Group Work: Encoding folktales

In today’s session we did a presentation of our group work: Every group of two to three people encoded a folktale into TEI. We shared our experience with encoding itself, issues that occurred while working on the stories, and problems we had with the program Studio Visual Code.

Issues while encoding

The groups used different approaches to highlight the Likpakpaln terms: some just tagged them with <term>, others additionally highlighted them as superscript. There were also struggles with placing the end-tags at the right spot, but Jana revised our TEI-documents and made us aware of and helped with our issues and mistakes.

Livia and I had problems with the Live Sharing within Studio Visual Code, but worked our way around it. Our group also highlighted the headers with <hi rend=”bold”>, but Jana reminded us of the fact that by using the <head>-tag alone around the header it will already be visualized in bold writing, so after revising we took out the <hi>-tags to not overcrowd the document unnecessarily. Jana also pointed out that there was a little inconsistency in our xml:ids, since we had a little mix-up when tagging the terms with the appropriate ID.

One way to appoint an ID in the glossary …
… and referencing it in the text.

There was a slight confusion in class about when to use the xml:id and the target attributes, since an ID must be unique within a document. Livia and I tried the solution of using the xml:id attributes within the <gloss>-tags in the glossary and referencing the IDs by using <term target=”#term-id”> around the terms within the text. As it turns out, this is working, so we were quite happy with finding a solution.

New folktale, new issues

Moving on, or rather continue practicing, the groups chose new folktales to work on. We were instructed to take on a story that contains a song, so we could practice the use of tables in a TEI-document for presenting the original Likpakpaln songtext next to its translation. The <table>-element is a tricky one, because you need to build a table with its rows and columns, which can be very hard to envision, when there is no spreadsheet in front of you, but instead something like this:

The first cell of a row always contains the line in Likpakpaln, the second the English translation.

Unfortunately (or luckily?), the folktale Livia and I chose contained a very simple song that only consisted of names and so it didn’t need a translation, ergo no table. Instead, we used the <l>-tags – l standing for ‘line’ – for each row.

The instructions in parenthesis might create a new problem:
Should they be part of the song division or outside of it?

By encoding various folktales, I think all of us realized that TEI and XML are a bit complicated, but actually very logical in their use. Although it seemed abstruse and confusing when learning about the tags and attributes in the beginning, everything makes sense when practically working with it. Encoding is definitely a practice that needs a lot of exercise and revision to understand it. And our work within the sessions really helps here by applying the universally known phrase: learning by doing!

Guest Lecture on The Sɩsaala Dirge by Dr. Confidence Gbolo Sanka


Last week we listened to a lecture about Ghanaian funerals by Dr. Sanka. The lecture was mainly focused on the nature and qualities of the Sɩsaala dirges as well as answering what exactly makes them literary.

What is a Sɩsaala Dirge?

The Sɩsaala dirge is a versified expression of grief specific to the Sɩsaala people and is usually performed during funerals after adults have passed away. Dirges are commonly performed by a group of people, who are singing along while playing instruments, and are often led by a poet-cantor. However, it is not uncommon to hear someone practising the songs of a Sɩsaala dirge by themselves, as it is expected by every member of the community to know and be able to sing these songs.

Types of Dirges

The dirges can be divided into three structural types. The first consists of a song that commonly contains only one or two lines that are repeated several times. The second type includes a song and one or several appellations, which are only performed by poet-cantors. The last structural type consists of appellations, an anecdote and a song and is always performed by a professional poet-cantor.

Furthermore, the dirges can also be categorised according to the age of the deceased. If this person was between the ages of fifteen and sixty, the dirge will be a mourning funeral. When the deceased person was older, the dirge will be a celebration of life and the audience will wear white instead of black, which is worn for the mourning dirge. If, however, a child died, no dirge will be held. This is because the people attending the dirge will be too distraught and mournful to perform the necessary songs. The poet-cantor will also be unable to distract the mourners from their grief, as the death of a young person is not an occasion to celebrate anything.

Dirges in Africa vs. the West

Dirges can be found in many cultures all over the world. The Sɩsaala dirge specifically shares some similarities with Western funerals. Both are performed in similar situations and their forms are alike as well. Additionally, the type of language they use is the same because it mainly uses culturally specific imagery. However, there are a few notable differences. Some of them are the manner of creation and the delivery, as well as the involvement of the audience, the question of authorship of the songs and the use of body language.  An example of these differences is the fact that the audience can join in with additional songs and narratives during the dirge in Africa, while this would not be tolerated in the West. Another example would be that in Africa, rather expressive body language is used during narrations; this is not the case in Western cultures.

