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Storytelling in Northern Zambia

Storytelling in Northern Zambia: Theory, Method, Practice and Other Necessary Fictions

Robert Cancel
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 293
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  • Book Info
    Storytelling in Northern Zambia
    Book Description:

    More than just a book, Storytelling in Northern Zambia lets you watch videos of the storytellers while you read. Storytelling plays an important part in the vibrant cultural life of Zambia and in many other communities across Africa. This innovative book provides a collection and analysis of oral narrative traditions as practiced by five Bemba-speaking ethnic groups in Zambia. The integration of newly digitalised audio and video recordings into the text enables the reader to encounter the storytellers themselves and hear their narratives as they were recounted during Robert Cancel’s research trips to Zambia. Robert Cancel's thorough critical interpretation, combined with these newly digitalised audio and video materials, makes Storytelling in Northern Zambia a much needed addition to the slender corpus of African folklore studies that deal with storytelling performance. Cancel threads his way between the complex demands of African fieldwork studies, folklore theory, narrative modes, reflexive description and simple documentation and succeeds in bringing to the reader a set of performers and their performances that are vivid, varied and instructive. He illustrates this living narrative tradition with a wide range of examples, and highlights the social status of narrators and the complex local identities that are at play. Cancel’s innovative study tells us not only about storytelling but sheds light on the study of oral literatures throughout Africa and beyond. Its innovative format, meanwhile, explores new directions in the integration of primary source material into scholarly texts. This book is part of our World Oral Literature Series in conjunction with the World Oral Literature Project.

    eISBN: 978-1-909254-61-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Audio-Visual Resources
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    Mark Turin

    It is surprisingly difficult to tell a good story about storytelling. It is harder still to make the storytellers themselves come alive, helping their in situ oral performances flourish in text on a printed page. Robert Cancel achieves both of these goals, and more still. Storytelling in Northern Zambia is a masterful book in which Cancel grapples with collection, representation and fieldwork ethics, and a work that showcases the agency of his interlocutors.

    At the centre of the monograph are the performers of specific oral narratives. Through a powerful repositioning that highlights the agency of these narrators, the author acknowledges...

  6. I. Writing Oral Narrative: The Role of Description and Self in Recording Living Traditions
    (pp. 1-30)

    At around the time I was finishing a monograph on the fictional oral narratives of the Tabwa people of Zambia, a number of doubts and questions that had been only touched on in that project reemerged to occupy my thinking.¹ At the base of these preoccupations was the problem of ethnographic authority as it has been debated over the last three or four decades. Questions of power, neocolonialism, inscription, and effacement—in the poststructuralist sense—forced me to reconsider the confusing and ambiguous experience of field research and the ways we represent it to others.² In particular, how can we...

  7. II. The Tabwa Context: Mature Shifting of Frames and Adolescent Assertion
    (pp. 31-74)

    As we continue to look for ways to adequately represent performance art forms, several dialectical arguments recur in scholarship that will shape the theoretical basis of this discussion. One debate focuses on the ethnographic process itself. How much can scholars, particularly foreign scholars, learn about a society’s artistically created self-images?45How do we collect and evaluate the data? How much weight do we give explanation and commentary of local people and how much do we apply our own perceptions of context and intention in devising theoretical frames for the material? Another side of the same relationship treats the question of...

  8. III. Chiefs, Tricksters and Catholics: Bemba Tales and Orations
    (pp. 75-122)

    The focus of this chapter is three performance-recording sessions in two locations in the home region of the Bemba. Each session has its own set of contextual conditions and developments and the performers are mostly elders. Not surprisingly, a characteristic common to most of the sessions is didacticism, tied into the promulgation of wisdom and correct action growing out of tradition and experience. The narrative-performances were mostly of the fictional type, mostlyimilumbe(tales without songs) with only onelushimi(a tale that contains a song). One session also included praise poetry and straightforward expository oration on matters of social...

  9. IV. Bisa Storytelling: The Politics of Hunting, Beer-Drinks, and Elvis
    (pp. 123-164)

    In the 1988–89 academic year at the University of Zambia, I made two trips to Nabwalya in the Luangwa Valley. This region remains one of the largest wildlife preserves in Africa. The people who inhabit the center of the area, between the two parks, are Bisa, and they speak a language that is related to Bemba, though there are some fairly consistent sound shifts and many differences in usage. To accurately describe the conditions surrounding the recording of stories and my reception by the local residents, I need to very briefly explain the position of the Bisa in relation...

  10. V. Telling Tales While Keeping Secrets: Two Lunda Storytelling Sessions
    (pp. 165-210)

    The collection of oral traditions is a process that usually combines simple electronic recording of living events with the more complicated elements of establishing relationships with the performers and their audience, negotiating the time, place and compensation for their efforts, and observing and noting information not readily obtained by videocamera or tape recorder. The process is rendered more difficult when the researcher is working with people, or in an area, that he or she does not know well. In this context and consistent with the overall format of this study, I want to consider two separate storytelling sessions I recorded...

  11. VI. Stories on Demand: A Performance Session Among the Bwile
    (pp. 211-246)

    The discursive style of this study leans toward a combination of description, reflexive commentary, published scholarly data, consultation with colleagues and cautious analysis. In this chapter I will combine the description of how I arranged the session with my personal travel to and brief stay in the village of Chief Puta. I will also provide some of the Chief’s background, details of our longer term interactions, some historical context for the Bwile people, and whatever else seems relevant for the consideration of the following performance session. More so than in earlier chapters, I will focus on description of specific techniques...

  12. VII. Conclusions: Lessons from Frozen Moments
    (pp. 247-260)

    The most significant dimension of the preceding chapters is the strong emphasis on contextualization of performance events and acknowledging the relative paucity of data that was arrayed in this effort. I have focused, no doubtad nauseum, on the main sources of information in what was mostly a set of brief encounters as consisting of the video record, field notes, published scholarship, consultation with Zambian scholars and a brief return to most of the recording sites. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of this study has kept it from comfortably alighting onto one or another clearly established scholarly field. I want to...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-274)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-277)