People who tell tales, teach and charm
In Africa, when a griot dies it is as if an entire library has been burnt to the ground. In Brazil, oral traditions preserve libraries that are just as invaluable.
For centuries, storytellers played a central role in society. By word of mouth, knowledge and traditions were passed from one generation to another and preserved. “It was through the narrator that the group was able to find cohesion”, says the writer Ilan Brenman, storyteller and PhD in Education from the University of São Paulo. The evolution of the art of writing and its widespread collective use made sitting around in a circle to listen to stories about gods, princes and princesses, wizards and witches, and fantastic journeys increasingly obsolete.
Although their power to unite people has waned, it is still possible to find traditional storytellers. An excellent example, according to Ilan, is the griots of Western Africa. A blend of storyteller, genealogist, artist and political go-between, the griot visits different communities, absorbing and passing on the experiences of his people. In Brazil, the oral tradition remains strong among the indigenous tribes, the Cordel poets and singers and rural storytellers.
The large urban centers also have their narrators, and the emergence of this group over recent decades has helped keep the ancient practice alive. According to the educator and storyteller Gislayne Matos, a revival of the oral tradition was initiated at the beginning of the 1970’s, especially in Europe. This movement spread to Brazil at the end of the following decade, leading to the emergence of new groups of storytellers and the realization of numerous events and projects. Gislayne is the co-founder of the Living with Art project (Convivendo com Arte (www.convivendo.com.br).