n Communicatio : South African Journal of Communication Theory and Research - The griot storyteller and modern media

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0250-0167



The griot, or African storyteller, was and is today, the main conveyer of the collective wisdom of the tribal peoples of Africa. Stories are presented in a stylistic way and are associated with great enjoyment. Even today among the rural Wolof of Senegal people gather in village squares to hang on each word the griot says. In fact, the Wolof are Muslims, about two million of whom live in Senegal. Large percentages are non-literate and the griot reinforces cultural norms of their adopted Islamic religion. There are many intruding influences on the cultural status quo of human beings. Culture is not static, rather transitional. Historically, this cultural status quo was influenced by increased interaction between villages, development workers desiring to drill wells to bring clean water to the villagers and by medical workers with improved health care and reduced infant mortality. In many ways, these so-called 'backward' cultures were wrenched into the 20th century. Culture was ignored. Infrastructure improvements were abandoned because they were 'extra cultural' and not desired by the villagers. Innovations which took the west hundreds of years to adopt are pushed onto less developed peoples and if they do not adopt these innovations, they are called laggards by the diffusion researchers. In this article, I will look at the village griot, his influence on the peoples of West Africa and India through two case studies. The first case deals with the Griot as opinion leader in facilitating change in Nigeria. The second case is based on a 1984 project I undertook in southern India using a traditional folk singer, or Villaputu artist to stimulate change. I will address the parallels between the Griot and modern media. My conclusions will be that modern TV & cinema does not occupy the same place as the griot in our society. TV & cinema do wield great influence and do communicate culture. Although they are more pervasive in our lives, modern media can provide mixed messages to the viewers.

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