Wednesday, September 17, 2014

African Storytelling / Reading and Children

These are the images that come to my mind as I remember the way stories were told in my youth. The bringing together of family members of different ages created a bond that allowed for better communication later on in life as we children grew into young adults. When hard questions that are bound to come with adolescence arise, they were much better addressed in the family because stories had paved the way earlier on. A lot of the complicated situations that young people find themselves in today have to do with the breakdown in communication and lack of support systems in our not so strong family bonds. Stories formed a shared background where we find that even though the names of places and characters differ from place to place, and certain details are stressed more or less at the discretion of the individual storyteller. The personality and voice of the teller also plays a big part. The stories in our cultures have got a very powerful influence in how we perceive certain real life experiences - Gcina Mhlope

Gcina Mhlope

Storytellers are revered figures in African society, and African stories reflect the collective experience of their communities, addressing issues from an African perspective.  What is an African perspective?Mda quotes Fayose (1991: 74) who argues that African children’s literature must draw its subject matter from the African worldview, must be written in a language and style that the African child can comprehend, must promote African culture, must enable the child or young adult to understand his or her environment, and must give him or her pleasure.
The ‘nativist’ viewpoint holds that African literature is based on an authentic African worldview, aesthetics, and set of values that are utterly autonomous from those offered by Western literature.   However, Mda suggests that while the varied cultural, socio-economic conditions on the African continent can and do inform or even engender a peculiarly African perspective, Africa is not a homogenous cultural entity: “It is a diverse continent with many different ethnic groups, most of which are indigenous to the continent while others came through the ages from other continents of the world through processes of conquest, trade, migration and colonization.” He quotes Nigerian scholars Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike (1983) who say that African orature should be utilized as “the ultimate foundation, guidepost, and point of departure” in fiction by African writers because it is only through such African storytelling modes that cultural decolonization could be achieved (p38).

In other words, the African perspective is diverse, but it is also uniquely shaped by the cultural practices that overlap between various African communities as a result of past interactions and common origins.  According to Mda, one example of how this manifests in storytelling is that more dilemma stories are told in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

 What makes South African stories distinctive?

Benjy Francis notes that democratic South Africa is a very young entity, “a product of many streams of history and culture”, which continues to be shaped by “its fragmented past and its journey towards nationhood” (p120).  South Africa is called the cradle of humankind, but Francis argues that the evolution of its nation state was shaped most forcefully by the impact of European colonial settlement. Consequently, the South African experience continues to be informed by “the classic negatives of race, gender and class dynamics” that flow from its colonial and apartheid past and this is why one cannot yet really refer to the emergence of a single national character in South Africa (p120).

At the same time, South African people and communities display national characteristics such as endurance, resilience, steadfastness and belief, commitment to a cause, and love of the country. Many of the characteristics that were forged through the anti-apartheid struggle and the quest for transformation have also contributed to the diverse character of South African society: selflessness, collectivism, heroism, forgiveness, bravery and fortitude, as well as human compassion and solidarity. “ There is no doubt that in the struggle to change (liberation) and the ensuing process of change (transformation) critical values have and will emerge to become the basis of evolving culture.” (p122)

This is the context in which storytelling is forged in South Africa and South African stories  − traditional and contemporary  − give expression to this context in many different ways.

 The Benefits of Reading to Your Child
By Claire Marketos

"A book is a gift you can open again and again,"Says Garrison Keillor, a famous author, and most children would agree, especially if they can enjoy it on the laps of their parents. Snuggling up, listening to your mom or dad read your favourite tale not only releases feel good hormones; it also helps you to relax, fall asleep easily, and it makes you feel special and loved, creating wonderful memories of a childhood filled with fantasy and adventure.

This special moment of bonding between you and your child also provides excellent opportunities to use stories to:

·         Talk about morals and values.

·         Help your children find words for their feelings especially during times of divorce, bullying and trauma.

·         Develop critical thinking by posing questions for discussion.

·         Problem solve solutions to world issues by chatting about them.

·         Focus on new words, their meanings, and how they are used in a story, helping expand your children's vocabulary.

·         Introduce your children to figures of speech such as sarcasm, similes and metaphors.

·         Show how punctuation works in making sense out of words.

·         Use rhythm and rhyme to stimulate your child's brain.

·         Practice listening, concentration and comprehension skills as your children listen to find answers to questions you pose about the story, or to find out what happens to characters in the story.

·         Encourage your children to use their imaginations to make predictions about what will happen next in the story, developing their creative thinking skills.

·         Teach your children to order their thoughts and focus on the sequence of events by asking them what happened first, second, next in the story.

·         Help them develop their speech as they talk about the story and other interesting things the story inspires.

·         Encourage a love of reading, setting them up for success both at school and in life. Research supports this fact.

·         It doesn't matter if you are not a great reader yourself, start with simple books and watch your own reading skills improve as you read to your child. Use audio books and follow the story in a book. As Dr. Seuss suggests: "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

·         Embrace your inner child and make reading to your children a fun time of the day, rather than viewing it as a chore. Everyone loves listening to a story from the baby in utero to adults who will attend a book reading of a famous author. No child is too old to be read to, even if they are able to read. Let your children have a say in the books you read and take them to your local library to choose books.

·         Young children often want to read the same story over and over again because it provides consistency and predictability, which makes them feel secure. Be patient and let them get more involved in reading the story, especially over time.

Remember this special time of the day with your children is about more than reading. It is a time for them to attach to you, especially if they have been separated from you all day, and as Katherine Patterson, a child author advises, It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations--something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.

“The storyteller was once a little child, listening, wide eyed,  to an old grandmother or grandfather telling stories by the fireside many an evening under the African skies. Surrounded by family and enjoying the sense of wonder. With a strongly comforting sense of belonging, the child listened and laughed, felt fear grip his/her heart and often fell asleep accompanied by the powerful images contained in one story or other. Oh the dreams that took over from where the storyteller had left off! Sometimes these led to a sleepy smile or a nervous little whimper, almost a cry…making for very detailed dreams …” – Gina Mhlope

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