Hri weaves magic with love legends in Burkina Faso, recounts Laxmi Murthy.
This year, the Prince Claus Fund Network Partners had the privilege of becoming part of a wonderful creative process in Burkina Faso. Hosted in the Bougsemtenga district of Ouagadougou, by Compagnie Falinga, one of the PCF Network Partners the “Mini Recreatrale” was conceptualised on the lines of the Recreatrales, one of the biggest and most unique theatre festivals in Africa. The vision was the same: to create theatres close to the citizens and help initiate a social dialogue. Each Network Partner brought with them their inimitable culture, art and literature. From Syria, Dox Box showcased documentary films and the Museum of Antioquia held a workshop with children who articulated their vision of what heritage meant to them. Alta Tecnologia Andina (ATA) from Peru created an installation of the sea and sea creatures, while San Art from Vietnam shared an audio installation of market sounds from across the globe. The family portraits put together by the Arab Image Foundation from Beirut had strong resonances with the local community. Likewise, the mini-library set up by International Alliance of Independent Publishers saw children from the community flocking to read, while workshops with them drew out their creativity. The Tirana Institute of Contemporary Art, Albania, had children using their creativity on gourds, to envision the “dream city” – on the clouds!
The Hri Institute’s oral history initiative “Love: The Stuff of Legends, the Stuff of Daily Life”was premised on the belief that everybody has a love story. Some keep it close to their hearts; some write about it; some sing; and some compose poetry. Some die with secrets, and their legends live on. Tales of overwhelming love thwarted by the forces of societal constraint and circumstance are a staple across Southasia, all the way from the mountains of Afghanistan to the coast of Sri Lanka. Even as the unrequited love shared by two individuals is the focal point of these stories, they can be read at a number of levels. To begin with, they contain a wealth of information on the cultural norms and compulsions of the times; ranging from the laws of inheritance, the societal view of outsiders, the nature of the people’s relation with their rulers, to the societal, community and familial hierarchy of the times, among other issues.
At the Mini Recreatrale in Ouagadougou, we decided to create a space where people could come and tell their love stories – their own, or stories they have heard, stories that have gone down as legend. The stories were sung, narrated and performed, and the recordings (audio and video) were played back in the same space and well as documented for an archive. The vibrant story telling session began with Boukary Tarnagda related a Mossi story in French, about incestuous love between a brother and sister. The audience listened enthralled as Boukary’s lilting voice transported them to the burning jungles where a defiant Sarata throws herself into the forbidden relationship that ultimately destroys her entire clan. Pascalina Ouedrago’s enchanting story in the Morey language about love that bloomed in the first days of the world had the listeners demanding more. And Ouedrago Wilfred’s timeless story of a wife’s unconditional love for her husband exposed fissures in the family that most of us are familiar with. What was striking was the universality of the narratives, the common threads that describe the human condition the world over. The expressions of love, longing, despair or jealously might vary, but the identification with these emotions cut across cultural and national barriers. The process of playing back the narratives to the community on a TV screen in the courtyard of a house in Bousemtenga, was an exercise in simultaneously contributing to and deriving from the public and personal archive of memory.
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