Semenawit's Turtle Story


a.  Analysis:

The symbolical elements used in this story seem to be:

Emotionally, the exclamation of the turtle to the big bird seems central: the wish to fly, the strong sensation of the own inability.

I suggest that this makes it plausible that the child (the displaced community) is symbolised by the turtle.

In general however, the turtle is not seen with great sympathy within the Amharic context, although it is definitely an item: in one of the larger shops that provide ceramics in Addis one can see many forms of turtles between the statues that all seem to be highly symbolical.
The turtle is in general seen as somewhat lazy, though  headstrong.

The meaning of the story would be:

The displaced, not very active, talks to the people of the real world (people outside the shelter), but is not happy. He observes the mighty people, the NGO’s (The big bird) and in envious of their capacities. He wishes to be like them, and begs for help.
The Mighty Farenji (expatriate) comes down and promises to help.
The rope stands for the material help, that, however, silences the displaced: by taking the rope in its beak, it is doomed to shut up.
While flying, the vision of the most wanted object: the big house, (harly a symbol any more in this context, more an icon, forces the turtle to speak, but what the turtle would have said is not disclosed: the death of the turtle is left imminent.

The one element in this story that seems to be contradictory with this explanation is the fact that the turtle is expected to get the rope herself. This seems not in line with the general perception of ‘help’ , although this is the perception of the helpers. It could be, however, that this element in the story relates to the feeling with the displaced that ‘help’  is in reality paid by themselves rather than by the outside world.

b. Discussion:
At this stage some objections were made within the wider core-group.
The first was that this story does not belong to the local culture. Possibly this is true, but for us the fact remains that the child not only knows the story, but chooses to reproduce it at the first occasion.
Children, in my opinion, select from the total of stories that are presented in one way or the other, those stories that fit in their emotional context, that express their emotional needs. In doing this, they integrate the story in their culture. The fact that the turtle as well as the big bird are represented in the existing culture indicates this.
The second objection was, that this analysis has been made by a western observer. Also, the child was not asked to tell the meaning of the story, or to tell more about the different characters.
To this, I responded that Yes indeed, the analysis was western, and that I feel that this is what I have to offer working in the position that I have here.
This kind of analysis is completely strange to Ethiopian team, who would be inclined to give the story its meaning that it is wise to be silent. Yet, this explanation seems very attractive to them, and even the playwright in our team is very exited by this way of looking at stories.

Although I am very much in favour of working on the base of  local frames of analysis, I do not adhere to the total relativism of my own. Even stronger, to a certain extend I feel that we are becoming partners within the global village, and that this whole IPSER/AAU project is exactly about this fact.

c.  The form in which we are going to try to feed-back this story to the community:

To begin with, we feel that the story is extremely negative, and that we should look for ways to develop, together with the children, an ending to the story that does more right to the turtle (the displaced).
We have therefore chosen to perform the story as is, than to have a discussion with the children, to see how we can change it. The basis for this change will be that we explicitly say that WE do not like the end of the story.

Astatgetchew has with this in mind, found a song in which Birds look down on heroes, or just married couples, that exist in Ethiopia and that is very well known.
He has developed new texts very close to the original, and we will be working with changes in minor an major settings of the theme-melody.
With the actors we have studied the main characters and the technique to show the emotional logic behind the story.

We will try to create a stepwise performance in which the children ‘sing’ the action with the actors, coached by storyteller, alternated with acted scenes, and a small game (to search for the rope).

d.  description of the actual happening.
e.  analysis.
f.  conclusions.

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