Once Upon a Time...

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"In almost every village in Africa lives a storyteller. Telling stories is not her official job. By day she may be a Gogo (granny), a teacher, a farmer or a seamstress. But at night, round the fire, she will sit, surrounded by young children, old friends, neighbors and travelers, and will tell of how it was in the olden days, when the earth was young, when man was a hunter-gatherer, and when the animals roamed wild through the continent.



The stories are for old and young alike, but it is usually children who beg her to sit down after supper. 'Please, please, Gogo,' they will plead in unison. 'Sit and tell us a story.' If she isn't too busy, tending to food or family or her home, she will. Sitting on a little wooden stool under the stars, she will close her eyes, and think back to the tales her mother told her when she was a girl. Then slowly, by the light of the fire, her face will light up and she will begin with the words everyone loves to hear: 'Once upon a time...'"


This excerpt - from the book Stories Gogo Told Me - is a beautiful and accurate account of the ancient art of storytelling in Africa.  According to the author, she traveled Southern Africa with a tape recorder and met men and women in their eighties or nineties who had been telling tales in their village for more than half a century. She explains that none of the fables came from books; they were all told from memory and varied according to the tribe to which the storyteller belonged. Some included songs, and listeners enthusiastically joined in, clapping and swaying and shouting. Others required the storyteller to imitate the grunts and growls of the African jungle, as she brought favorite African characters to life: the naughty hare, the wise old tortoise, and the greedy baboons. Some were told to teach a moral or a lesson. And all brought laughter to the village.


One of our favorites is Why Hippos Don't Eat Fish from the book When Hippo Was Hairy; check it out if you haven't already. Thankfully there are many authors who are passionate about preserving African folklore, and by doing so, hopefully, its heritage.

Cape Town


Kruger National Park

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