Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

(African Culture of Story Series) Damaria Senne: Stories from The Place of the Mist, Part 2

For me, the difficult part of storytelling as a career was telling the stories I wanted to tell, in my own way. Locally, there is a growing movement towards the telling of indigenous stories. You’d think I would fit within that movement, wouldn’t you? Yet, I feel like a square peg in a round hole.

Damaria Senne

Internationally, there is also pressure about what Africa and South Africa are about, and a vague prescription as to what stories I should tell. Africa is a dark continent, and as a Black woman, I represent the disadvantaged. Zulu culture is assumed to be the de facto Black South Africans’ culture. And the folktales are mostly about Anansi.

My children’s stories should depict children who walk miles to draw water, not those who struggle to understand why the fairy godmother never shows at her house after they lost teeth, but does so at her Caucasian friend’s house.

When my daughter was born, I discovered a new reason to tell stories I liked, in my own words, no pressure. She’s growing up in a city, away from most of our relatives, so my stories are also about building her sense of identity. “These are the people to whom you were born, the people who are part of your history,” my stories say.

I also attempt to bridge the gap between Western culture, which she assimilates through friends, books, TV, the internet and magazines and our traditions and culture. “Batswana have too many rules,” she complains. Most cultures do, I tell her.

Sometimes the stories I tell are just meant to entertain her. I am also her reservoir of memories she no longer remembers; storer of the images of people she doesn’t remember meeting. “Tell me about me about the time when I….” she loves to prompt me.

I am painfully conscious of the fact that some stories are lost across the generations. My father used to urge me to visit old people in the village and ask them to tell me what stories they remember. I visited some of them, but mostly I was “busy” and their stories are gone with them.

My daughter and I spend more time watching TV, playing on the Internet, watching movies/other people’s stories rather than sharing our own. That, I suppose, is the price we pay for living in modern times.

She also has to deal with the scepticism that is a natural part of modern life. Last December I wanted to take her up the small hill near our home in Phokeng and she wouldn’t go. “What’s out there,” she asked suspiciously, wary of the small forest, city child that she is.

“Ralelatlha’s foot,” I said.

The vague imprint of a giant foot on a flat piece of rock was an object of legend and curiosity when I was growing up.

Many Setswana folktales and legends begin with ‘long, long ago, when the rocks were still soft…” So I grew up wondering if Raleletlha’s foot was proof that the rocks truly used to be soft and the giants walked the earth alongside men.

“Oh please don’t tell me you believe in Big Foot?” my daughter laughed when I explained footprint.

My hope is that she will pass on some of the stories to her children and that through the stories and her kids will learn to appreciate the people my parents and grandparents were.

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3 Responses »

  1. Janet, I have had a ball reading your posts. This one brought back memories of stories my own parents and grandparents shared.

    What really sticks is the memory of the songs my mother's mother sang while sewing clothes for our dolls. That, of course leads to a whole series of memories.

    I have faith that Damaria's daughter will remember the stories and pass them along to future generations with all the love and blessings that go with them.

  2. Thanks, JJ....I enjoy both parts of Damaria's post, but I really like
    this one....I love how she reveals the stereotyping...subtle and not
    so...and how she resisted it to find her own way and voice. And,
    something she and I have discussed...the stereotyping of Africa as a
    continent....Janet

  3. Janet, thank you so much for inviting me over. JJ Murphy, I'm glad to hear that my stories brought back good memories for you.

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