By Victor Ochieng’ & Michael Masinde

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Folks are people while a tale is a story.  Therefore a folk tale is a story narrated to people. Folk tales are oral narratives, which are part and parcel of the in depth English syllabus in secondary schools tested in English Paper 1 or 2. In Paper 2, they majorly test oral skills while in Paper 2 , they test  literary and comprehension skills.

One can’t talk about oral narratives without mentioning oral literature. Oral has to do with the word of the mouth while literature explores oeuvres of written and printed works- books, magazines and newspapers.

In actual sense, Oral Literature, also known as orature, oral tradition or folklore, refers to the creative works of art which are performed or acted, passed on from one person to another or handed over from one generation to another by word of mouth.

Oral Literature has three major genres: Oral Poetry or Songs, short forms, which can be broken down into: tongue twisters, riddles, jokes, proverbs, puns and Oral Narratives.

Oral Narratives carry a community’s norms, values, culture, customs, beliefs, et cetera hence they are defined as stories that gave accounts of people, places and events.

Oral narratives can be factual or fictional. They include: myths, legends, trickster narratives, ogre (monster) narratives, dilemma narratives and aetiological narratives.

They are taught in secondary schools as a tool for socialization and national integration. They are also a source of entertainment and edutainment, they preserve people’ history, heritage and culture.

In the olden days, adults and children sat around reflective fire places as folks told them intense and interesting stories. In the cloud nine moments of storytelling, the narrator can encounter two types of audiences: passive and active. The former, is quiet and reticent and hardly takes part in the session while the latter actively participates in the session by nodding, laughing, answering questions and singing along.

Storytelling revolves around performance. For the sake of exam purposes, it behooves us to shed light on the specific aspects that students should focus on in order to earn marks. We shall share those top tips in form of questions and answers, not in poetic but prosaic forms.

Firstly, what are the qualities of a good story teller or narrator? S/he should have a good memory, should focus on making the tale interesting, should use different pauses like dramatic and sentence completion and should employ effective paralinguistic features. S/he finds wonderful ways to involve the audience by allowing them to join in singing or asking rhetorical questions.  This ambit can also be achieved through use of sentence-completion pauses – puffing some parts of the sentences, and leaving others for the audience to complete.

Secondly, how does a narrator prepare to perform before the audience? S/he rehearses before a mock audience to master the story by heart, prepares appropriate costumes and props if any, practices on voice projection, practices proper pronunciation, enunciation and articulation of difficult words and thinks of a relevant song or chant that can enrich the narration.

Thirdly, what should the narrator do in order to capture the attention of the audience before the narration? The narrator can begin with an opening formula like ‘story story’, which will jolt the audience to respond as ‘story come’. The narrator can ring a bell, beat a drum, play a musical instrument, blow a whistle, clap loudly or sing a brief song, especially one related to the story.

 Over and above, the narrator can narrate an anecdote – short story rife with sadness or happiness as could be related to the story.

 As an addenda or annotation to this, the use of either a tongue twister or a riddle – can form a good prelude to the storytelling session. Remember, all these are just meant to draw the attention of the audience before the storytelling starts.

Fourthly, why is it important to use the words ‘story story’? It’s done because it’s an opening formula that depicts that the story has started, it introduces the narrator to the audience and takes the audience to the world of fantasy.

How will the narrator know the audience is attentive? If the audience is quiet and effectively listening, seated in an upright posture and leaning forward slightly to show interest, if the audience has maintained meaningful eye contact with the narrator and if they applaud or clap when necessary. If the audience asks relevant questions or shed tears at the end of a sad tale or laugh at the end of a happy one, attention can be evinced.

How can the narrator make the story to sound interesting? Here, theexaminer expects the student to point out specific verbal and non-verbal cues. Employing an appropriate gesture, like running the hand across the neck to show throat-cutting can slice and spice the tale. The narrator can also involve the audience by allowing them to re-enact scenes in the story, asking rhetorical questions or singing along, et cetera. Humour makes the tale to intrigue the audience.

Postscript: In relation to paralinguistic features, we have cited both verbal and non-verbal cues. Verbal cues include: tone (soft, angry or commanding), intonation or cadence (falling or rising) and pace or tempo (slow, moderate or fast).  There is stress, the emphasis given to content/ key words to bring out the intended meaning. There is mimicry, the imitation of verbal sounds and there is volume and voice projection. One needs to project the voice to be audible.

The writers roll out English Improvement Programmes. During this holiday, they are teaching English on Zoom Webinar. You can reach out to get updates for online lessons and notes through via their email addresses.


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