Story telling is part of African culture. The image of tens of people gathered around a “griot” under the palaver tree by nightfall remains vivid to older folk across Africa.
However, with the advent of new technologies, this art is disappearing.
Christine Adjahi, a Benin ‘tale teller’, is promoting her art in organising events in the country.
With a doctorate in geography, she became a tale teller because of her passion for African literature and oral culture.
For years now, she has been writing tales inspired from Benin’s history, promoting at the same time, the survival of African cultures.
For Dr Adjahi, one of the best ways to keep tale telling alive is making it recognised as a profession and integrating it in all social events.
“We are sensitising public powers in order to make them understand that a tale teller is a development vector. Tale tellers are part of a cultural concept that needs to be developed,” she explains.
She adds: “They must take part in events such as baptisms, weddings, conferences, just like it is the case for music artistes. Tales explore all aspects of social life, thus tale telling must be considered a real profession for it to play an educative role.”
Fati Fousseini, a young story teller from Togo, who inherited the oratory art from her grandmother, told stories for years before discovering she could actually make it her profession.
“One day, I met a French tale teller who told me this was her full time profession and that she made a living from it. I had training with her and this was the beginning of five years of training with different tale tellers.
“I then decided to make it my profession too. It’s my only activity and in Africa, such a profession doesn’t bring much money in but still, I live with it,” she said.
According to Ms Fousseini, people still don’t take the profession of tale teller seriously.
“People like tales, but they see us as persons who just read books. Sometimes when you make a performance and ask for payment, you are paid around $10,” she says.
“But I’m not discouraged; I believe in what I do and I’m young enough to hope for better days,” she adds with a smile.
Paradoxically in France, tale telling is a fully recognised profession, with specified standards of payments and indemnities, explains Martine Caillat.
The French tale teller says her profession was very important in her country because in spite of the advent of new technologies, men remain men and need contact; they need to have someone to talk to and share emotions with.
“In France when there is a tale telling festival, attendance is extremely high, always. There are adults, children, teenagers…. Tale telling really has its place,” she says.
Ms Caillat also says that in France, tale tellers intervene in schools, libraries and even in universities.
“You know in my country there is a sort of fascination for this art. It is not meant just for children. Adults are also fascinated because tale telling is a living speech.
“Contrary to what people are experiencing in general life, where they’re just regarded as numbers, when it comes to tales, man is at the centre of stories and subjects talked about are of interest to people: love, beauty, death, justice… That’s why tale telling remains important in societies considered developed,” she adds.
For the Lyon-based tale teller, who came to Benin under the auspices of the Tale Telling Festival (initiated by Dr Adjahi) which took place from May 5 to 12), Africa is the continent of oral tradition and visiting it is a source of inspiration.
For Dr Adjahi, there is thus a necessity to maintain this vision of Africa and its oral culture. That is why she would like more support and involvement of the authorities in order to spread and promote the culture of oral art in Benin and across Africa in general.