March 20th is marked as World Storytelling Day. It is also marked as the International Day of happiness. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
Started in Sweden in the early 90s, the practice of celebrating it with performances of oral storytelling has spread across the world, with many countries currently observing the day. In Nairobi, John Mukeni and Wangari Grace, two professional storytellers, marked the day by participating in a google hangout hosted by Bangalore Storytelling Society, India. Through Google, the society hosted a virtual meeting of storytellers from various countries. Bangalore Storytelling Society has been doing celebrating World Storytelling Day in this unique way for the last 3 years. Using this digital platform, storytellers from different countries around the world log in and tell stories around a pre-determined theme.
This year was no different. Storytellers from 5 countries shared their stories based on the theme of Transformation. British – Jamaican teller Jan Blake logged in from Kuala Lumpur, Sheila Wee in Singapore, Eric Miller in Chennai, Sowmya Rajan Srinivasan in Bangalore with John Mukeni Namai and Wangari Grace took part from here in Nairobi. Bangalore Storytelling Society’s Aparna Athreya and Deeptha Vivekanand moderated the session.
It was clear that the storytellers were masters of their art as they shared their pieces, each telling in their own unique style. Jan Blake shared the story of the Leopard woman, a woman who had the capacity to transform herself into a leopard and back into human form – with hilarious escapades in between. Kenya’s John Mukeni gave a rendition of Anansi the Spider who decides to engage the Snake as his post master. Sowmya Rajan shared an interactive Tamil folktale aptly called “Look in front and Behind you”, while Eric Miller’s story reflected the power of transformation that comes along with friendship and loyalty. On her part, Kenya’s Wangari Grace told the story of a young boy, who, with the help of his environment, learns how to count not just the wrongs but the positive things happening to him as well.
With a live audience watching from around the world, the storytellers shared their stories, following which the moderator engaged them in conversation and facilitated a discussion around the stories with the panelists. The audience was also allowed to ask questions to the respective storytellers. For those who missed watching the live event, a recording can be viewed here
According to the organizers, the hangout proved quite popular to both online audiences and in Bangalore.
“There have been multiple requests for having more such events. We will be delighted to stay associated with all of you to learn from each other,” commented Aparna Athreya, one of the event moderators.
Bangalore Storytelling Society is a not-for-profit collective in India formed by professional storytellers to revive, nurture and promote the art of oral storytelling in the modern context. For the last four years, the members have been consistently holding storytelling performances, workshops and festivals to spread the love for stories among both adults and children. They also hold monthly meet-ups to share and listen to stories from each other.
“Each of you today gave away a piece of your heart through the story you shared. You made this day extra special for everyone around the world. Regardless of the technical snags we had, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to host this Hangout”- Deeptha Vivekanand
The previous day Zamaleo Sigana Storytellers, Kenya’s premier storytelling organization teamed up with a local initiative #SaveLakeTurkana to share stories during the World Rivers Day. This event also featured poetry and a photo exhibition.
In the words of Singaporean storyteller Sheila Wee, “If you know someone else’s story, they can never be your enemy.”