What it is, what it was, what it will be.

Activities & Play, african, design, idea, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

Academically speaking, an oral history is not intended to present a final, verified, or “objective” narrative of events, or a comprehensive history of a place, because it is a primary source of information. Its a spoken account, reflects personal opinion offered by the narrator, and as such it is subjective.

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Oral histories are often used together with other sources to gain understanding and insight into history.

Non academically speaking, you get a better feel for an event if it is told to you. It can compensate for dry factual accounts or statistical information. Oral testimony becomes oral history from one generation to the next It is the memory of the past spoken to the next generation.

Professor Phillip Bonner, head of the History Workshop Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS University) in South Africa and National Research Foundation Chair for “Local Histories, Present Realities” has conducted research in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.

“…Many societies in Africa have traditionally been shaped by oral rather than written communication; the literacy rate is often low. Colonialism, Apartheid and other forms of oppression reinforced this tendency throughout the continent, resulting in a lack of written documentation about the past. Historians thus had to find other ways of gathering historical information, and oral history methods have proven to be a very useful tool in their research efforts.”

Oral history predates written history in Africa (some of the most ancient historical texts are drawn from oral testimony). But it was only used in African historical research from the 1960s. Prior to that, there were huge gaps in African history books.

brain-2Sure, human memory is unreliable in certain contexts. So the method was initially greeted with a great deal of scepticism. But for African cultures, the word was the history, so they had ways of remembering the important points, something which western scholars seem to have ignored.

Nowadays, people like Professor Bonner hold “live history interviews,” where people are encouraged to speak about their lives from the time they remember being a person. The idea sounds deliciously inviting. In the professor’s experience, asking open questions that don’t presume a specific answer and listening to the interviewee more than asking questions yields the most useful, and sometimes even surprising information.

microphone37But live history interviews take time and aren’t cheap, especially transcription and translation of interviews. But they are reliable when added to a pool of collective memory and with a few quality control methods applied. A common truth can be found.

It is all part of one rich historical narrative, told from different perspectives.

I grew up hearing stories from elders, something which sticks with me more than the history books I have read. But I know that using both methods is probably the best way to understand and get an accurate picture of a story, a history. It is another way to feel the lasting effect of an event from long ago.

In my studio I have been developing a way to tell stories through reading out loud. Its very exciting to have finally succeeded in producing a book that instructs the reader how to tell the story within. And it was deceptively straightforward. I am hoping it will be the backbone of major new series in 2019.

I love books, but I love stories even more.

Check to the Goethe Insitute article on Oral history

 

Pop Up Festival of Stories in Essex, UK

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More pics from the festival.

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African Mythological Creatures- Ninki Nanka: The Dragon

african, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, publishing

creatures-ninkinamka

According to traditions, the Ninki Nanka lives in the swamps of West Africa. It is said to be extremely large and dangerous. It is said that when children get too confident and feel they can disobey their parents and go into the swamp they will be taken by the Ninki Nanka. The story of Ninki Nanka has spread from tribe to tribe across Africa. There is a song called “Ninki Nanka” on the album Casamance au clair de lune (1984) by the Senegalese music group Touré Kunda. A group of “dragon hunters” from the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) went to Gambia in the summer of 2006 to investigate the Ninki Nanka and take testimony from those who have claimed to have seen the mythical creature. One interviewee who claimed to have had an encounter with a Ninki Nanka said it looked similar to an image of a Chinese dragon. The expedition was known as the “J. T. Downes Memorial Gambia Expedition 2006”

Creatures from African Mythology: Jengu

african, design, From the sketchbooks, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

jengu

The Jengu, from Cameroon, differs in appearance from person to person, but it is said to be a beautiful, mermaid-like figures with long, hair and gap-toothed smiles. A Jengu (plural Miengu) is a water spirit in the traditional beliefs of the Sawa ethnic groups of Cameroon. They live in rivers and the sea and bring good fortune to worshipers. They are also healers and intermediaries between people and the spirits. A Jengu cult has long enjoyed popularity in Cameroon. For the inland Bakweri, Jengu worship is a rite of passage for eight to ten-year old girls. During this time, the girl must wear a dress made of fern fronds and follow a series of taboos. After this period, she is a full member of the cult. There are many mermaid creatures in mythology across the African continent.

Splash Joshua Splash

Activities & Play, character, children's books, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, publishing, stories

Splash Joshua Splash by Malachy Doyle and Ken Wilson-Max

Joshua and his grandmother spend a day experiencing H2O in its many forms. The delighted boy feeds ducks on the river, runs through puddles, plays at a drinking fountain, swims in a pool, and snuggles up for a rainy “cosy, dozy” bus ride home. The child speaks only three words but his favorite is “splash,” which appears hand-lettered in block form. The lines of type are set at slight angles to one another to mimic flowing water. Though not a rhyming story, the words flow with easy-on-the-tongue phrases such as “Deep down, under the water,/under the water, deep down./Into the froth and the foam,/and the bubbles,/splashing and crashing,/fizzing and sparkling.” The bright, saturated illustrations are eye-catching in their colorful simplicity. One slight discrepancy: Joshua appears to change sizes, sometimes only coming up to Granny’s waist while at other times almost to her shoulders. Very young children who are fascinated with water will enjoy hearing about Joshua’s day.

-Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI