The campfire. It’s one of the world’s most enduring metaphors, evoking simultaneously the safety of light, warmth, family, story; also the danger of darkness, exile, what lies beyond. The metaphor is all the more poignant here in Africa, where humankind evolved, along with language and storytelling and music and myth. And well-timed for our last evening together as a newly formed community, before we return to our individual lives.
So… for our final evening together in Arusha, we gathered around our stage-as-campfire, to take in four remarkable storytellers with 400+ new friends.
It began with Zambian-born, Italian filmmaker Franco Sacchi, whose upcoming film, “This is Nollywood,” spotlights Nigeria’s homegrown $250M/year industry, which turns out 2000+ movies per year, each shot straight to video on shoestring budgets. The stories? A little rough around the edges. The significance? Profound. “This started as a grassroots movement,” Sacchi said. “It happened without foreign investment, without government aid. It happened against the odds.”
Then Nigerian author/poet Chris Abani (best known for his novels Virgin of Flames and GraceLand) took us on a soulful and moving journey with words, weaving reflections on the power of language (“It’s said that language describes the world we live in. But language makes the world we live in. Language is everything. Story is everything.”) with powerful pieces of his own history (At 16, he published his first novel; at 18 he was sent to prison for the first time, and was “totally broken by it.”) and reflections on the big questions in life (“The question for me is how do I balance narratives that are wonderful with narratives of wounds and self loathing. … Transformation is a difficult and slow process. Sometimes I can say, ‘I’m Chris Abani. I’ve been human for 6 days.'”)
Binyavanga Wainaina — author of the unforgettable satirical essay “How to Write About Africa,” and publisher of literary journal Kwani? — continued the evening’s magical journey, with a series of stories, and reflections on the power of storytelling itself. A small sample:
Excerpt from Discovering Home
If there is a miracle in the idea of life it is this: that we are able to exist for a time, in defiance of chaos. Later you often forget how dicey everything was; how the tickets almost didnt materialize; how the event almot got postponed; how a hangover nearly made you miss the flight….
Phrases swell, becoming bigger than their context and speak to us with TRUTH. We wield this series of events as our due, the standard for gifts of the future. We live the rest of our lives with the utter knowledge that there is something deliberate, a vein in us that transports everything into place — if we follow the stepping stones of certainity.
Finally, South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, who was a crucial artistic voice during the fight against apartheid, treated us to an utterly beautiful performance. His music moved me beyond words.
For more extensive descriptions of each talk, see Ethan Zuckerman‘s real-time posts on Franco Sacchi and Chris Abani, Binyavanga Wainaina and Vusi Mahlasela.
Watch for these talks on TED.com beginning midsummer 2007.