FOLKTALES SAFARI : A Tale Of Documenting Folktales In Malawi

The Director, National Librarian, National Library Service Gray Nyali


Folktales are very important because they help to preserve part of our cultural Heritage. I am very excited with this project because the documented Malawian Folk tales will enrich our information Resources that will be shared with readers at the National Library Service. The final product will also be digitized and added to our National Digital Repository Project at the National Library Service. Some of the folktales will eventually be published in children books in various languages. I look forward to the day when these folktales will be presented on our TV Stations.

Picture yourself living long ago, before the invention of electricity, computers, or television. Perhaps you are living before the printing press was invented, or you only have a few books in your home. It grows dark. After supper you sit with your family and friends around the fire. You are tired after a hard day’s work in the field. Soon you will be going to bed, but right now, you want to relax and take your mind off the hard-ships of your life. Sitting together in the flickering firelight, someone begins to tell a story they from an-other storyteller about a poor per-son who gained a fortune. Everyone listens intently, even the smallest children. When the story is over, they ask the teller for another. You listen until your eyes grow heavy. Children fall asleep and are carried away to bed by their parents. The fire dies down. Finally, all the listeners go off to bed.

This oral tradition is all but vanishing in recent years due to the aging of community figures who can deliver live performances as well as changes in lifestyle. And because Malawi has made little effort to pre-serve the tradition, the unique culture of its ethnic groups is on the verge of extinction.

Corporation, at the request of the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO and GFCT provided audiovisual recording equipment and technical training to the technicians in this project that aims to collect, edit, and document the valuable and rich traditional culture of Malawians and pass it down to children of the next generation. Malawi National Library Service is implementing this project with the assistance of technicians from the Department of Forestry and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and our own staff and technician.

We have been on the Safari since June 2012 starting with a pilot phase in Lilongwe/Mchinji districts (Cluster 1). The success of this phase buoyed us to go into the real documentation exercise starting with Chitipa/Karonga (Cluster 2). While Lilongwe/Mchinji was a walk-over, Chitipa/Karonga was a challenge because of the multiplicity of languages which prompted us to hire translators to ease the communication problem and transcribing of the stories.

For us as Malawians, storytelling is integrated into everyday life and as such, it plays a major role in shaping people’s lives. Storytelling not only entertains, it also helps the children in particular to discern the good values of life. As an adult, despite the advent of television, storytelling is a better and more humane community builder. Apart from its strength of entertainment, it has a very strong and positive way of promoting peaceful co-existence and impacting the lives of people of various backgrounds, since individuals can easily identify with the characters in the stories. Thus, among others, is the rationale for this unique project.