, “The West African Epics”, Présence Africaine, vol. 30, 1966, pp. 201-202
Illustration inspired by a sculpture representing an ancestor from Indonesia