Projects of the Goethe-Institut on Orality

Here we present information on projects dealing with the topic of orality with which the several branches of the Goethe-Institut of the sub-Saharan African region are involved.

Caravane du Conte: Ivory Coast...

© Goethe-Institut Côte d'Ivoire
Since 2011 the Goethe-Institut Abidjan has been organising the Caravane du Conte festival. The inventors and main proponents of this project – Stefanie Kastner and Friso Maecker – were interviewed by the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg.

© Goethe-Institut Côte d'Ivoire The Caravane du Conte – French for the “Caravan of Stories” – was first held in Abidjan in December 2011. What exactly is the Caravane du Conte?

Stefanie Kastner: The Caravane du Conte is a festival of storytelling which consists of three parts: one or more seminars and rounds of discussions that look at the tradition of narration and at narrating from a scientific point of view, as well as story evenings as an opportunity for narrators to present their stories and tales to the broad public.

Why did the Goethe Institute choose the Ivory Coast for this caravan?

Stefanie Kastner: There are three reasons for that. 1. When I first came to the Ivory Coast I experienced something very interesting: it was about communicating one piece of information to all staff members of the Goethe Institute Abidjan. I asked a colleague to do that and assumed that he would write an email to everyone. I was totally amazed when I saw him going from desk to desk to convey the message directly. After that I witnessed on many other occasions that I was socialised in a culture of writing whereas my colleagues were socialised in an oral culture, and that the way we behave is characterised by that. I got interested in this difference and started to look into it.
2. Narration is still very much alive in the Ivory Coast but it is definitely a declining art. Its status in society is diminishing as well. One of the reasons is the increasing impact especially of television on the narrating tradition in the villages and the fact that the culture of writing has found its way into all aspects of life. One of the main aims of the Caravane du Conte is to connect the written culture with the oral one and to look for ways in which the media and the internet can contribute to preserving this grand art of narration and oral tradition.
3. In addition to these two starting points there was the task of organising a scientific colloquium on “information society and oral tradition” for Sub-Saharan Africa in cooperation with the library colleague in Senegal. Soon after the colloquium the cooperation with various scientists and artists led to the concrete idea and development of the Caravane du Conte which was then implemented in December 2011.

Friso Maecker: With the second Caravane du Conte, Dakar – Lomé – Abidjan in 2012, we also put great emphasis on another aspect.
One may very well wonder why a German cultural institute promotes African stories. The answer is found in our own history:
Exactly two hundred years ago the Grimm brothers published their Children’s and Household Tales. Already then they understood the significance of tales for the preservation of culture and they thought that the reasons for prevailing conditions could be found in cultural history. Many of their arguments for the unification and subsequent further development of the German countries were based on their joint cultural history. In a country such as the Ivory Coast, 60 different ethnic groups reside, each speaking their own language whilst simultaneously sharing specific points of overlapping cultural histories. Here, we consider the knowledge of (the joint) history which is passed on in tales the traditional way to be very important with regard to developing a civil society which is more stable in future. Together with our partner, the Ivory Coast’s Naforo-Ba association, the Caravane 2012 not only promoted the preservation of culture, as described earlier, but also aimed at introducing a professionalised narrators’ scene with well-trained emerging artists as an art genre in its own right.

Who is the Caravane du Conte for – children? Teachers and librarians? Who are the target groups?

© Goethe-Institut Côte d'Ivoire Stefanie Kastner: There are many different target groups. The theory part of the first Caravane du Conte focussed on narration in class and teachers were our target group. As for discussion meetings, our target groups are scientists, politicians involved in culture as well as storytellers, and everybody is invited to the story evenings – children, young people, adults, teachers, librarians, simply anyone who enjoys listening to gripping stories beautifully told.

Friso Maecker: The second caravan hosted a workshop for technicians on the subject of professional lighting at storytelling events. Another workshop, on narration and multilingualism, was aimed at emerging narrators and also at teachers. In this case the aim is the professionalisation of emerging artists and promoting local languages and multilingualism. Vernacular languages are very much alive in a private context. At Plume libre (the free quill), the first West African series of reading and writing events introduced by Stefanie Kastner, young authors write and read in their mother tongue every now and then. They have the audience laughing basically all the time – even if it is actually a sad story. Local languages are rarely heard in an official context such as a foreign cultural institute – and laughing of course is a manner of reacting to this unusual situation, to the surprise. For this reason, the content of the above-mentioned workshop was focussed on the vernacular and also asked the narrators to increase its share in their stories.

Who took part in the Caravane du Conte – which artists, narrators, facilitators?

© Goethe-Institut Côte d'Ivoire Stefanie Kastner: Narrators and scientists from many different countries participated in both Caravanes du Conte. The travelling artists were Julia Klein (Germany) and Tormenta Jobarteh (Germany), Adama Adepoju alias Taxi Conteur (Ivory Coast), Dr Massamba Guèye (Senegal), Salif Berthé (Mali) and Allassane Sidibé alias Al Sydy (Togo). They were joined by numerous local artists in all places where the caravan stopped for a festival of narration.

Friso Maecker: During the second caravan we had a total of 36 story-tellers on the stage in Dakar, Lomé and Abidjan. Right from the start we introduced the principle of “observing”. A cultural manager and a narrator from another country are invited to take part in the seminars and the festival, and the narrator has the opportunity to briefly appear on stage. In this way we can give partners, who want the caravan to stop in their country the following year, an idea of how we envisage the event to unfold. Of course there are many subsequent discussions on site between the cultural manager and the narrator to determine how to do justice to local conditions. The first caravan was observed by narrator Salif Berthé and the head of the German-Malian Cultural Centre in Bamako, Mali. Due to the volatile political situation in Mali it was unfortunately not possible to stop there again this year – but Salif Berthé was part of the caravan and so we highlighted the threat to culture in Mali in our own way. Our audience understood that very well. For me this underlines the significance of the Caravane du Conte and the role which it plays in preserving culture.

What are the next steps? Are more caravans and new stops in the pipeline?

Stefanie Kastner: With three participating countries the second Caravane du Conte was already larger than the first one. Therefore I hope that there will be a third edition. Perhaps we could then make it across the ocean to Brazil and also look at the tradition of narration in South America.

Friso Maecker: We are definitely working on that! Many slaves were brought to Brazil especially from the Ivory Coast and from Ghana – I find the question how the development of their culture continued there and which other influences it absorbed a particularly fascinating one. Further stops of the caravan will be Burkina Faso in 2013 and Mali, which hopefully will be at peace by then. That brings the number of stops to five or six already. By then we, as observers, plan to add an Anglophone country – Ghana – for the first time ... Those involve rather different (linguistic) challenges of course ...

About the interviewees:

Stefanie Kastner

Stefanie Kastner was in charge of the library and information section of the Goethe-Institut Abidjan from September 2008 until August 2011. In September 2011 she joined the Goethe-Institut São Paolo.

Friso Maecker

Friso Maecker has been head of the Goethe-Institut Côte d’Ivoire since January 2011.

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