Digitalising folk tales from cultures and areas deeply rooted in oral traditions and orality helps archive these tales, as well as the languages and cultures they derive from, and thereby gives them the opportunity to transcend time and space to reach more people. One might of course ask whether translating folk tales from their original marginalised language into an institutional, widely spoken language such as English means domesticating this language and therefore ultimately contributing to that language’s endangerment. However, as we have also concluded in class this winter term, if the translator uses the method of foreignization for their translation, meaning that they give visibility to the original language and culture (cf. Venuti), it can also help an endangered language be preserved. Translating and showcasing the Konkomba language is rather a case of preserving and archiving the existence of the language and culture, because it is in danger of going extinct in the near future. Therefore, translating (with the method of foreignization) and subtitling the Konkomba folk tales in English gives visibility to the language and culture, because by hearing the folk tales in their original language and following along with the English subtitles helps a non-Konkomba listener become familiar with the language as well as the culture.
The folk tale
A folk tale is a tool of language and culture documentation, transmission, and preservation. In a traditional sense, folk tales are oral stories that are passed on from generation to generation, but it became more common for them to also be written down over the years (cf. Thompson 4). However, there are cultures and areas around the world where orality and oral folk tales dominate and hence these stories do not necessarily exist in a written form.
A folk tale is region-specific and always expresses, communicates, and transmits beliefs, values, a morale, or myths among other things of its culture of origin. It is mostly quite short and changes are predetermined with each re-telling because of its oral nature (cf. Pullum 96). The folk tale, its language and culture are sources of indigenous knowledge about a people’s history, cultural heritage and belief system and are hence deeply interwoven with each other – as explained by our course instructor Tasun Tidorchibe.
The Konkomba folk tale “A Cat Saves an Old Lady from a Troublesome Wolf”, gives insight into the reason why most old ladies are fond of cats, with its roots deriving from Konkomba mythology. The folk tale is about an old lady – an upininkpil – and how a wolf always steals the food she is making. Whenever the old lady makes yam and pounds fufu (a type of mash) she sings a song. Hearing the song, the wolf approaches, thereby answering upininkpil’s song with one of its own. This causes the old lady to run away in fear. Because the wolf always comes when she is making food, she has tried to seek protection from other animals, but without success. However, one day a cat visits the old lady and offers to capture the wolf for her. The cat tells her to do everything as usual and the old lady agrees. The wolf comes, starts singing its song and enters the old lady’s house. But at that moment the cat jumps on the wolf and kills it, saving the old lady from her predicament. The cat chose to save the old lady instead of a fellow animal. This is believed to be the reason why many upininkpils keep cats as their pets.
Process: Coding and Video Editing
After receiving the folk tale, I began coding in Visual Studio Code. I started with the header and put in all the required information: the title of the folk tale, the author, storyteller, editor, date, and place among others. It was a bit difficult, however, to find the exact geographical location of Chakping, the village in which the recording had taken place. After I had completed the header, I started encoding the folk tale. As we practiced this a lot in class, I encountered few problems while encoding the story. The only thing I had to remember though was to use italics. Encoding the song included in the folk tale was a bit more challenging, as there were multiple song sections, so I had to use a lot of tables and division elements to go back and forth between the narration and the song section of the folk tale. Lastly, I encoded the notes and the glossary. As we talked about this a lot during term as well and even changed our approach on how to do it, it went quite smoothly. I used <gloss xml:id> in the glossary and <term ref> in the story, because xml:id always needs to be unique and hence cannot be used in the code if a term comes up multiple times in the folk tale. At the end, after I had finished the coding, I checked what it looked like by converting the TEI document into a PDF via TEIGarage.
Then, I started with the subtitling of the video. I used the software SubTitle Edit one of my classmates recommended, as it is a lot easier to use than Davinci Resolve’s subtitle function. Because I used this software, I was able to work rather quickly on the subtitles, as I only had to copy and paste the subtitle text into the software and adjust the timestamps for each subtitle sequence after having set the settings to the correct amount of characters per line. Thanks to our instructor Tasun Tidorchibe, who provided me with the timestamps, I had no real issue with this process. The only thing that slowed me down a bit was the fact, that I had to use my family’s old laptop because the software did not work on my own computer. I exported the subtitles and then went on to work in Davinci Resolve for the video-editing.
Davinci Resolve, similar to my encounter with it during term, was a bit of a struggle once again. Not only did the software almost shut down when I was nearly done, but I also encountered a problem with the display of the video in the software itself, as the image was suddenly gone and even though I somehow managed to get it back, the size was off. Thankfully, nothing major happened and I was able to edit and finish without any damage to the video itself. During the video-editing process, I had to adjust some of the subtitle timestamps for them to align with the storyteller’s speech, as well as lengthen them a bit because some were just too short at first. I also added some subtitles for background noises and adjusted the overall look of the subtitles for them to be easier on the eyes. I had to render the video twice because I wanted to change some things after having a look at my first draft. Because I had issues with editing title, credits and the copyright in Davinci Resolve for the folk tale I worked on in class, I decided to use my computer’s own video-editing software for the finishing touches since I am more familiar with its handling.
So lastly, I used iMovie to add a title page, the credits and the CTS logo for the copyright. I was not able to put the logo into the video for the folk tale I worked on in class, because Davinci Resolve did not let me. With iMovie it thankfully worked, so I put the logo into the upper right corner of the video. With that I was able to finish the video-editing part without any further struggles and also completed my task in digitalising the folk tale.
With digitalising this Konkomba folk tale, not only is a version of the folk tale itself but also the culture and language it derives from preserved. As the Konkomba people are a minority culture and their folk tales are hence minority oratures, by not only translating but also digitalising and therefore preserving them, this folk tale, its story and its orality have been transported and archived (cf. Bandia 111). Contributing to this project really opened my eyes for the beauty of folk tales once again. When I was little, I loved fairy tales, folk tales and mythology from different cultures, but I did not keep up my interest in them all too much the older I got. Additionally, I also got to know a culture I had no previous knowledge about, which also shows the power folk tales hold in terms of transmitting and communicating more than just a story. I got to improve my coding and video-editing skills as well, which I had not utilised in quite a while. So all in all, this was a very enriching experience and now I know why old ladies like to keep cats as their pets – and this possibly not only in the Konkomba culture.
- Bandia, Paul. “Orality and translation”. Handbook of Translation Studies Volume 2, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011, pp. 108-112.
- Pullum, Tracie. “Promoting Writing with Folktales.” The English Journal, vol. 87, no. 2, 1998, pp. 96-97.
- Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. 1946. Berkley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1977.
- Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility. London, Routledge, 1995.