Coding as a Humanist -Encoding a Konkomba Folktale in XML

As part of the course “Demarginalising orature – Translating minor forms into the digital age” our goal was to transcribe and digitalize some of the folktales that are shared among the Konkomba people as an oral tradition to make them available to a broader audience. That their culture is based on oral traditions, has to be kept in mind, when we digitalized their history. The dominant written language was a result of colonization, but the tradition of orality prevails. The telling of the tales is part of the Konkomba’s daily lives. They gather in the middle of their village either during communal work, to entertain each other or in the evening as a way of spending time together and bringing the tales closer to the younger generation, so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. The way these tales are told is very important. The storytellers interact with the audience through questions, gestures or emotions.
Because of changes regarding the community’s lives and work structure, these moments tend to be rather scarce now, as we were told in our introduction to the topic. Since very few tales had been written down, Tasun Tidorchibe visited the villages and recorded, transcribed and also translated the folktales into English. Our assignment was to turn the transcriptions of the folktales into a searchable PDF via TEI and produce a video with subtitles from the audio and video files given to us.

The folktale Lilli Bloch and I were working on is called “Nachiin Pays for Feasting on Unyii’s Children” and was narrated by Bilinyi Chikpaab in Kutol on 18th March 2022. The story is about a wolf, who deceives a crocodile in a vicious manner in order to eat all of her children. Since the crocodile is the guardian of the river, no one is allowed to drink from it, as a result of the actions of the wolf. But the rabbit, seen as the wisest character and trickster in Konkomba folktales, needed to drink and made a deal with the crocodile: the crocodile would get revenge on the wolf for eating all of her children and in return the rabbit would not get eaten. In order to bring the wolf to justice, the rabbit and crocodile outsmarted the wolf and built a trap which resulted in the wolf losing his testicles to the crocodile and the rabbit’s life being spared.

Since the provided audio is in Likpakpaln, the language spoken by the Konkomba people, Lilli Bloch equipped the video with English subtitles, while I worked on the PDF, using TEI and XML. I started with the Tei Header. I used the header we created in class as an orientation and adapted it to fit this particular requirement. Secondly, I copied and pasted the story into the document, to have the base covered and to work from there. I put the story in paragraphs, so it is easier to read. Then I marked the words that we wanted to use in the glossary, so an explanation is available through the glossary. Since there are some words or phrases that don’t have a suitable translation or could only be exchanged for a lengthy description or explanation, they are kept in Likpakpaln in the text, but have the explanation at the bottom of the document in a glossary. This is an easy way to display an explanation for terms that cannot be translated from foreign languages. But for readability, I put in three footnotes at the beginning with only the translation of the animals, for clarity regarding their species, so the reader can picture them and have a better understanding of the story.  We decided to put the longer explanations in a glossary at the end, so that the pages in the document would not be crowded, but we didn’t want to exclude them, since they are a way of teaching background knowledge and offering context for the reader about the Konkomba people and culture. We put the information about the footnotes also into the editorial declaration in the TEI document.

At first, I was a little bit sceptical, if it is possible to put two marks around a word, but luckily it worked out fine and it looks just like I wanted it in the PDF. The glossary and footnotes were the tricky part of the coding, since you have to think of a lot of terms, that have to be used in order to work properly in the converted file. We chose to put the explained term in a bold font and the explanation under it, so it has a tidier look to it.

In the TEI document
In the finished PDF

 After Lilli was done with the video, I inserted a link, given to us by our tutor Jana Mankau, into the document, which when clicked in the PDF leads to the repository, where the video with the subtitles is uploaded, in addition to provide a digitally readable transcription, the tale can also be listened to and the interactions of the storyteller Bilinyi Chikpaab with his audience can be observed. Once this was done, I uploaded the document on a platform called, where I converted the document into a PDF.

#demarginalizingorature #TEI #coding #konkomba #folktales #culture #orality #digitalize #oraltradition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *