Africa has a long tradition of practicing oral storytelling. Stories were told by grandparents and parents around the fireplace for different aims – entertainment, as a way of teaching genealogy, history of the community, to caution, advise among other reasons. There were also griots that were specialized in this art, whose trade was telling stories. Unfortunately for the current young generation in Kenya, most of us did not have the privilege of experiencing this. Therefore, for people like me, it was a pleasant surprise experiencing this as a young adult.
Professional storytelling, storytellers and performance opportunities have also expanded since I started my storytelling journey 12 years ago. Then, we were only a handful and mostly based in Nairobi. The numbers have steadily increased, with events spreading to other towns and cities.
For storytellers who would love to come and do some telling in Kenya, as well as people who would like to experience the charm of oral storytelling here, I have created a list of events that you can sample from.
1. Sigana international storytelling festival
This is the only festival in the region that is purely dedicated to the art of oral storytelling. Currently in its 9th year, the festival has been happening every year in June, save for a hiatus in 2016. It has so far featured storytellers from Sweden, Canada, Tanzania, USA, India, Uganda, South Korea, Ethiopia, South Africa and Denmark, some of them gracing the Kenyan stage more than once. The event is organized by Zamaleo ACT, a registered arts and culture public trust organization in the republic of Kenya with a focus on creation and presentation of African creative performance expressions. If you would like to know more about this festival, head to their website here
2. Storymoja festival
This is a literary festival organized by Storymoja Africa, a Kenyan publishing house. In 2009, Storymoja decided to partner with The Hay Festivals to create and bring together the Storymoja Hay Festival. In 2014, the Festival had its status change to being a Sister Festival of the Hay Festival UK. Although it is primarily focused on book-related activities, the festival incorporates various elements of performance including theatre, dance and storytelling. It has featured various storytellers over the years. The festival usually happens in September (save for a hiatus in 2016). You can find more info on the same here
3. Rusinga cultural festival
Rusinga Cultural Festival is an annual two-day celebration of the culture of the Abasuba people of Kenya. It is held on the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas on Rusinga Island, which is in the western region of Kenya. The festival is administered through Chula Cultural Foundation.
The event Festival is a mixed-type of festival; it incorporates more than one item of celebration with music, cultural sporting activities, art and traditional Suba cuisine. Suba language has been listed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger as one of the thirteen endangered languages in Kenya where it is classified as vulnerable. With most of the audience coming from the locality, tellers who speak Swahili or Luo languages are best placed to feature. It is however an amazing event to attend. You can read my experience at the 2017 edition http://www.wangarithestoryteller.co.ke/on-the-cultural-trail-to-rusinga-festival/. The festival website is here
4. “Boma Night” Monthly Fireside shows.
This is one of the few regular storytelling events held outside the capital city of Nairobi. It is held in Kisumu, a town that is in the western region of Kenya. The events are organized by Story Makers Society, a professional theatre company based at Art Craft Africa Talent Academy in Milimani – Kisumu. Here is their website
5. Re-imagined Storytelling Festival
Launched in 2016, the Re-Imagined Storytelling Festival is held every two years and brings together Nairobi’s finest storytellers, illustrators, writers and musicians for a magical day of storytelling. The five-day programme includes three days of community outreach, with workshops and performances held in three marginalised Nairobi communities; a day of workshops; as well as a festival day with performances, a listening booth; illustrated story walls; a reading nook; bookstalls and more!
The 2018 edition also serves as a platform for the launch of ‘Story Story, Story Come – Re-Imagined Folktales from Africa’, an anthology of 12 new tales by writers from across Africa and the Diaspora.
You can follow them on twitter @pstvlyAfrican
Time Out is a bi- monthly event that seeks to offer an intimate and nurturing experience where parents and their children engage in a range of carefully designed play-based activities that maximize learning potential taking into account the uniqueness of each child. The backbone of the event is oral storytelling. However, other elements such as dance, arts & crafts and nature-based activities are included. All this is presented in a fun and relaxed environment. The event targets parents and children aged 4 – 12 years. Curated by Facebook.com/WangariTheStoryteller/, you can reach her here or through the #TimeOutKE twitter handle @TimeOutKE.
About the Author
Wangari Grace is a performance storyteller based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is the RIC Coordinator in Kenya. She is also a children’s author.