Monday, December 17, 2012

Telling Tales in Bamefedo

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon the first time we traveled the red dirt road through the bush leading us to Bamefedo. A crowd of children ran out to meet our truck, and we were led on foot into the heart of the village, where the chief and elders were already waiting for us. At first glance, the village seemed to be better resourced than Bakpe, with electricity and more concrete structures versus huts, although there were still a lot of those, too.

Some cows take a walk through Bamefedo
We were welcomed with warmth and curiosity, and seated opposite the elders. Three of them told us stories that afternoon. Here is Erasmus, telling the briefest of the stories, Why the Palm Nut is Red. I love this video for so many reasons; but mostly because it gives you a real sense of the ambiance of village life:

Why the Palm Nut is Red - an Ewe story

At the beginning of the video you can hear the call and response that is typical in the telling of Ewe stories, as the storyteller lists the characters he's about to include in his story. It's also interesting to note the crowd's fascination with the tablet computer on the table in front of Erasmus which was being used as one of our recording devices. We blew more than one Ghanaian mind with our iPads - the Star Walk app especially so!

We thanked the storytellers and returned to the town of Ho, where we were staying, to start preparing for the week ahead. Susanne, Makosa and I discussed at length what worked and what didn't work in the first week of our program in Bakpe, and made some adjustments to the second week's work plan. We agreed that the project needed more time, so we structured our second week to maximize our time in the classroom... which, as we would learn, was often a collection of tables and chairs under a tree.

Outdoor classroom - spot the chicken!
We also brought in some extra help for our second week - Makosa and his colleague Livingstone helped us for much of the week, translating and providing narration for the story The Devil Marriage, which would be performed in Ewe. 

Rehearsal of The Devil Marriage
It was hard to keep kids out of rehearsal who weren't supposed to be there; they kept sneaking in!
 When we finally got them out of the class, they peeked in the windows.
During our week in Bamefedo we managed to make a bit more time for rehearsals than we had in our first week, and our fledgling puppeteers were well-prepared and confident for their debut on Friday.

Susanne and I with our fledgling puppeteers
Friday evening, the whole town came out to see our puppet shows. Susanne was an incredible stage manager, getting all the kids into place, while Livingstone, Makosa and I performed the bilingual narration.

A glimpse backstage
The performances went extremely well. I managed to sneak out into the audience for part of The Devil Marriage, and was thrilled to witness the audience being swept way by the shadow puppetry show, laughing, cheering, clapping. For me it was a profoundly thrilling moment to see that not just the kids were having a great experience, but that the community as a whole was embracing the performance. I was thankful that our friend Robert Tornu from DIVOG came to see the show that night and experience the community's enthusiasm for our project. Robert believes, as I do, that it is vital for Ghanaians to continue sharing their traditional stories; as they increasingly embrace technology, their oral traditions become at risk of being lost. Using shadow puppetry as a means of bringing these stories to life is just one way to celebrate Ghanaian culture and ensure these stories live on.

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