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The Art of Storytelling

The Art of Storytelling
Art of Storytelling - Courtesy ISSUU

The art of telling stories showcases the ingenuity of humans, who have built a culture of identity preservation through narratives

Toyin Omoyeni Falola - Nigerian- Sindh Courier
Toyin Omoyeni Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. Falola is a Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria and of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, and has served as the president of the African Studies Association
[The first interview report by Toyin Omoyeni Falola, an iconic Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies on the Panel Discussion on 2023 Outstanding African Creative Books Written in English February 25, 2024]

Storytelling exists everywhere but in different dimensions. The art of telling stories showcases the ingenuity of humans, who have built a culture of identity preservation through narratives. Writers draw inspiration from their environment to convert retrieved data into intellectual imaginations that all readers can share with an intention primarily to bring about the refinement of human character for their purposes and the benefit of the world by extension. From the actual time when Africans got familiar with scribbles and were introduced to orthographic systems, they have made maximum use of that opportunity to duplicate each of their cultural values into writing in the expectation that their productions would inspire a generation that looks inward for creative initiatives. Although written narratives have recently gained prominence in many places, their impact has been exponential, given their widespread influence and global reach.

Bill Ndi- sindh courier
Professor Bill Ndi

Nonetheless, storytelling is not a new tradition, especially for cultural identities that basically depend on oral mediums as instruments of preserving their heritage, especially their core epistemological legacies. For these reasons, books themselves are believed to have wings only that their wings are given to readers to fly. For both readers and writers, Africans have, however, demonstrated excellent skills in using these wings to teleport themselves into places.

Creatives in Africa take us through such insightful journeys of books and relish the otherworldly experience that narratives confer on their readers. They argue, for example, that books have this intoxicating power that draws innocent readers into a make-believe world where they imagine the activities described inside of the texts not as isolated imaginative occurrences that are painted by creative authors, poets, playwrights but as experiences which they have lived but detached from by virtue of their impersonal connections to them. Readers who have experienced the brutal hands of power demonstrated, for example, by bureaucratic establishments in their lives, would immediately understand and even identify with characters in a work of art that is undergoing traumatic treatment occasioned by irresponsible leadership with which they are beleaguered. Writers agree that although such readers have not directly experienced bureaucratic indignation as the characters in the work they are reading have, they nonetheless have lived similar experiences in different manifestations. In essence, the book provides them the wings to fly within the space of unwholesome representation that is symbolic of purposeless leadership, and for that, the imagination of the writer becomes the demonstration of their encounters. Examined this way, the narrators are themselves like the anchor of a ship, for they enable readers to access the world that they are otherwise incapable of reaching at the moment of consumption.

Kalaf Epalanga’s White Can Dance Too comes as one beautiful artistic production from an African writer that yet again accentuates the position of the creative scholars in the panel, for it allows the readers to travel the experience of the characters in it without necessarily jumping a bridge with them. The book lays bare the experiences of people in the 21st century and the unrealistic expectations that the world has of the individuals in it. Telling the story of internationalism, the book makes very bold positions about migration and the politics that have moved ineluctably fundamental in the current time. Among other things, we discover that although movement and mobility are an integral component of human existence, they nonetheless become a political problem when issues that drive people to migrate are themselves manipulable and exploitable. Hunger, for that matter, does not become a problem until it is remotely manipulated, caused to happen, or engineered. People need land for cultivating agricultural activities, but such land that is perpetually exposed to wars and conflicts becomes an impossible project to drive hunger away from its people.

Nthabiseng JahRose - sindh courier
Nthabiseng JahRose

Meanwhile, the resultant effect is that people would be driven away, seeking desperate means for their survival. In essence, migration, which appears to be the product of that reality, is itself created by an illusion. Here lies the complications of movement and mobility. It gives rewarding feelings that work now expands on such undergarment politics that build an environment that makes mobility inevitable, regardless of people’s location.

