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Keeping Peter Ballah alive

In what appears to be efforts to keeping the dream of one of Liberia’s best story teller and comedians, the late Peter Ballah alive, a local NGO, Friends for Village People Empowerment stages a story telling competition here titled, the Peter Ballah Award 2018.

The competition, held over the weekend at the Kuyon Forum on Human Rights and Culture in Gbarnga, Bong County, central Liberia, brought together students, youth groups, traditional leaders, and well wishers, who went to listen to beautiful Liberian stories as were narrated by young story tellers.

After telling their stories to the audience, the competition climaxed with five participants shortlisted, among which the best three story tellers whose work stood out among the others were selected and awarded a cash prize of US$500, with First Place Winner receiving 250$US followed by Second Placer US$150, and Third Placer US$100, respectively. The three finalists also received certificates, and copy of a book written by the European Union that tells the true Liberian story.

The competition, hosted under the theme, “Traditional Liberian Story Telling”, was opened to all age groups and had an increase in the number of traditional stories submitted from 40 during the first edition to 100 this year, according to the organizers. The only criterion for application is that stories should come with cultural and traditional values.

Speaking to reporters, the winner of the Peter Ballah Award 2018 for good story telling, Emmanuel Tamba, expresses delight for the achievement, noting that it was not his first time to be crowned winner for telling the true Liberian story.

“I’m not surprised, before the Ebola in 2014, I won this award, and later we went to Ivory Coast to compete with other story tellers, and one of those things that served as challenge to me was language barrier”, Emmanuel recalls.

He says he couldn’t speak French so they had to write his story in French before he could narrate in English. According to him, the award given to him was based on his performance, and not partiality, noting that he was not a story teller, but it was something that he took advantage off, saying, “Story reveals the Liberian culture is not about evil, but what can we do to set the society right.”

The coordinator for the Peter Ballah Award 2018, and the Friends for Village People Empowerment, chief architect behind the competition, Rudolf Janke explains the idea behind the competition is to focus on traditional stories with moral and social values in a culture that motivates people in their pursuit of a meaningful life.

According to him, Liberia is a land rich with culture and when he learnt it, he felt that he had a role to play in preserving it for the next generation of Liberians, who are to come after.

Mr. Janke notes that traditional storytelling competition gives opportunity to Liberians to write about their traditional stories, whether it is about family or clan or a deity, adding that these stories will be compiled into a book and distributed for free to schools across the country.

“This country is at a crossroads, and if nothing is done to preserve the culture, maybe decades from now, the next generation will have nothing to relate to. And to avoid this, I am getting involved,” Mr. Janke continues with a smile on his face.

He says the competition was a great beginning of many more things to come. With storytelling, it is easy for one to develop a complete understanding of one’s culture because one can easily relate to it and learn a lot about the world in a short period of time.

“The oral tradition of storytelling makes it possible for a culture to pass knowledge, history, and experiences from one generation to the next,” he notes.
“Preserving the country’s heritage means to save the story from being lost. This is why we are encouraging parents to get involved by telling their children traditional stories every night,” he said, adding, “by doing so, they reawaken and save their country’s culture.”

The late Peter Ballah was a traditionalist, story teller and comedian. He blended storytelling with rich traditional proverbs and comedy to pass on messages.
He was a retired employee of the Ministry of Information and founder of the Flomo Theater Promotion in Via Town, Bushrod Island in Monrovia.

By Lewis S. Teh-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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