Wednesday, March 15, 2023
HomeGreek PhilosphySinger-Storytellers: The Griot Tradition in West Africa

Singer-Storytellers: The Griot Tradition in West Africa

Griots, often known as jeli or bards, are conventional West African storytellers who’ve performed a vital position in preserving the oral historical past and cultural heritage of their communities for hundreds of years. With their distinctive mix of music, storytelling, and oral historical past, griots convey to life the tales of their individuals, giving voice to their struggles and triumphs, and conserving their cultural traditions alive. From delivery to dying, from warfare to peace, from like to loss, the tales of the griots are as numerous as they’re charming. Their music, steeped in emotion and rhythm, creates a strong and unforgettable backdrop to their tales. Join us on a journey by the wealthy and interesting world of griot storytellers.

The Griots – Africa’s Master Storytellers

Today griots can nonetheless be discovered in many components of West Africa. They dwell amongst varied African ethnic minorities such because the Mande peoples , Fula, Hausa, Songhai, Tukuloor, and plenty of extra in addition to amongst even smaller teams. Many have additionally left their ancestral lands behind and emigrated. Traditional griot storytellers might be discovered in international locations which have massive migrant African populations such because the United States and France.

Griot also known as jeli or jail in some regions (Circa 1901). (Public domain)

Griot often known as jeli or jail in some areas (Circa 1901). ( Public area )

It is believed that the time period griot comes from the French time period “guirot” which in flip got here from the Portuguese time period “criado.” This was the masculine singular time period for servant and aptly describes the griot’s position in their conventional communities, as a servant to the group.

While griot is the time period predominantly used in English, African languages have their very own names which they use to seek advice from griots. In northern Mande areas, griots are often called jèli, whereas in the south they’re often called jali. On the opposite hand, the Yoruba seek advice from them as arokin whereas the Ful peoples seek advice from them as gawlo.

Generally talking, after “griot” the commonest identify for them is “jeli.” This comes from the Manding time period jely which refers back to the mixed information of the griots and their hereditary nature.

What Do Griots Do?

Griots are seen because the keepers of each African historical past and the traditions of their native peoples. They use music, storytelling, and oral historical past to protect their cultural heritage. This makes them a necessary a part of West African society.

Important social gatherings equivalent to weddings and festivals usually embody a griot. It is the griot’s job to sing and share the internet hosting household’s historical past. When conflicts get away between warring factions or households it’s the griot’s job to settle the disputes and performance as a mediator by utilizing their centuries of historic information.

The mutual respect and familiarity either side are inclined to have for the griot signifies that it’s secure for the griot to speak with either side with out concern of being attacked. As revered members of society, each events additionally know that attacking the griot can be unwise.

Griots are expert musicians in addition to orators. They’re recognized for his or her distinctive musical type which incorporates the usage of conventional devices such because the kora (a stringed instrument), the balafon (just like a xylophone), and the djembe (a uniquely formed drum).

A griot tells stories through music. They are highly skilled in many instruments including the African kora (a stringed instrument) seen here. (© Jorge Royan /CC)

A griot tells tales by music. They are extremely expert in many devices together with the African kora (a stringed instrument) seen right here. (© Jorge Royan / CC)

These devices are used to accompany the storytelling and provides their tales a rhythmic and melodic backdrop.  This music is very emotional and evocative. It helps convey the tales to life and makes them memorable for listeners.

Many of the tales griots inform revolve round actual historic occasions. These might be small in scale, like particular person household histories, to recounting main historic occasions like wars and battles. They are additionally accountable for reminding individuals of their cultural heritage. This means recounting tales concerning the gods and the spirits of their ancestors.

These tales are usually used to impart ethical classes and cultural values to the youthful generations. These tales may tackle a political edge with the griot utilizing them to reward their patrons and to sing the praises of vital native leaders.

Griots even have a robust ethical obligation. It is commonly right down to them to provide a voice for the marginalized and oppressed inside their communities. The tales griots inform spotlight social and political points like poverty, inequality, and human rights abuses. Their songs promote peace, justice, and equality and provides hope to those that are struggling.

Becoming a Griot

Griots are their very own ethnic group and have a tendency to type an endogamous caste (that means they normally solely marry fellow griots). This means griots are born into the position and obtain their coaching from members of the family, who move down their expertise and information from era to era.

Learning these expertise isn’t any simple job. Not solely should they be taught the humanities of oral historical past, music, and storytelling from a really younger age, however they need to be taught large quantities of historical past. It is a task that comes with loads of accountability and no small quantity of strain.

The Sahel Epics

A traditional instance of the kind of story griots are accountable for sharing is the Sahel Epics . These tales originate from the Sahel area of West Africa and are a few of the most vital cultural expressions of the individuals in this area.

These tales normally characteristic heroes and heroines who embark on epic journeys and face head-on nice challenges. Traditionally these tales incorporate parts of folklore, faith, and actual historical past.

 Sundiata Keita as presented in Civilization VI. (CC BY NC SA 3.0)

 Sundiata Keita as offered in Civilization VI. ( CC BY NC SA 3.0 )

One of probably the most well-known Sahel epics is targeted round the true historic determine, Sunjata “the lion thief who takes his inheritance”, and the way he turned the founding father of the Mali Empire . As is widespread with oral telling there are a whole bunch, if not hundreds, of variations of this story however they normally comply with comparable story beats.

