Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Positive Parenting: An Ethnographic Study of Storytelling for Socialization of Children in Ethiopia

Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Positive Parenting: An Ethnographic Study of Storytelling for Socialization of Children in Ethiopia

Article excerpt


Storytelling is a positive way of communication with children. My children listen to me when I tell them folktales, but they do not give their attention to my words when I speak to them in ordinary ways. I train them by saying, "Give honor to cattle. Take the cattle to the grazing field in the morning and bring them to their shelter in the evening. Adorn your farm in the summer and your home in the winter. Do not stand in cattle's way, and avoid keeping cattle in others' way. Make peace, speak peace, and live in peace. Respect your elders, grandparents, and parents. Keep up with your equals. Grandparents and parents have wisdom to share with you, but you have energy to support them."

This statement was delivered by Waqoo (male, age 70) one evening at his home during my fieldwork. He made it to explain the purpose of intergenerational storytelling among the Guji-Oromo. According to Waqoo, storytelling from adults to children facilitates intergenerational communication, knowledge transmission, and socialization.

Among the Guji-Oromo, various forms of folklore such as storytelling, songs, riddles, and proverbs are performed as elements of everyday communication and knowledge transmission (Jirata, "Children and Oral Tradition"). The Guji-Oromo perform four main genres of verbal folklore: qexala (singing folksong), duriduri (storytelling), mammaksa (telling proverbs), jecha (proverbs), hibbo (riddling), and xapha (performing games). This classification system shares some similarities with what Bernth Lindfors termed "genres of folklore in Africa." Of these genres, qexala, mammaksa, and jecha are performed by adults in rituals, ceremonies, neighborhood social events, and conversations among elders. These are considered to be adult genres of communication, and the social situations in which they are performed are not the prerogatives of children. Hibbo and xapha, in contrast, are performed by children in peer play interactions (see Jirata, "Learning through Play"). Duriduri (storytelling) crosses categories and fosters intergenerational interaction. In storytelling, children collaborate with adults as initiators, listeners, and inquirers, while adults act as tellers, entertainers, interpreters, and educators.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how the storytelling process draws parents (the term "parents" in this article includes extended family members such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, and in-laws) and children together and serves as a site of intergenerational communication and socialization, transcending children's immediate experiences. I analyze the process of storytelling with an emphasis on how children initiate storytelling in a family social event, how parents tell folktales to children, how children listen to stories from parents, how parents interpret folktales for children, and how children react to those interpretations, as well as parent's and children's reflections on the tradition of intergenerational storytelling.

I draw connections between Guji-Oromo customs of intergenerational hierarchy and parents' relationships with children, and I discuss how adults introduce children to communal values through the interactive interpretation of folktales such that children are both entertained and steeped in local mores. I also observe how storytelling is conducted and how folktales are interpreted as part of the web of intergenerational relationships. Following the notion that folktales arise in the context of performance and are linked to culture and society through interpretation ( Jirata and Benti; Kuyvenhoven), I analyze how children are connected to the values and norms of their society through these interrelated processes.

Storytelling in Africa

The study of storytelling as an important part of African oral tradition has been a focus of folklorists and anthropologists since the beginning of the twentieth century. Among others, Pauline Davis, Donna Eder, Ruth Finnegan, and Ageliki Nicolopoulou have advanced our understanding of how folktales are performed, interpreted, and valued as folk knowledge. …

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