Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

2: "Let Me Tell You a Story, Let Me Tell You a Story!"-On Text Structure and Narrative Strategies

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

2: "Let Me Tell You a Story, Let Me Tell You a Story!"-On Text Structure and Narrative Strategies

Article excerpt

THE STRUCTURES OF ORAL TEXTS and the narrative strategies used by the tellers in the field correspond to the aesthetics of orality, and the mechanics of performance. While tellers rely on predefined formulas, their narrative strategies also vary individually. The structures of oral texts provide the mnemonic elements that help during retelling. In fact, it is because of these mnemonic qualities that oral texts have survived for centuries even though they are not written.

Oral performers draw on these mnemonic devices - opening and closing formulas, sound patterning, repetitive structures, dramatizing information through song, narration or role play, or relating concepts to environmental signifiers - as a narrative strategy for recalling information, for structuring the plot of the narrative, or for getting the audience involved in the performance.

Opening and Closing Formulas

While children's songs and games lack stock phrases used to signal opening and closure, folktales narrators whom I recorded not only drew on their creative skills but also on an arsenal of such stock devices in the tradition to enrich the narrative. This creative ability largely depends on the narrator's skill or age: stories told by my child narrators such as Ayinza, for example, did not employ the dramatic and vivacious narrative epithets that we see in stories told by adults such as Katuka or Kyeyune. They also used mainly conventional Luganda formulas such as 'Awo olwatukd' (Once upon a time) or 'Nange awo we nalabircC (And for me that is what I saw). Tales narrated by children thus tend to be, as Finnegan observed, less complex and sketchier, mostly summaries that emphasize the basic plot of the narrative.1

Storytelling in the Buganda oral tradition typically begins with the stock phrase:

Awo olwatuka, nga wabawo omusajja ng'awasa mukazi we, nebazaala abaana baabwe...

Once upon a time, there was a man and he married his [sic] wife, and they gave birth to their children. . .

Some narrators - as can be seen in the story "Wazike ne Nakato" (see Appendix: Luganda Folktales) - begin with the more creative 'Olwatuka nga mbalabira...'' (Once upon a time I saw on your behalf. . .). This is a good way for the narrator to establish rapport and credibility with the audience: that is to say, the narrator went to the world of the folktale as a messenger of the listener and hence what he or she is reporting ought to be trusted! To re-establish this audience connection, the narrator signs off with these words:

Nange awo we nalabira. Zajja zingubyagubya zankubira wa... [gundi], yankuba luyi mu maaso; singa telyali ddagala ly'Abazungu singa naffa dda!

And for me that is what I saw. I came back weighed down by problems, which forced me to go to. . . [mentions a name], who slapped me in the face; if it was not for the Whiteman's medicine I would be dead!

Ulis closing formula, like the others my narrators used, is very effective because of the way it evokes sympathy from the audience toward the narrator for his or her courage and perseverance in the difficulties he or she 'encountered' in the other world in order to get a story to tell us. The tale inevitably ends with applause to the narrator.

In tales involving humans we are always introduced to a stable family setup with a man marrying 'his' wife and they inevitably have to have 'their' children, boys and girls, for the stability of the family to be maintained. The absence of any of these elements often leads to destabilization of the family. The tales tend to end with a predictable closing formula, with the narrator typically signing off with 'Kale nange awo we nalabira... ' (And for me that is what I saw. . .). By signalling that that is what he or she saw, the narrator extricates himself or herself from the fantasy world of the story and this gives some emotional release to the audience. This momentary escape from the fantasy world, as Okpewho points out, provides temporary respite to the audience as the non-human world helps to "lift the minds of both performer and audience away from the limitations of human life to a world of blissful wish fulfilment. …

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