Features and Functions

Many stylistic devices are used during Sɩsaala dirges such as repetition, use of tone, ideophones and parallelism. These features are especially prominent in the songs that are performed. The performances during the dirges function as a tool to install values into people and, generally, propagate communal values. This is usually done by the poet-cantor. The performances act as a medium for mourning the dead and are a source of inspiration for written literature, society as a whole and individuals. In addition, the dirges function as a reservoir of historical knowledge and a platform for social commentary. However, the features and functions often vary between the different Ghanaian dirges because every ethnic group’s traditions evolved differently.

The Dirge as a Literary Piece

Dirges can be seen as literary pieces because they contain elements of prose, such as the short narration performed by a poet-cantor, elements of drama are involved, as well as ideophones, similes, rhetorical questions and a simple but interesting plot. Additionally, they contain elements of dramas in the way the narration is structured similarly to Greek dramas. Moreover, impersonations and representations of occurrences from tales can be seen being performed by actors. Lastly, Sɩsaala dirges also show elements of poetry in the repetition of lines and the stylistic devices typically used in the performances.


Sɩsaala dirges are not performed as often anymore as they were in the past. This is caused in part by a lack of interest in tradition shown by the younger generation as well as a rise in other religious beliefs. If someone is, for example, a Christian or Muslim, they often do not perform the dirge as their ancestors did because it goes against their beliefs. The result of this is that the performance of dirges is steadily declining. Another factor is that art, such as a poet-cantor’s performance, is sometimes seen as something only done by lazy people who do not want to work in the fields. Furthermore, there has been a disintegration of traditional extended family values and an absence of internal structures that can lead to the failure of organising a dirge. All of these aspects lead to increased ignorance about Ghanaian culture which also increases the previous factors.

Aesthetics of Konkomba folktales

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.

Screenshot from HHU Mediathek showing storyteller Bilinyi Chikpaab James narrating.

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.

Screenshot from HHU Mediathek showing storyteller Wumbein and his audience singing.
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.

The Homestretch of our TEI Introduction

Last week we finished our introduction to TEI and started our group work of this semester.

TEI Introduction III

For the TEI part of the class we dealt with common mishaps that occurred in our TEI documents of the folktale “Why the Python’s Skin has Dark-Brown Blotches” which we worked on the week before. None were major mishaps, but they are still parts of the code that are important for the document to come together. These mishaps included: forgetting <head type=”subTitle”> to indicate subtitles in the document, closing divisions too soon, and – which wasn’t really a mishap at all – that we don’t need to use the <q>-tag anymore if we use a division for ‘song’.

Then we talked about how best to encode notes and glossaries by using a <list>-tag.

An example for <list>.

Another thing before we started with our group work was, that we talked about the issue that XML:IDs need to be unique, meaning that they can only be used once in the whole document, which proves difficult, if we want to ID the same term throughout a folktale. The work-around we decided on for this problem is that we will only ID the first instance a term comes up in a folktale, and only that one time. This also works great with our aim to foreignize the folktale for its readers, as only having an explanation for the first time an unknown term comes up means that the reader will have to engage with a folktale on a close level to understand it completely.

Group WOrk

And lastly for last week’s class we got together in our groups, decided on a folktale to work on, and started with that. Working on our own folktales was really doable thanks to the introduction to TEI the previous three weeks, and therefore I want to thank Jana and Tasun again for providing us with so much in-class information and answering our questions!

Guest Lecture

Date: Thursday, 1st December, 2022.

Time: 10:30 AM.

Venue: HHU Düsseldorf, Room 23.21.U1.72 OR Webex.

For the Webex link, please write to:

[Addendum] Folktales, language and culture


Hello everyone! This blog entry was meant to be published a while ago – sorry for the delay! Luckily, Anne also published a blog entry on that lesson of the “Demarginalising Orature – Translating minor forms into the digital age” seminar. I hope you have all read it, it was very informative and I can only add a few things.

Why the Wasp has a Tiny Waist

Something Tasun said in the seminar that stuck with me was how folktales in general have multiple important functions. In fact, they do not only have entertainment qualities but also contain moral lessons and are used as pedagogical tools. They can teach the values and customs of a specific culture. One example for this would be the folktale “Why the Wasp has a Tiny Waist”, which we have also talked about in the seminar.


To sum it up, the lesson successfully conveyed the cultural importance of Konkomba folktales and the Likpakpaln language. Therefore, it is important to preserve them (e.g. by making them accessible to a broader audience). Hopefully, this blog entry can play a tiny part in this.

Folktales: On the Preservation of Culture and Language

In our last session in the course “Demarginalising Orature – Translating minor forms into the digital age” we talked a lot about culture and language, their relation to folktales, and also how important folktales are in order to preserve them. Almost every folktale comes from an oral source, having been passed down through generations by word of mouth, and carries a lot of cultural meaning and importance for the communities that they are told in. They are also region-specific or community-specific, varying between various languages and dialects that therefore also hold cultural meaning.

