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reimagining folk tales

I never posted about this but better late than never. A short story I wrote called ‘The Giraffes of the Desert’ was selected as one of the finalists for the inaugural Re-imagined Folk Tales Contest in 2016.


Here’s the background to the story. I used to manage communications and social media for a heritage nonprofit called the Trust for African Rock Art in Nairobi. What I loved most about working at TARA was discovering a whole new world of history, art, stories, beauty and spirituality that no-one had told me about in school. I spent time poring through the 25,000+ image archive that TARA had with images from 19 countries around Africa fascinated. Paintings, engravings, rock gongs, going back thousands of years (the oldest dated rock art in Africa is 27,000 years old and is from Namibia’s Apollo 2 cave. However, dating is a challenging process, and either relies on proxies or depends on whether any carbon content is (still) present in paintings which it sometimes isn’t).

Rock painting on the Brandberg massif in Namibia. This is my favourite painting in the collection. Image c/o Trust for African Rock Art (TARA)/David Coulson

Sometimes we would have visitors stop by the offices and they would get a talk about rock art – an introduction to something most of them had also had no previous encounter with. Invariably the questions would come: how, when, who, why? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. The techniques are usually explainable – fingers, hands, fine and thick brushes from animal hairs, blow-tubes, other rocks, various paint formulas… The when as I said was often more complicated. The who, sometimes. The why…well. After several of these visits and my own growing enchantment with the world of rock art, I began to dream into the possibilities.

One of the most famous rock engravings is this one: the Dabous Giraffes.

Dabous giraffes. Image: c/o Trust for African Rock Art (TARA)/David Coulson

Lying on a rock outcrop in the Tenere Desert in what is now Niger, the skill and detail of these life-size giraffes has always astounded. How long did it take to make? Who made this artwork? Giraffes in the desert? Why? I explored these questions in my children’s story The Giraffes of the Desert. The stories from the contest will be published in the latter half of the year, and there will be audio versions too. Since the contest came out of the desire to revive and reimagine an oral storytelling tradition in Africa, there will likely be storytelling events associated with it too. Look out for all of these.

p.s. I am crowdfunding fees to participate in the Global Environment Summer Academy 2018 in Oxford, UK till June 15th. My research, writing and activism centres ancestral knowledge, Africa and the Earth. Support my campaign by contributing and sharing.

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