There used to be a time when the moon came out and children sat around the elders in the communities and were told folk takes. These folktales demanded that the listener responds to the teller in song, those stories were called nthano in Chichewa, ndano in Yao, ethale in Lomwe, or chithankano in Sena and they were better explained as songs not stories.
Usually the storytelling follows a sequence:
Listeners: Tilitonse (standard response given by the group to state that they are listening and together with the story teller).
This was the norm in many communities and that’s how they got together. Usually the stories would have moral value and songs that almost everyone learnt and knew how to respond to them.
As children grew they learnt to gather and listen to their elders telling tales which were usually of moral value.
However, as researcher and cultural anthropologist Moya Malamusi expressed in his discoveries on endangered traditions discovered that certain community traditions are fast disappearing and it was important to document them for the benefit of future generations.
In an interview the researcher conducted with Alida Ali, 67 who also happens to be TA Chitera in Chiradzulu, Malamusi discovered that the art of the ndano was not prominent in the youth but the older people.
And when others tried to tell stories they had heard from their past, they started mixing Chichewa and Yao languages which then was diluting the essence of the ndano.
“It was obvious that Chief Chitera was the only one who knew how to recite ndano and its songs in the original language,” he notes.
Chief Chitera told a story called Chikana Alume; a story about a young woman who used to refuse all men’s attempts to marry her. She then she agreed to marry one man because he was wearing a suit. She did not realise however that he was not a man but a pig.
Stories which were commonly told were those of women and marriage proposals and those of suffering orphans triumphing in the end.
Malamusi also noted that as the years have gone by the tradition has faded and more and more the stories are becoming shorter to get quickly to the end.
“So the stories are rarely told from beginning to the end as they were told in the past. It has become very difficult these days to find an elderly person such as Chief Chitera to recite a story in her own language such as Chiyao,” says Malamusi.