By passing on folktales, whether in the written or oral form, the cultures and languages they derive from are preserved. We were shown a map of the world, its languages, and how many were believed to go extinct soon. 

As the map shows, almost half of the languages from today – spanning all continents – might go extinct soon, and one way of documenting them for the future is by preserving them through the documentation of folktales. Folktales are a source of indigenous knowledge and hence transmit the culture and language of a community. This is, because folktales include lessons about moral and values, often very specific to the culture they are deriving from. The example we had for this in class was a Konkomba folktale called ‘Why the Wasp Has a Tiny Waist’. It is a folktale that gives lessons about communal activities and the cultural traditions after someone, especially an in-law, has died in the Konkomba community. Without the knowledge of the culture a listener might not fully understand the folktale and its moral and values, but by telling it this aspect of the culture is preserved. 

And language, of course, is also a part of culture. But when it comes to languages that are not institutionalized, the best way to make it accessible, visible and preserve it is by translating it into an institutionalized language. But for the original language to still be preserved and made visible – because by hearing a folktale the listener also gets a feeling about the language – to foreignize the translation and thereby giving visibility to the original language and culture is the best way of doing so. 

Hence, folktales encompass cultures and languages and by documenting and preserving them, their cultures and language will be accessible for forever. A difficulty in trying to preserve languages and cultures is, that there needs to be someone to go to these regions, record these folktales, translate them, and preserve them in some way. This project on Konkomba folktales is a step in this direction, but there are so many regions, as shown in the map, that it will need a lot of dedication from many different people for this preservation to happen on a broader scale. 

Coding as a Humanist -Encoding a Konkomba Folktale in XML

As part of the course “Demarginalising orature – Translating minor forms into the digital age” our goal was to transcribe and digitalize some of the folktales that are shared among the Konkomba people as an oral tradition to make them available to a broader audience. That their culture is based on oral traditions, has to be kept in mind, when we digitalized their history. The dominant written language was a result of colonization, but the tradition of orality prevails. The telling of the tales is part of the Konkomba’s daily lives. They gather in the middle of their village either during communal work, to entertain each other or in the evening as a way of spending time together and bringing the tales closer to the younger generation, so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. The way these tales are told is very important. The storytellers interact with the audience through questions, gestures or emotions.
Because of changes regarding the community’s lives and work structure, these moments tend to be rather scarce now, as we were told in our introduction to the topic. Since very few tales had been written down, Tasun Tidorchibe visited the villages and recorded, transcribed and also translated the folktales into English. Our assignment was to turn the transcriptions of the folktales into a searchable PDF via TEI and produce a video with subtitles from the audio and video files given to us.

The folktale Lilli Bloch and I were working on is called “Nachiin Pays for Feasting on Unyii’s Children” and was narrated by Bilinyi Chikpaab in Kutol on 18th March 2022. The story is about a wolf, who deceives a crocodile in a vicious manner in order to eat all of her children. Since the crocodile is the guardian of the river, no one is allowed to drink from it, as a result of the actions of the wolf. But the rabbit, seen as the wisest character and trickster in Konkomba folktales, needed to drink and made a deal with the crocodile: the crocodile would get revenge on the wolf for eating all of her children and in return the rabbit would not get eaten. In order to bring the wolf to justice, the rabbit and crocodile outsmarted the wolf and built a trap which resulted in the wolf losing his testicles to the crocodile and the rabbit’s life being spared.

Since the provided audio is in Likpakpaln, the language spoken by the Konkomba people, Lilli Bloch equipped the video with English subtitles, while I worked on the PDF, using TEI and XML. I started with the Tei Header. I used the header we created in class as an orientation and adapted it to fit this particular requirement. Secondly, I copied and pasted the story into the document, to have the base covered and to work from there. I put the story in paragraphs, so it is easier to read. Then I marked the words that we wanted to use in the glossary, so an explanation is available through the glossary. Since there are some words or phrases that don’t have a suitable translation or could only be exchanged for a lengthy description or explanation, they are kept in Likpakpaln in the text, but have the explanation at the bottom of the document in a glossary. This is an easy way to display an explanation for terms that cannot be translated from foreign languages. But for readability, I put in three footnotes at the beginning with only the translation of the animals, for clarity regarding their species, so the reader can picture them and have a better understanding of the story.  We decided to put the longer explanations in a glossary at the end, so that the pages in the document would not be crowded, but we didn’t want to exclude them, since they are a way of teaching background knowledge and offering context for the reader about the Konkomba people and culture. We put the information about the footnotes also into the editorial declaration in the TEI document.

