The narrator would never recite the entire story in immediate sequence


The Nyanga epic is not a text performed only at certain times or on highly esoteric ceremonial occasions. There is nothing secret about it; it is to be heard and enjoyed by all the people. Normally a chief or headman or simply the senior of a local descent group, in order to entertain his people and guests, would invite the bard to perform a few episodes of the epic in the evening, around the men’s hut in the middle of the village. Large crowds of people, male and female, young and old, would come to listen or rather to be participant auditors. […] The interesting point is that the narrator would never recite the entire story in immediate sequence, but would intermittently perform various selected passages of it. Mr. Ruerke, whose epic is presented here, repeatedly asserted that never before had he performed the whole story within a continuous span of days.

Daniel Biebuyck and Kahomb C. Mattene, The Mwindo Epic from the Banyanga (Congo Republic), Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 13-14

Illustration inspired by shamanic instrument from Indonesia


Epics come from the other side of life

Huevo Tierra


The nvet songs we sing [those that are within the epics] are composed by people. For example, if something happens to you, good or bad, you can compose a song that tells about that. Epics are not made up or composed. Epics come from the other side of life [that is, from the world of the dead]. Only a mbom nvet, an old mbom nvet like myself, can bring epics from the other side of life. And the little singers, the small fry, take advantage of this and tell the epics that others like myself bring from the other side of life. That is, the things that have happened, those haven’t yet happened and those that have already happened. But I don’t perform all my epics. I perform something, something, something. Because if I unfolded a big epic here, before dawn we would all be tied [as imprisoned criminals]. That’s why I play good and smooth epics.

From an nvet epic song by Eyí Moan Ndong, in Ramón Sales Encinas, Eyom Ndong, el buscaproblemas y Mondú Messeng: epopeyas de Eyí Moan Ndong, Barcelona: CEIBA, 2007, p. 118
Illustration inspired by traditional folk motifs

The story lives on


Everyone can share in the magic of the story

But no one must ever claim sole ownership

So that whatever happens to the storyteller

The story lives on.


Gcina Mhlophe (back cover of the book Stories of Africa, Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, second edition, 2004)  
Illustration inspired by rock art from Lesotho

A story is the wind


“You know that I sit waiting for the !xoe-sho-!kui (the moon)*

to return for me,

to go back to my place,

listen to all the people’s stories,

when I visit them,

listen to the stories that they tell.

They listen to the stories of the people of the Flat, yes,

from the other side of the place,

this they do,

they listen to them.

When the other !xoe-sho-!kui (the sun) becomes a little warm,

I sit in the sun;

seated, I listen to the stories that come from afar,

stories that come from a distance.**

Then; I shall get hold of a story from them, yes,

because the stories float out from a distance.

When the other !xoe-sho-!kui is a little warm,

I feel that I must definitely go and visit;

to talk with them, my fellow men. […]

I must first sit a little, cool my arms;

that the fatigue may go out of them.

I do merely listen,

watching for a story that I want to hear;

I sit waiting for it to float into my ear.*** […]

I will go to sit at my place

to turn back (with my ears) to my feet’s heels,

on which I went, yes,

because I feel that a story is the wind:

it is wont to float along to another place”


* Literally, “the man of the place”, and later in this narrative is used to refer to the sun, and then to ||kabbo himself. Here it appears to be a kind of “praise name” for the moon.

** ||kabbo explains that a story is “like the wind, it comes from a far-off quarter, and we feel it.” (Note by Lucy Lloyd)

***||kabbo explains that when one has travelled along a road, and goes and sits down, one waits for a story to travel to one, following one along the same road. (Note by Lucy Lloyd)


(W. H. I. Bleek & L. C. Lloyd, Specimens of Bushman Folklore, London: George Allen, 1911, p. 299-305)
Illustration inspired by a knot of traditional Finnish design .