Demarginalizing a Konkomba Folktale
In the summer term of 2023, I participated in the seminar `Demarginalizing Orature’ – a class unlike any other I had taken before. Not only did I learn new aspects about African culture and acquired technical skills in coding and video editing, but I also got a better understanding of the meaning of orature and how it might be threatened by time. Some knowledge I like to share in this blog post.
“Orature” and what it means
When we talk about literature, most of us associate the term with written texts, such as short tales, novels, scripts, dissertations, poems and so on. But literature can also be ‘done’ through words and speech, in which case we refer to “oral literature”, or short “orature”. According to Turin this „term […] broadly includes ritual texts, curative chants, epic poems, folk tales, creation stories, songs, myths, […] and historical narratives.“
For some societies oral literature has been and still is to this day the mode of communication for spreading ideas, knowledge and history. But what exactly does this entail in the age of digitalization? We are all used to find answers to everything with a click of a cursor and a quick google search. But what happens, if some stories, some knowledge have never been written down? If tradition sees history being taught from generation to generation by word of mouth but at some point, there is no one left to learn? The answer to this is quite simple: Over time the stories, the knowledge, the history might get lost. In fact, oral literatures are already in decline and “about a third of the 6,500 languages spoken around the globe are in danger of disappearing forever.” That is the reason why the online archiving of audio and video recordings of oral literature, in ways that are ethically and practically appropriate, is so important and has been widely welcomed by indigenous communities around the world. And I am glad that through this class I got the opportunity to do my part to help preserve and give visibility to some of the folktales of the Konkomba people in Ghana.
Folktales and what we can learn from them
A folktale in general is a traditional story or narrative that has been passed down orally from one generation to another within a particular culture or community. These stories are typically characterized by their simplicity and often have a moral or lesson at their core.
In our class we focused on folktales of the Konkomba people, an ethnic group primarily residing in northern Ghana and parts of Togo. The stories were translated by Tasun Tidorchibe from Likpakpaln, a little-studied Mabia (Gur) language, to English. Usually, such stories are told during gatherings by elders, griots (storytellers) and members of the community. The most common themes and elements are moral lessons to guide and educate the listeners, communicate ideas of cultural identity and animism and spirituality.
The folktale I worked with is called “Two Buddies Survive Famine”, which gives a good example of the typical characteristics of an imbued moral and animism. The story details the ordeals of two friends, a hyena and a billy goat, who try to survive a famine. The two friends go hunting for honey, when a thunderstorm forces them to find shelter in a nearby anthill. Little do they know that this supposed safe place will entrap them, and that they will have to face a hungry lion. In the face of certain death their friendship is put to the test and fails, since each of them is willing to lie and sacrifice the other to save their own skin. In the end they manage to escape their deadly prison, but not without losing a dear friend. This story shows us the importance of not betraying the trust of a friend, of not putting the well-being of another person in danger just to save your own skin, because in the end you will suffer the consequences.
Coding and Video Editing a Folktale
After I received my folktale, I started with the coding process using Visual Studio Code, a program we worked with in this class before. By now I had quite a bit of experience with coding and did not struggle with this task as much as in the beginning. I started with the header, filled in the required information such as title, author, storyteller, date, geographical location and so on. I double-checked everything to make sure I did not give any wrong details or did some misspelling, which happened before. (During an exercise in class I managed to misspell the title of a story, which gave it inadvertently a whole new meaning.)
The next step was to encode the actual folktale. Surprisingly, there was no song included in this story, and therefore I finished this part rather quickly. I used <row> <cell></cell> </row> to add more space between paragraphs and the different sections of the code. Then, all that was left to do was to encode the notes and the glossary. I used the search bar of the program to make sure that I did not miss one of the glossary terms in the folktale. Because, for example, the term uchin (lion) was
mentioned 25 times throughout the file and each time I had to enclose it with <term ref=”#gloss3”Uchin></term>. That took quite a bit of time.
Once I finished the coding, I worked with DaVinci Resolve to edit the video and supplement it with subtitles. This also is something I learned to do during this class, and I really have come to enjoy it. Especially, since now I know how to better handle the program, in comparison to my first tries. I simply uploaded the video from my media files and copy-pasted the subtitles in their respective timestamps. After I finished this process, I decided to use iMovie for any further editing, because with DaVinci Resolve I could not quite manage to add a title and end page without misaligning the video- and subtitle frames I created beforehand. Once I switched to the other program, it was quite easy to finish my work. I simply had to add a couple slides and the missing pages, and my video was finally ready to be uploaded.
For me participating in this class was a whole new experience which I greatly enjoyed. I loved to get out of my academic comfort zone and learn new skills I would otherwise have never come across. And most of all, I loved to be part of this project, to do something good. To actually help the Konkomba people to preserve their folktales in hopes that their vast knowledge and history will not get lost in time. So, thank you to Mrs Pirker and Tasun for giving me the opportunity to start to make a difference – albeit it is a small one, it is still a step to a future filled with amazing stories.
Ni Ni Lituln!! Thank You!!
 Turin, M., Wheeler, C., & Wilkinson, E. „Oral Literature in the Digital Age: Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities.“ Open Book Publishers, 2013, XIII.
 Turin, XIII
 Turin, XIII
 Turin, XIV
 Pullum, Tracie. “Promoting Writing with Folktales.” The English Journal, vol. 87, no. 2, 1998, 96. pp. 96-97.
 Bisilki, Abraham Kwesi, and Kofi Yakpo. “‘The Heart Has Caught Me’: Anger Metaphors in Likpakpaln (Konkomba).” Sociolinguistic Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, 2021, 65.
 Bascom, William. Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives, Publisher, University of California, 1965, 4.
Bascom, William. Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives, Publisher, University of California, 1965.
Bisilki, Abraham Kwesi, and Kofi Yakpo. “‘The Heart Has Caught Me’: Anger Metaphors in Likpakpaln (Konkomba).” Sociolinguistic Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, 2021.
Pullum, Tracie. “Promoting Writing with Folktales.” The English Journal, vol. 87, no. 2, 1998, 96-97.
Turin, Mark, Claire Wheeler, und Eleanor Wilkinson. Oral Literature in the Digital Age: Archiving Orality and Connecting with Communities. 2013.