ROLE OF AFRICAN STORYTELLERS: HOW TV TAUGHT ME MY HISTORY

What Role do African Storytellers play if any in keeping the history of the continent alive?

The type of TV I watch these days

That is one of the prompts that #Winterabc2022 has brought forth. I decided to make my first entry in this month long series by attempting to answer this question. Also it felt right to open the festival with this as the theme for the 2022 series is storytelling. I decided to use TV as the medium of storytelling and how it can continue to be one specifically for the younger generation who never have time to sit down for a chat with elders and friends alike but can tell you everything that happened in the Avengers movies. Am I being judgemental? Of course I am, it is my job after all to judge the younger generation. Thanks Boomers!

When I was growing up, I was told stories or “nthano” as they are called in my native tongue of Chichewa. It was mostly my aunt who used to tell me these and if my memories are correct, my late grandmother might have shared a few with me as well. As the years have gone by and my memories of the late 90s have become more distant, one story still sticks out. That of Kamdonthi. As the story goes, Kamdonthi was a kid who was made of clay and had been instructed to run home as soon as the rains would start falling no matter where he was. So Kamdonthi, faithfully obeyed this rule until one day, he did not and he ended up dissolving in the rain and that was his demise. Apologies for the abridged version but the moral of the story was that children should listen to their parents or something along those lines. The story remains one of my links to oral African storytelling and serves as a reminder as to why it is important to preserve local stories specifically those told in our mother tongues.

I grew up in a time when there was one television station in Malawi, Television Malawi (TVM) now rebranded as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) following a merger and for those of us whose families could not afford Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), we were basically restricted in terms of what we could watch specifically when it came to children’s content. DSTV was for the rich and a novelty. As a result, those of us whose TVs beamed MBC only, we would spend most of our afternoons outside playing with friends and exchanging stories along the way, another form of African storytelling. Our playtimes were conducted in Chichewa, and when we encountered children who could not Chichewa despite being born and growing up in this country of ours, we would marvel at the paradox of it all. But that is story for another day, specifically day 2 of #winterabc2022.

I might probably be one of the few people in my generation who is not very conversant with the current Malawian music scene as it has become infiltrated with hip hop and rap genres of music among others, not that that is wrong. But if you are to ask me about Malawian music from before 2006, I can give you a run for your money, I think. I grew up a religious watcher of the TV program, Music Splash, a program that enabled me to soak in Malawian music more than any other and showed me the Malawian stories that no other TV station ever could have. Ask anybody my age who Mr. Splash is and they will answer you in a heartbeat. MBC TV programs such as Face to Face, taught me stories about Malawians that no classroom could ever could. There was Miss Ntcheu, probably the first openly Malawian transgender person or perhaps a possible contender on Ru Paul’s drag race, we will never know. There was the man from Rumphi who planned his funeral years in advance and had already selected a coffin and a burial site. There was the man who used to cut Kamuzu’s hair, Kamuzu Banda was the first president of Malawi and ruled the country for 31 years. For those of us who are the multiparty generation, Kamuzu loomed large in our childhood. We grew up with various stories of the man, myth and legend. Anything to do with Kamuzu was absorbed like a sponge, though we have later come to learn, it is to be taken with a grain of salt.

All in all, TVM or as fellow Malawi newspaper readers might recall as Tereza Violet Mangani, gave us pieces of Malawian history and then present day stories in a context like no other. It enabled me to learn about Malawi in a way that whenever I travel to some parts of the country, I think about the story that I probably saw on TV from there and I am able to form a connection to that place.

One of the common things that people talk about when it comes to Generation Z or ama 2000s as they informally called is that they do not know much or anything about their cultures as they are generation Disney. These are the kids who grew up when the average Malawian could afford DSTV and thus got exposed to more children centered channels such as Disney or Boomerang and MBC was left in the dust. The lack of a diversity of engaging local content on Malawian television stations has led to more people opting for foreign entertainment specifically when it comes to the younger age groups. The coming in of streaming services such as Netflix, Showmax and others has also made the situation worse as people now have more options. There is a need to promote Malawian stories, and to make stories that people specifically young people can relate to and also teach them about their history. Also there is a need for Malawians to give local TV a chance, it is a two way street after all. Programs such as Cruise 5 on Zodiak TV give us the Malawian stories that we need (apologies to my non Malawian friends, the interview was done in Chichewa). In the digital age, African storytelling needs to go digital, it is as simple as that and it is quite encouraging when you see countries like South Africa and Zambia creating a lot of local content, it is the only way the ama 2000s can learn about Africa and value this continent of ours. I rest my case.

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