At first, I was a little bit sceptical, if it is possible to put two marks around a word, but luckily it worked out fine and it looks just like I wanted it in the PDF. The glossary and footnotes were the tricky part of the coding, since you have to think of a lot of terms, that have to be used in order to work properly in the converted file. We chose to put the explained term in a bold font and the explanation under it, so it has a tidier look to it.

In the TEI document
In the finished PDF

 After Lilli was done with the video, I inserted a link, given to us by our tutor Jana Mankau, into the document, which when clicked in the PDF leads to the repository, where the video with the subtitles is uploaded, in addition to provide a digitally readable transcription, the tale can also be listened to and the interactions of the storyteller Bilinyi Chikpaab with his audience can be observed. Once this was done, I uploaded the document on a platform called, where I converted the document into a PDF.

#demarginalizingorature #TEI #coding #konkomba #folktales #culture #orality #digitalize #oraltradition

Visual Narratives – Subtitling a Recording of a Konkomba Folktale

When reading folktales that have rarely been written down before, it is important to keep their origin in mind. Konkomba folktales have been passed on orally for a long time and have only recently been written down and translated from Likpakpaln into English. Storytelling in the Konkomba’s culture takes place in a very specific way that is essential to them, a storyteller tells the tales to a group, with which he interacts throughout the process in a theatrical way, and often audience participation is what makes the story complete. The questions they ask or the things they say make the storyteller tell the story in its entirety. These interactions can be seen in videos of the storytelling sessions. Many of the folktales have been written down and recorded by Tasun Tidorchibe, who worked on this project with us and provided the material, such as videos and documents of the stories. This project will help to make the folktales more accessible. The storyteller incorporates a lot of emotion and expressive body language into his session, which gives the viewer an insight into the story’s highs and lows.  This performative element of the storytelling helps us understand the people even though we don’t speak the language.  Therefore, when the storyteller or the audience laugh or show other emotions in reaction to the narrative, their interpretation becomes more obvious to us. When reading the story in English, there will be some words that can not be translated, but a glossary and footnotes will hold explanations for Likpakpaln terms. This will be incorporated in our TEI document, that Nadine Hoffmann is working on. Nadine has also summarized the story in her blog. Because the storyteller in the video of “Nachiin Pays for Feasting on Unyii’s Children” tells the original story, translation and subtitles are a way of following the session and understanding it at the same time. His name is Bilinyi Chikpaab and the video was recorded on the 18th of march 2022 in Kutol. The story told is called “Nachiin Pays for Feasting on Unyii’s Children” and includes multiple characters, such as a wolf, a rabbit and a crocodile. 

When creating subtitles it is important that the text is timestamped so it is accurate to the video. Tasun Tidorchibe has timestamped the tale for this video. The subtitles have to be on the screen in time and long enough to be read fully. In addition to that, they also have to be in a style that makes them clearly readable. This can easily be achieved by creating a background for the text that sets the words apart from the  background. What I did in this case, is make the background transparent, so that the background isn’t lost. The font should also be as simple as possible, so that it is not distracting. I chose Open Sans Semi Bold and made the font size 48. 

There is a lot to see in the video and the subtitles shouldn’t compromise the storyteller’s presence. A block of subtitles should not be more than two lines of text. For example: The text at 00:02:55:05 to 00:03:15:05 and 00:06:30:00 to 00:06:37:00 had to be split up according to that rule. I started making a list of text that had to be split, looked at the words and then decided where to split the sentence, so it wouldn’t be too disruptive. There were 20 blocks in total, that had to be split. The subtitles in the program are numbered in accordance with those on my list and the timestamped sheet. To not get those numbers confused whilst editing, I decided to put the new subtitle chunks in a separate line at first and then drag them down into the original one, when I was done splitting all of them.  

After I had created all the subtitles and decided on the style, it was time to check the CPS (Characters Per Second) of each text block. Sometimes, an accurate timestamp means that the CPS will be too high (the ideal CPS is 30), so I had to adjust some of them. Doing that, I realized that it made more sense to try and keep the accuracy of the timestamp set at the beginning of a text block and push it as much as possible to the back, so that there would be more time to read it. I used the DavinciResolve program to create the subtitles, because it gives the most accurate time stamp format, which is hh:mm:ss:SS. This format allowed me to try out how to create the perfect length for a subtitle, but do minimal adjustment  and not push them out of place. I kept watching the video repeatedly to see if everything was in place and if everything was easy to see and read. Some of the blocks had more than 30 CPS, but I made sure, that it was still readable. 

Having completed all these steps, it is time to rewatch the video again and make sure all is in place. Watching the video now, the story comes to life and English readers can understand the emotions around the storyline perfectly.