The beautiful thing about writers is that they reveal to us that although the politics of movement is driven around the above submission, it is not the only thing motivating migration of some sort. The work by Epalanga is revelatory of this. Kalaf, who is considered the protagonist, is an individual with great talents. A musician who is on the way to move his intellectual resources, specifically musical talent, to another country has the prerogative of involving in physical migration. Despite his essentially outstanding intentions and pure inclinations to spread his musical talents to Norway, the experience suddenly became very outrageous as he was in the country without his travel documents. From waiting to becoming an internationally known and celebrated artist, he immediately becomes persona non grata and is left to the mercy of security agents in detention. Ironically, his music could not come to the rescue because he would have to face the music of Norwegian laws, principally because of their stringent regulations around the immigrant population. Thus, the writer uses that opportunity to educate readers about the complications of human sociological systems in contemporary times, as relationships and bonding are issues of serious political debates that seek isolation from others because of race, class, and economic disparity. But then, there are more.

Writers like this help us understand the fragility of the human race, especially when we understand that it is possible to manipulate otherwise sturdy systems for provincial reasons. As much as there are interests that are driven by parochial ambitions, humans cannot, therefore, escape some situations, which are basically the aftermath of their intentions. When the protagonist encounters a sharp turn of fate, he immediately resorts to singing since that remains the only consolation he has when things go south. He uses music to escape the problems of the world just as embattled migrants seek every means to escape the stringent regulations that deprive them of their humanity. For migrants like Kalaf, escaping the harsh atmosphere of their destination countries is necessary, but if one must escape, the question is “to where?” This has, therefore, been answered in the text under review.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim - sidh courier
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Perhaps because of his immersion in African cultures and their moral principles, the protagonist escapes into the world of Africa through music, as that is the area with which he is familiar and the location without borders. Telling stories this way in contemporary times has brought out the ingenuity of African writers in the ways that they depict the sociopolitical dynamics involved in shaping their socialization, bonding, and identity politics. These are the predominant arguments pushed in most works produced by Africans in contemporary times.

What discussants agree on is that literary works provide readers the opportunity to live the experience of everyday people in their own lives. Rather than being a detached reader without emotional connection with those discussed in a text, they are individuals outside of the production landscape who nonetheless have been transported into the world of actual beings that have the firsthand experience that characters have in the narrative. Consider, for example, the issue of relationships in contemporary times, which has remained very difficult to address and understand given the fact that different occasions necessitate human reactions of some sort. The relationship becomes an issue in the current generation as individuals face difficulties in their efforts to negotiate themselves to fulfillment in life. Both males and females of Gen Z are basically preoccupied with activities so much that they are unable to experience life in its African sociological essence. As long as desires for self-realization trump everything else, the issue of socialization and bonding will always encounter critical challenges. The Gen Z male is preoccupied with activities to break away from generational problems, and the female is entangled with similar problems. Coming together, therefore, has proven very difficult.

A panelist highlights how Chika Unigwe, in her book The Middle Daughter, represents an experiment in the current relationship market involving Gen Z. The work meanwhile functions as metaphorical for situations of Africa, particularly the political realities of the people. Leaders and followers, by virtue of their political relationships, have various expectations, just like the protagonist and her boyfriend. The leader at the one end of the bargain is predatory and seeks to exploit the relationship for provincial objectives, while the followers, on the other hand, are innocent and ignorant of the former’s unwholesome intentions towards them. It remains true to the level that each occasion of unproductive leadership represents an assault on the followers, leading especially to the onslaught of their future aspirations in all ramifications. Perhaps deliberately, the political class, just like the unserious boyfriend, does not understand the gravity of their ill-intentioned behavior, which, among other things, has brought ruination to the citizenry. They are greedy, self-centered, and unconcerned about the conditions of their masses, but then they paint themselves as all the citizens need during electioneering campaigns.

Fadwa Ashraf
Fadwa Ashraf

Writers are believed to have this magical power to describe events in a very vivid manner so that they would be handed down appropriately. It cannot be overemphasized that such wings always exist in literary productions, and the responsibility of fixing them remains that of the readers. These are the ways by which writers make meanings of their world. A book can fly!


Also read: A Panel Discussion: 2023 Outstanding African Creative Books



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