by Lara Wenisch
In our second session of this seminar, we learned about the Konkomba people, their story telling and performance tradition. For me it was the first time to hear and see a Konkomba folktale performed and I was instantly excited to learn more. Now, I aim to summarize the most interesting parts of our session and hope you will learn something new, too!
The Konkomba people
The Konkomba people inhabit north-eastern Ghana & north-western parts of Togo, with a population of about 1,111,000 and 115,000 respectively. Their main occupation is farming, although surplus harvest is also traded in various markets. As a student of literature and culture, I got really interested in the Konkomba language likpakpaln and the literary tradition. While texts in likpakpaln do exist, they are scarce. Their literature is mostly oral, and ranges from folktales and riddles to folksongs and dirges. Due to their oral nature, those literary ‘artifacts’ can not be attributed to a specific author. Rather, authorship is inconsequential for the oral tradition. The Konkomba people’s literature naturally belongs to their community.
The evening, with most of the day’s work done, is the time for a Konkomba folktale session. When the community gathers, sitting together doing remnant tasks, the story telling may begin.
Part of the tradition is that a story telling session is ritualized. The beginning of each session is initiated by the same sentence:
„Ti tiin itiin.“
Or in english: Let us tell stories. The audience then continues the rhyme in which they (both the initiator and the audience) state their shared idea of what a story is supposed to be, that is light-hearted and fun. When the rhyme is finished, the initiator of the session is obligated to start telling their story. As established before, the stories are a communal good. Still, every performer has the chance to make the performance of the story their own, by enhancing it with gestures or facial expressions. During the session, factors such as age and gender are insignificant. And so, after the initiator finishes their story, everyone is free to tell a story themselves. Participating though is voluntary, so when the stories are told or the work is done, the session ends casually.
Community is an important factor in the Konkomba story telling tradition. The ritualized beginning of each session makes clear that a performance relies on both the performer and the audience equally. A good performer, so I heard, engages his audience to join in the story telling. This can happen when a performer invites the audience to join in song (and sometimes dance), or simply by the audience asking questions, adding to the story and more. This light-hearted atmosphere surely is motivating and helps the community to unwind together.
It seems that for the Konkomba, telling stories is as much a valued part of tradition as it is an event for the whole community to look forward to in the evenings. I am looking forward to experience more of their folktales by working on this project and helping to preserve an important part of a literary tradition that is, in its essence, communal.