Sunday, 28 February 2016

Telling and Retelling Stories - A Forgotten Art

"The children were startled by his fantastic stories. Aureliano, who could not have been more than five at the time, would remember him for the rest of his life as he saw him that afternoon, sitting against the metallic and quivering light from the window, lighting up with his deep organ voice the darkest reaches of the imagination, while down over his temples there flowed the grease that was being melted by the heat".

"Several months later saw the return of Francisco the Man, as ancient vagabond who was almost two hundred years old and who frequently passed through Macondo distributing songs that he composed himself. In them Francisco the Man told in great detail the things that had happened in the towns along his route, from Manaure to the edge of the swamp, so that if anyone had a message to send or an event to make public, he would pay him two cents to include it in his repertory. That was how Úrsula learned of the death of her mother, as a simple consequence of listening to the songs in the hope that they would say something about her son José Arcadio". 

"They would gather together to converse endlessly, to tell over and over for hours on end the same jokes, to complicate to the limits of exasperation the story about the capon, which was an endless game in which the narrator asked if they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they answered yes, the narrator would say that he had not asked them to say yes, but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they answered no, the narrator told them that he had not asked them to say no, but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they remained silent the narrator told them that he had not asked them to remain silent but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and no one could leave because the narrator would say that he had not asked them to leave but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and so on and on in a vicious circle that lasted entire nights".

Storytelling is a fascinating form of human communication. Age-old stories reflect the historical progression of a human community as they link the bygone with the contemporary. Though we yearn for newness and change, we feel rooted when we listen to a story from our childhood. A story that we vaguely remember. But when it is retold, many faded and broken episodes get linked and connected and we get an access to view our present from the firm ground of the past.

For the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong's, repetition is an art that enriches the practice of storytelling. He wrote:

"A good storyteller could tell the same story over and over again, and it would always be fresh to us, the listeners. He or she could tell a story told by someone else and make it more alive and dramatic.The differences really were in the use of words and images and the inflexion of voices to effect different tones". 

Ours is the age of amnesia and forgetfulness. And ironically, we are obsessed with nostalgia without understanding the reason behind it. There is a rapture between yesterday and today because many events take place within the gap of one day.

Time to slow down. 

Time to repeat.
Time to reconnect through stories.

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