“The world of talking frogs and birds or heroic boys outwitting ogres is no more. Civilisation has killed off that world and it will never come back.” Ndung’u Ndegwa, Nairobi, Kenya

Oral storytelling is one of the most ancient art forms seen in cultures all around the world. In many cultures stories have been used as a way of passing down history, wisdom or mythology to the next generation yet in many cultures these stories are being lost, replaced with television screens and Xboxes.

In The Gambia, West Africa, friends of mine, who remember being told traditional stories by their parents, or more often their grandparents, admit that they are no longer passing these stories on to their children. I’ve collected a few from friends and the internet.

Here’s one of my favourite short stories from Africa…

The young boy asked his grandfather “Is the lion really the king of the jungle?”

“Of course” replied the old man “Why do you ask?”

“In every story that I have ever heard, man always defeats the lion. So how can the lion be king of the jungle?”

The grandfather replied to the boy “The story will always end that way until the lion tells the story.”

It will be so sad if these old stories are not kept for future generations to enjoy and learn from and perhaps we should also be making up new stories that reflect life today.

Stories in Roubaix

At the end of the wonderful day I recently spent in Roubaix, I was delighted when we came across a group of people, wearing pink workmen’s helmet and dungarees, telling stories. Despite the late hour it was still light and even though the stories were in French, and I could understand barely a word, it was lovely to watch the reactions of the children as the animated storytellers told their tales.


A storyteller from Les Saprophytes in Roubaix

The storytelling was part of an annual festival, Pile au Rendez-Vous, that is held every July in and around a former warehouse, La Condition Publique. The event is organised for and with local residents and every year they put on something different.

My companions kindly asked one of the storytellers if she would tell us a story in English which she readily agreed to. She was wonderful and her enthusiasm and obvious joy of telling stories was captivating.


Listening intently to the storyteller

Here is my version of her story…

A man and a woman live in a house, just around the corner from here. One day, the day before rubbish collection day, the couple started arguing by their backdoor about whose turn it was to take out the rubbish.

“It’s your turn” the wife exclaimed “I did it last week.”

“Rubbish! (pardon the pun) I did it last week… have you lost your memory?” shouted the husband

“No, no, no… it’s you that has lost your memory. I know. I did it last week.”

On and on, backwards and forwards, forwards and back, the argument continued.

“Stop your cackling woman. You’re hurting my ears!” Seeing that he would never win this argument and not being prepared to back down either, at last the husband had an idea. “Let’s have a contest. Whoever speaks first does ALL the chores for a month.”

“What all the washing up, cooking, cleaning, taking out the rubbish… everythingYour on!

The couple stood there and looked each other up and down, both determined not to be the first to speak.

The wife served up their dinner and they sat and ate in silence.

The husband cleared the dishes AND did the washing up (without having to be asked!)

The wife sat down by the fire and started doing some mending.

The husband sat down on the other side of the fire.

The evening passed and there they sat in silence. With the warmth of the fire making them drowsy they both nodded off.

Neither of them had realised that while they were arguing they had forgotten to shut the backdoor.

It was after midnight when the couple were woken up by the sound of their bins outside their backdoor rattling but neither of them said a thing.

Two burglars tiptoed in but didn’t immediately notice the two people sitting by the fireplace. Wide-eyed the couple looked at each other and then back at the burglars but neither said a word.

It was then that the intruders saw them but the couple just sat there with blank faces. One of the burglars walked over and waved his hands in front of the wife’s eyes. No reaction!

He did the same with the husband. Again, no reaction.

“They must be blind, deaf and dumb!” he exclaimed.

Slowly the burglars emptied the house of everything that the couple owned and loaded it into their van parked in the alley out the back.

At last all that was left was the man and the woman and the two chairs they were sitting on.

As the intruders were leaving one of them picked up the wife and started carrying her out to their van too.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” She shouted at her husband.

“Ha, ha! You lose!” He replied gleefully, as he danced a victory jig in their very empty house.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Roubaix Tourist office, Lille MetropoleNord Tourism and P&O Ferries for a really wonderful weekend. All opinions expressed are my own. More from my weekend in Lille Metropole coming soon.

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