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Once upon a time… preserving folk tales in Benin

COTONOU – The tiny African state of Benin is perhaps best known to the world as the cradle of voodoo.

But this is only part of a rich cultural history that includes a seam of folk tales, many of them handed down from generation to generation by walking storytellers known as “griots.”

Each year, a festival is held in Cotonou, the capital, to honour the proud tradition.

For two nights in mid-August more than 30 communities from across Benin held the event organised by a Franco-Beninese association, Memories of Africa, that is now two decades old.

The oral tradition is being lost little by little, said Raoul Atchaka, a representative of Memories of Africa.

“We must act so that the African wisdom is not forgotten in the tombs of the old people who die,” said Atchaka.

Transferring this knowledge is important to preserving Africa’s heritage, said Patrice Toton, a Benin storyteller based in France.

“Storytelling is for us a perpetuation of the knowledge, languages, practises and history of peoples,” Toton said.

“It plays a role of conservation of heritage, history, knowledge and perpetuates the identity of peoples.”

He hopes that 100 years from now a child in Benin will still know not to whistle at night when wild creatures are lurking in the dark. 



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