The issue of library catalogues and classification
We started the session by discussing this question: In which category can we sort Konkomba folktales? We watched a video of one such folktale. The storyteller uses gestures, imitates sounds, sings alone and with the audience, and uses intonation to create drama. So, which category fits the Konkomba folktale? Prose, drama, or poetry? Konkomba folktales display elements of all these categories. Hence, we need a new classification: oral narratives, or oral fiction.
We students also learned that the ways in which libraries catalogue works is restricting: As far as folktales are concerned, there is no authorship. Instead, the folktales are communal knowledge. The storyteller is a vessel to deliver that communal knowledge. However, as current-day library cataloguing requires an author, the project Demarginalising Orature uses three words to fill in the information – Konkomba Oral Tradition.
Who tells the story?
The shortest answer may be everyone. Let us go into a bit more detail. Our lecturers taught us that a storyteller does not need to have a specific age or gender. Anyone may tell a story – and, importantly, the audience is a crucial part of the telling. They chip in with parts that the storyteller has forgotten, give answers, ask questions, and join the storyteller in singing. Generally, storytelling is voluntary but there is also competitive storytelling, in which groups battle over which group has the best storytellers. The telling of folktales is a communal activity where communal knowledge is shared.
When do storytelling sessions take place?
We learned that storytelling sessions usually take place in the evenings. In fact, stories must not be told during daytime. Why? The easiest answer is superstition. Especially children are often warned not to tell stories at daytime. However, there may be some more practical reasons. For instance, people should not become too distracted from day-to-day activities which must be carried out during daytime. Moreover, children may discuss the previous night’s storytelling session during the daytime.
How are the storytelling sessions structured?
The beginning of each storytelling session begins with a rhyme called tiin kulb or tiin kolb, depending on the dialect/regiolect. The rhyme consists of questions and answers. Storyteller and audience perform the rhyme together. The rhyme metaphorically explains what storytelling is. It also reminds the community that the stories should be fun. The rhyme is only performed in the beginning of the session but not in-between the individual tales.
After the rhyme, the storyteller who has initiated the rhyme starts telling a folktale. There are four types of commencing the story: Storytellers may dive directly into the story, ask permission from the audience, declare their intent to tell a story, or they may ask a question that creates suspense for the story to follow. After the first storyteller has finished, the next storyteller may voluntarily come forward and commence once again with one of the four opening techniques. There is no formal way of ending a storytelling session – the session ends whenever interest in the session ceases.
What are the folktales about?
Storytelling sessions are often funny – laughter, after all, is therapeutic. Yet, community members also use storytelling sessions to communicate wishes for change with the community. Women may re-tell stories, pushing for societal change by changing some aspects of the story. For instance, a woman may become a chief in their re-telling of a story, or a story may implicitly suggest that monogamy may be better than polygamy. This works as people have a right to change the stories to match their personal condition. Because the characters in the folktales are usually animals, it is a discreet way of pushing for change.
Both the discussion on the classification of Konkomba folktales and the introduction to the aesthetics of Konkomba folktales were incredibly interesting. The discussion demonstrated that library cataloguing must change to accommodate more literary forms. I find particularly interesting that the folktales can also be a way of communicating wishes for change.