Lingua Franca of Great Stories

I recently admitted to a team of writers that I never used to read much. No big deal right? Well, till the age of 16, I couldn’t read a book that was larger than say 50 pages. These were triple spaced in font size 16 A.K.A; ladybird books for 3 to 4 year olds. Am I ashamed of it? Not really – not anymore.


I learnt quite recently that for many writers, what draws you to storytelling is your formative experience. For some it was the collection of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Famous Five series. I watched people read these books in school, and when I got a copy I would put it in my draw and forget about it. My experience with storytelling was oral tradition. Every time I sat with my parents there was a story. It was folklore or a life tragedy or the conventional warnings, “You see what happened to (fill in the name of the social misfit in your childhood) that will happen to you if (fill in the mistake YOU did here).

There was always a story to explain a fact, an occurrence, or a state; like why my family is considered immigrants in our rural home. There was a story to explain the reason why the sun sets in the west, why the snake eats the rat. There was a reason for the order of things through a story. And my parents read books and would tell us the stories from those books. I really didn’t see the need to read stories when I could be told a story at dinner time.

My mother sung about the hilarity and power of Kenyan author Grace Ogot’s “Land without Thunder” short stories for years. She lost her copy, she needs one and so do I, with all the hype around the book. Anyone know whether the book is still being published?

I realised that despite not getting an early start to reading like most writers I have met, I still believe I had a rich and enviable start to writing and storytelling. It triggered my imagination. My mother took me to her past and life through her stories. Great stories teleport you across realms and locations and language gives you context and authenticity. English just doesn’t do every story justice.

The hilarious stories of village disputes; disputes fuelled by a disloyal cockerel running from its homestead into a neighbour’s, sowing its ‘royal’ cockerel oats, to provide the neighbour bounty at the expense of its owner’s brood of dying chicken. What results is a crude morning greeting from its owner to her neighbour, a profanity most hilarious in ethnic tongue. And what ensued was the fruitful neighbour’s robust rump being devoured by a dog and pecked by her neighbour’s deprived hens. Crowned with frog marching by her ‘deprived’ neighbour to a market place where the innocent alleged cock thief was flogged by her neighbour and her idle relatives.

Needless to say she is nursing her wounds as we nurse our bellies in laughter. That’s the summarized English version; the Luo version would have you rolling on the floor. Language adds so much spunk and flair to stories. It’s what stories are about!

First published on


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