Kenyan storyteller who crosses the borders to tell stories talks about her Ljungby experiences

Wangari the Storyteller has perfected the art of storytelling, capturing the imagination of both the young and old with entertaining, interactive, and educative performances. She has become a favourite of many a school if the regular invitations she gets is anything to go by. She has told stories as far as Sweden, Iran, India and Tanzania. In this piece, we chat with her about her recent trip to Sweden for the Ljungby Festival 2019, her third trip to the country.

How did Ljungby come by to happen to you?

Mikael, the artist programmer for the festival contacted me via Facebook about a year prior. It was refreshingly out of the blues, and I thought that maybe we are friends on the platform and thus, he had been following my work. During the festival, I came to learn that a Swedish friend and storyteller had actually recommended me for the event. That was a pleasant surprise, given that he had last seen me on stage almost 9 years ago!

It is not your first time in Sweden or on the international storytelling scene. How have the experiences of the various cultures shaped you as a storyteller?

I once read somewhere, that once you know the stories of a people, it is hard to be enemies with them. Stories illuminate why people are the way they are, why they behave, believe and do their things in a certain way.  Given that societies all over the world are constantly changing over the years, it is interesting to see how their stories have also adapted to these changes.

Storytelling also comes in different forms and this is usually highlighted when storytellers from different backgrounds come together. For example, African storytellers all over the world are energetic, with sporadic bursts of song and dance manifesting in their performance. Other tellers have honed their voice skills such that you can listen to them telling a whole story, rooted to one spot and soaking up all your attention there. I have also encountered tellers who share their stories in rap. Such is the diversity that each storyteller brings with them, with their personality, that you can even listen to the same story by different tellers and it would feel new every time.

I have also come to appreciate the richness and importance of storytelling in human life – this can be seen as storytellers around the world work in different areas such as education, health, identity, and character formation. It has also been a privilege for me personally to take Kenyan and African storytelling to different audiences during my travels.

Give us a story within your story at the festival. Highlights of your experiences from the time you arrived to the time you left.

As soon as I arrived, I had the pleasure of a personalized tour within Sagomuseet, the storytelling museum by the festival team. It was such a treat! The museum showcases Swedish stories in an interactive way that caters to the senses – sight, touch, smell, hearing, imagination and active participation. The storytelling is grouped in various genres – mythical stories, death stories, Nordic supernatural creatures such as giants and trolls etc. I particularly loved the Room of Death, with its eerie lighting, music and ambience. The museum also has spaces where small groups can sit and listen to stories during the tour.

Kenyan Storyteller

Wangari the storyteller in Swedish newspaper

The guides – Dorthe, Mikael and Tine – are witty and over the top, making the stories come to life as we walked through the different spaces.

In addition to performing and facilitating workshops myself, I had the privilege of watching other fantastic performers. I was particularly enjoyed watching Brazil-American storyteller Antonio Rocha do his thing. With a fusion of Mime theatre (which is his background) and storytelling, his shows were enthralling. It was also lovely to share a stage with him. I also enjoyed watching Swedish and other Nordic tellers and stage, and even though we do not share a language, it was clear that stories are a universal way of communication. There were many other great performers including Alice Fernbank and Svend who were also sharing tales in English.

The festival also organized for us a Story Tour, visiting some of the sites where the tales they tell are believed to have taken place. They call this area the Land of the Legends. This made me reflect on the many Kenyan stories we have that could benefit from a similar activation – the coastal tale of Fumo Liyongo, Luanda Magere from Western Kenya and Mekatilili Wa Menza to name just a few.

Surprisingly, and contrary to many events that I take part in, the audiences I shared stories with in Ljungby were mostly adult. That was super refreshing!

Oh, I missed my connection train on my way back and almost missed my flight. A random stranger at the train station came to my rescue, purchasing for me a (costly) new ticket to my destination. She refused a refund, saying, “I hope that the good karma I am sending your way will find me somewhere in the future.” Man, that was a manifestation of humanity that warmed my heart greatly as it fits with my all-time mantra of paying kindness forward.

What advice would you give a storyteller hoping to do the Ljungby trip in the future?

Have enough energy! The festival takes place in summer – translating to long daylight hours. There were some events that go upto almost midnight so be prepared.

Ljungby is a cash free zone. Yes, they largely do not operate with paper money so have carry a loaded Credit Card.

A leaf that Kenyan festivals can borrow from Ljungby, and vice versa?

I found it interesting that most of their programming was in Swedish. Given that most of our performances in Kenya are in English, I think we can explore more in using Kiswahili and maybe even our local languages.

Also, the festival was taking place in venues all over the town – the local theatre, the museum, the local school, a restaurant, a café, the hotel where we were staying – basically, the whole town was in some way part of the festival. I found that amazing!

Wangari the Storyteller is available for bookings for corporate, school and international events, reach her on her WEBSITE.

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