It is normally stated Sunjata was born beneath uncommon circumstances, coated head to toe in thick hair, and paralyzed from the waist down. The extra fantastical variations of the story have the younger hero inheriting magical powers from his mom, which he makes use of to present himself the power to stroll. His magical presents (or incapacity) then lead him to be exiled from his group. After some years away he then returns as a strong navy chief.

Upon his return, he defeats the dominion’s evil sorcerer-king, Sumanguru Kante, and expels him and his military from the Mande homeland. The story then normally goes into element about how Sumanguru fell to darkness by turning into obsessive about a magical balafon (just like a xylophone) that belonged to forest genies. He finally will get his fingers on the magical instrument, however solely after his sister sacrifices herself to the genies as cost. Sumanguru makes use of the magical instrument to rule Western Africa till Sunjata’s eventual intervention.

The epic of Sunjata has remained a preferred story to at the present time. It is claimed that if one tried to mix all of the completely different variations of the story and inform it as one it might take days to finish. The epic is so fashionable that lyrics from the poem have been adopted into the nationwide anthem of Mali.

One of the explanations epics like this have remained so fashionable in West Africa is the actual fact they’ve a private connection to the listeners. A teen from Mande will hear the griots reward the names of their ancestors whereas they inform the Sunjata epic.

Sunjata’s household identify is Keita, which is a well-liked household identify to at the present time, giving many listeners a familial connection to this historical story. While the epics of different cultures, like the traditional Greeks, have remained static over the centuries, the epics the griots inform proceed to evolve, continuously adapting as their audiences change.

Griots In History

Griots aren’t simply repositories of historical past; they’ve their very own fascinating historical past. While they’ve at all times tended to play the identical cultural position, how they’ve been handled and their social standing has tended to alter once in a while and from place to put.

For instance, in the Mali Empire of West Africa (which lasted from 1226 to 1670), the griots had been extremely revered and it was custom for royal members of the family to present one another griots who acted as royal advisors.

The griots turned an aristocratic caste and every higher-ranked household of warrior kings and emperors (often called jatigi) had its circle of relatives of griots. In Malian custom, you couldn’t be a griot if you did not have a jatigi, and also you couldn’t be known as a jatigi should you had no griot. Most villages additionally had their very own household of griots who had been accountable for recording and retelling native histories and so on.

On the opposite hand, issues had been very completely different for the griots who lived with the Mande individuals. In these societies, the griot was often called a jeli and so they acted as advisors, singers, and storytellers. Unlike the griots inside the Mali Empire, nonetheless, these griots didn’t take pleasure in such excessive social standing. It was believed the griots held deep connections to the religious world and that their skills gave them social and political energy over individuals. This led to mistrust and meant they weren’t at all times revered or well-loved by the Mande individuals.

Ancient custom singled the griots out as a separate individuals with their very own caste. This meant that in the worst instances, they had been handled in a different way than the Mande individuals. For instance, griots had been typically buried in timber somewhat than in the bottom as a result of individuals believed doing so would pollute the earth. Griots additionally suffered from different social seclusions, a first-rate instance being the truth that for a very long time, the Mande individuals banned them from marrying outdoors of the griot caste.

Challenges Faced by Modern Griots

Despite their vital position in preserving cultural heritage, griots have confronted an rising variety of challenges in current years. Many griot communities have been displaced by warfare, famine, and different forms of violence. This has led to a tragic lack of native information and traditions.

In some instances, the griots have confronted persecution, and their devices and cultural artifacts have been destroyed. Thankfully regardless of these challenges, the griots haven’t backed down and their custom continues to thrive in many components of Africa. In current years many African international locations have instituted legal guidelines banning any persecution of the griots.

Griots are the keys to the past. In a place where history has mostly been passed down through generations orally, they sing about happenings in the past, and about personalities in the present. (Emilia Tjernström/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Griots are the keys to the previous. In a spot the place historical past has largely been handed down by generations orally, they sing about happenings in the previous, and about personalities in the current. (Emilia Tjernström/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Today many proud younger African individuals have chosen to take up the mantle of the griot to hold the custom into the longer term. In current years there was a rising curiosity in griot tradition and plenty of griots have turn out to be distinguished figures on the worldwide stage. They have more and more been invited to carry out at worldwide festivals and live shows everywhere in the world, sharing their distinctive cultural heritage with audiences of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

The energy of human voice in preserving cultural heritage

In conclusion, the custom of the griot storyteller is a testomony to the ability of the human spirit and the significance of preserving cultural heritage. Through their music, storytelling, and oral historical past, griots convey to life the tales of their individuals and preserve their cultural traditions alive.

Despite the challenges they’ve confronted in current years, the griot custom continues to thrive, and the tales of the griots will proceed to be informed for generations to return. The griots are a reminder that the ability of the human voice and the ability of storytelling can overcome any impediment, and that the cultural heritage of our communities is one thing price preserving and cherishing all the time.

Top picture: The historical storyteller often called a griot makes use of their voice, sounds and music to inform tales concerning the previous.  Source: tomalu/AdobeStock

By Robbie Mitchell


Most Popular

Recent Comments