Telling and Re-telling Tales: Caribbean Folklore and the Art of Storytelling

What can be learned from the way that Caribbean people tell stories and how this practice has evolved? How might we preserve these stories for wider audiences? And what is the most effective way to re-tell these stories in alternative formats for digital, potentially younger, audiences?

“It was the way Deeka told these stories, the events the same, the messages different every time” (Ross, 2008)

Storytelling and practices of orality are fundamental components to Caribbean cultures, both regionally and nationally. Folk characters like Anansi, Compere Lapin, La Diablesse, and the Soucouyant are remembered and retold in the Caribbean and its diasporas through a rich tradition of oral storytelling. Storytelling has not only persisted as a means of connection and entertainment in the Caribbean, but also serves as a ‘methodological [tool] for unsettling colonialities in the twenty-first century’. (Clarke and Mullings 2022) It is a way of knowing that challenges and resists dominant narratives about knowledge production.

Jamaican scholar Sylvia Wynter, in her consideration of what it means to be human, suggests that who we are as a species is a product not only of our biology, but also of our storytelling and myth-making capacities – our ability to imagine and to reshape our worlds through the stories we tell (Wynter and McKittrick, 2015). Storytelling is part of the human experience, and a consideration of both the art of storytelling and the way that we tell stories for digital, diasporic audiences speaks to human experience in the globalised twenty first century.

What will the project involve? 

This project will seek to interrogate, archive, and reimagine folklore traditions and practices of storytelling across a number of islands in the Eastern Caribbean. This project will have three aims.

  • Firstly, it is interested in conducting research to interrogate and analyse the way that Caribbean people tell stories and how this practice has evolved.
  • Secondly, it seeks to consider how we might preserve these stories for wider audiences. Given the large populations of people of Caribbean descent living outside the region (in places such as the UK, USA, Canada), there is a risk that these important storytelling traditions will be lost in the diaspora. As such, this project intends to work with videographers and documentarians on six islands in the Eastern Caribbean (Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St Vincent and Barbados) to create a digital audio and visual archive of popular stories told by locally known storytellers.
  • Thirdly, this project hopes to work with partners to re-tell these stories in alternative formats for digital, potentially younger, audiences. The hope is to work with Caribbean illustrators and filmmakers to create animations for these stories, that they might capture the imaginations of diverse audiences.

Recognising the breadth of the proposed wider project, the intention is to start the research and impact activity by focusing on one island – St Lucia. This stage of the project will involve a one-day workshop with partners based in the UK and St Lucia to consider the logistics of the project, solidify the research questions underpinning the proposed activity, and decide how the research team, as partners, would go about archiving and creating an animation based on just one folktale well known in St Lucia. This would be the story of the ‘Ti Bolom’, a small creature conjured to do its master’s bidding.

The workshop will bring together a wide array of academics and creatives, some for the first time, to discuss the art of storytelling, the ways they might archive these stories, and give them an opportunity to think about how to sustain meaningful and international collaboration.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Leighan Renaud (English, University of Bristol) is a researcher who focuses on contemporary Anglophone Caribbean literature. She is primarily interested in how contemporary writers from the region engage with themes such as gender, family, neo-coloniality, legacies of slavery, and language.
  • Lovell Cadet is a Bristol based St Lucian born storyteller and carnivalist.
  • Ted Sandiford (ACID Kreationz) is a St Lucia-based illustrator, videographer and storyteller. His illustrations draw from various mishaps in his youth, and seek to be relatable to his audience. He believes that both making and viewing art can be a form of therapy.
  • Adom Philogene Heron (Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Bristol) is an anthropologist whose research focuses on the Caribbean, particularly Dominica. He is an ethnographer of the Caribbean whose work spans: Black and indigenous ecologies, hurricanes, survivals & repair; the material and affective afterlives of Bristolian slavery; & Caribbean kinship and fatherhood.
  • Fiona Compton Fiona Compton is a London based Saint Lucian Artist, Filmmaker, Historian and Cultural Ambassador. Her work has explored the various disparities in representation of the Afro Caribbean diaspora within art and mainstream media. She is also the founder of the Know Your Caribbean platform.
  • Morgan Dalphinis is a St Lucian author and historian, based in London. He has published many articles and 3 books on Caribbean and African languages and on Educational issues.
  • Camilla Morelli (Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Bristol) is a researcher who has worked on projects using animation. In previous research she has carried out ethnographic fieldwork with the Matses people in Peru. Her anthropological research explores the lives of indigenous children and youth growing up amidst radical social economic change.

What is to come?

The intended outcome of this project will be clarity on how to execute the next step of the research, which will be to apply for further funding in order to digitise the St Lucian ‘Ti Bolom’ story for the purpose of archiving, and work with Ted Sandiford to create an animated film of the tale.

The further funding would also pay for a Bristol-based researcher to create a short literature review on Caribbean storytelling and oral traditions to help identity any trends or gaps in existing research. Both activities will be fundamental precursors to applying for a larger research grant to conduct the bigger project across the Eastern Caribbean. The researchers also expect that, at the end of the workshop, they will be able to solidify a commitment from participants as they move forward with the research project.