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Some children are bored and take a nap in their chair. Others take a break, play, dance and shout in the municipal library of the seaside resort of Grand-Bassam, in Côte d’Ivoire. But it only takes a few seconds for Rebecca Kompaoré to bring cathedral silence into the room. Draped in a beautiful dress with a colorful cape, the professional storyteller embarks, without a microphone, in a fantastic tale that mixes little Anna, Kôtôkôli, the benevolent bird, and an ugly crocodile, capturing the attention of all the children.
Euphoric and spellbound, they ask for more. The mayor of this city located to the south-east of Abidjan, Jean-Louis Moulot, complies in turn and reads a story by the Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ, The Handful of Dust. Guaranteed effect on parents this time. Installed at the back of the room, they are delighted with this story which teaches young people the value of work.
“Beyond the playful aspect, storytelling is an invaluable intergenerational educational and social tool”, says Rebecca Kompaoré. For this actress, the joy of families during this shared moment is a sign that we must continue to bring the African tale to life. “It is all the more necessary as it risks disappearing”, she warns.
At issue: urbanization and a certain modernity, which shake up family structures and stretch the community fabric. “Traditionally, in the village, it is the grandfather, the auntie or another relative who, in the courtyard, transmits the tales to the children”, explains the artist.
“It is the very essence of our culture”
Preserving and disseminating the Ivorian oral heritage and more generally West African, this is the ambition of the association Des Livres pour tous (DLPT), at the origin of the workshop organized in Grand-Bassam. Founded by Marguerite Abouët, the author of the successful comic strip Aya of Yopougon, the association has linked up with the French collective Making Waves, sound creators in love with radio. Together, the two structures imagined and produced “Africa in tale”, a series of radio microfictions in ten episodes, available since June 14 on the site of Radio France internationale (RFI) *.
With the help of professional storytellers, the French and Ivorian teams have adapted popular stories to set them to music in a radio format. In the catalog, two tales come from the bibliography of Amadou Hampâté Bâ; the others are not signed.
“There is no recognized author to these stories, these are stories that belong to the communities », Explains Valérie Gobey, librarian at DLPT, who crisscrossed the villages and neighborhoods for two months in search of tales. Her energy, she draws it from the vexation she feels at having to read and reread The Three Little Pigs to young Ivorian students who do not know any national tale, while“There are so many, it is the very essence of our culture”.
Beyond the preservation of an endangered heritage, the digitization of these oral histories is also a means of disseminating them widely to a young audience, more connected and inclined to download podcasts. “The habits of sharing and consuming tales have changed, so we had to adapt”, explains Senegalese Tidiane Thiang, co-director of “Africa in tale” and member of Making Waves.
Plurilingualism, feminism and ecology
For the teams, the first set of ten stories is just the start: the goal is to find more. A national competition will be launched next year and some DLPT members are already traveling to rural areas of Côte d’Ivoire to collect more popular stories. They record them using the “radiobox”, a kind of portable studio developed by Making Waves.
Today, the tales are broadcast in French, but the teams of “Africa in tale” nurture the ambition to share them also in vernacular languages. « It would only be fair, because they were originally invented and narrated in local languages ”, judge Elvis Tanoh, librarian at DLPT. A vast project, given the abundance of dialects in West Africa.
Language is not the only challenge of the program. “Historically, the role of women is not always very shining in fairy tales, explains Tidiane Thiang. And since those that are produced now will be listened to by the adults of tomorrow, we have a duty to show them that women are at the heart of society and that there is no superior sex. ” Finally, the issue of preserving the planet is addressed several times during the series. A way, again, to recall the universality of the tale, even Ivorian.
* The episodes will be broadcast on RFI before the end of the year and made available to Ivorian radio stations.