Meet Godfrey Duncan, who travels around the world connecting cultures and people through storytelling
It is almost the end of Godfrey Duncan’s storytelling workshop, held recently at the British Council as part of the International Storytelling Festival. The participants look at him expectantly, some with pens and notepads in hand. “Music is as important as the storyteller,” says Godfrey, “the teller must learn to stop and listen to it.”
Born to Guyanan parents, Godfrey was raised in London and began writing poems. He then met a storyteller who inspired him to take it up as a profession. Godfrey is carrying on the ancient oral tradition with his stories from the past. “It’s after I met the storyteller that I got freedom from pages,” he smiles. “You have a body of material that has been there for many years. Even writing is born out of the oral tradition — writing down what has been said. This oral tradition is rich in science, legends and has a primeval innocence to it. That’s why I enjoy it.”
This musician-cum-storyteller goes by the name TUUP (The Unprecedented Unorthodox Preacher), a name that came to him in a dream. “One day, I dreamt of three people; Unprecedented, Unorthodox and the Preacher. When I woke up, I immediately wrote it down and later, it just became my name,” he adds.
He weaves music into his stories as he believes the storyteller must often perform a story. “I learnt how to deliver a story. I try to balance the conversation and the performance.” Storytelling is instinctive and intuitive. I might tell a story with music to one audience and without music to another. It depends on the setting and who I’m telling it to,” he says.
Godfrey says that apart from the locations and differences in names, the stories from Africa and India are mostly the same. “I get my stories from old people, libraries and lots of research. In the process I have found that there is not much difference; most stories have demons, demi-gods, trolls and different cultures have different animalistic stories. At the end of the day, if it’s a nice story and you feel like listening to a story, you’ll listen to it,” he says.
Godfrey also feels that traditional stories with their wars, falling out families and ego clashes have a contemporary relevance. “I try to find stories that have not been told. It’s a way to uphold tradition and traditional wisdom.”
What is it about storytelling that has kept him going all these years? “Stories teach you patience, values, and that change is constant. It has taught me tolerance and compassion. I shouldn’t be telling stories if I didn’t embrace those lessons,” he smiles.