The Aesthetics of Konkomba folktales

The Konkomba folktales are purely oral in nature, which makes them difficult to access. This is, where the media as a medium comes into play. In our course we help to provide access to the Konkomba folktales, with the means of technology, and in turn we can draw similarities and distinctions between cultures and the nature of performance. It is said that one may only be able to know something about their culture, by looking through the window of another culture.

Technology, incidentally, takes us back to orality with mediums such as podcasts and audiobooks. Orality is still relevant. Now, what makes the aesthetics of Konkomba folktales so special? There are always in flux, and all kinds of different genre come together to give us a window into their culture, and with that their way of thinking, their values. A Collaboration of forms takes place (comedy, action and so on). The stories are dialogues between the storyteller and the audience. In one moment, a storyteller will tell a story and in the next moment that storyteller will start singing along with the audience. The stories are being brought into life by an arrangement of playful gestures and different emphasis, which really gets you thinking, because in two examples the storyteller was just sitting in the chair in front of the audience.

We are constantly being reminded that it’s just a play, and yet there is still this curious absorption into the play, be that by the fictional characters in those stories, or the intervening of the audience into the act. From talking stones and singing fire to a tortoise that is flying with the birds. These stories exist in a space where there is no fixed time, which again highlights the fluidity of the stories, their aesthetic is always shifting, it goes beyond conventional means. There is no fixed time. In the course, the difference between the story “Lorelai”, and the folktales was discussed. “Lorelai” is taking place in a specific time and place, whereas the folktales do not. It is a curious thing to be not bound by time in a story, and I’m under the impression that this highlights all the other aspects of the stories, it has this sense of an ever present relevancy to it.

We talked about the Opening types, the storytellers use to get the story started, to get a feel for the audience. The storyteller will usually say something along the lines of “Once upon a time”, like the German “Märchen”. There is another opening type we labelled “Opening type 2”, a seeking for permission to tell a story. This opening type, however, possesses a restrictive nature so people do not use it quite as often. There is much flexibility with the openings, they vary greatly in the told stories across the communities. What is also interesting is that silence of the audience is seen as consent.

In general, the whole structure of the stories can vary, there is no fixed way of episodes. Usually, there is some kind of conflict which then leads to the climax. And there are other elements that are reoccurring, like start, beginning and end, but the storyteller may begin with the end. An example of this, would be the story of “Why the wasp has a tiny waist”, where the moral of the story may be put at the start, “It is important to participate in communal activities with others whenever the occasion arises”. There are all kinds of techniques to portray a character and create possible metaphors. Narrative techniques, which makes the animals in the story human. Also, there are jokes in the story, only an initiate into the language of Likpakpaln may understand, such as the speech impediment of the rabbit, or how the hyena in general is portrayed in this bad light. In the story with the rabbit, the storyteller was mimicking the rabbit and using direct speech to show how the rabbit is smart but also has a speech impediment.

At the end of the story, the storyteller will announce their signoff so another can take over, it is a group activity. The storyteller has the undivided attention of their audience, which is sort of an unwritten law. Storytelling is also believed to entail health benefits. There is the fixed belief that man is the symbol of growth, “as tall as my grandfather’s Kapok tree.” Female storytellers fight that notion by saying things like “May my story diminish while I grow tall.” The normative conclusions vary between communities, some are nonconformists, rebel storytellers.

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Lucas Worm

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