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Preserving Folklore Through the Art of Storytelling
April 29, 2021

Elizabeth (middle) and Jerry (right) of the Hapo Zamani za Kale team.
Elizabeth and her team travel to different regions of Tanzania gathering folklores and transforming them into children’s literature and storybooks.

A guest blog by Elizabeth Mwambulukutu 

My name is Elizabeth, and I am a pan African development professional in Tanzania, currently serving as the regional communications manager for WaterAid in East Africa. Since 2013, I have been blending my passions for storytelling and art as an instrument for shaping community narratives and offering an alternative approach to storytelling. I believe that a misrepresentation of African stories can block future opportunities for development for the next generation of Africans.

As a young girl, I always looked forward to my holidays in the village, where my grandmother would deliciously narrate stories in the form of folklore around a central community fire. Every tale served as a vessel to transfer intergenerational African knowledge, culture, values, and lessons. These stories would come in different genres, be it comedy, horror, or, in most times, fiction.

Stories form a fundamental part of early childhood development, increasing vocabulary, identifying our inner voice, bonding with the community, and sparking creativity and imagination. I love the famous quote by Maya Angelou, who once said, “I come as one, but I stand as 1,000 stories.”

Documenting African stories.

Everyone is defined by their own story. Stories carry identity, power, and value and give us a sense of belonging. For me, honest storytelling needs to create spaces that generate conversations, translate problems into solutions, address a stereotype or taboo, and inspire positive change through characters portrayed and their realities.  

Through Hapo Zamani za Kale, we promote locally driven cultural preservation solutions by blending traditional storytelling methods with local visual arts for children’s edutainment. 

Our initiative incorporates traditional storytelling into multimedia through children’s storybooks, visual art, podcasts, and animation. Through Hapo Zamani za Kale, we contribute to developing learning materials, improving the literacy rate, and promoting the culture of reading (SDG 4). We work with local visual artists to empower them and expose them to new skills such as storytelling and digital art for the next generation. 

The Hapo Zamani za Kale team travel to Mto wa Mbu, Arusha, Tanzania to speak with Maasai tribes.

We also engage with groups such as the indigenous people of the Maasai, Hadzabe, and Datoga, the elderly, and children in an effort to preserve Tanzanian culture and folklore. We want everyone to be the contributors to African narratives and are working on a few projects that advocate documenting indigenous tribes in Tanzania. This is an opportunity to promote their crafts, stories, and entrepreneurial spirit and show that the solutions lie with them. We, too, have a lot to learn from their culture.

We live in a digital age with everything being online. One of our projects is the Kutoka Canvas Kwenda Digital, which promotes artists to explore the nuances of being creative online and using the latest digital resources to bring projects to life. The purpose is to ensure that artists are exposed to various opportunities, build on their creative skills, and adapt to the changing environment. We work with creatives to provide development opportunities, so they can see themselves as leaders and entrepreneurs and take advantage of this dynamic world by forging a creative space for themselves. As a result, they are building alliances and networks with various stakeholders to amplify the voices of marginalized groups.

I believe everyone has a voice. However, perhaps one may lack the platform. Rise, use your voice, and do not shy away from stepping into spaces that scare you. After all, it is through mistakes that we gain courage and learn. 

Are you interested in learning how to be a community journalist? Visit our YALISpeaks page for more tools and resources. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.