Why we should not let our oral storytelling culture die

Stories are what make us who we are. Our life is literally a jumbled up mixture of places, people, things, giving us stories we can share of lessons we have learned and sometimes just random experiences we have lived through. Our stories are what make life interesting, which is why the most earnest desire as a writer is to capture the very essence of those stories.

A writer is not the only story teller however. Because we all have these stories inside of us we are all born natural story tellers waiting to capture the right audience with our content. Looking back it is easy to see that point proven in our history.

Oral storytelling. Image from https://oaklandnorth.net/2012/02/29/60-years-after-it-was-built-childrens-fairyland-keeps-the-tradition-of-storytelling-alive/
Oral storytelling. Image from https://oaklandnorth.net/2012/02/29/60-years-after-it-was-built-childrens-fairyland-keeps-the-tradition-of-storytelling-alive/

This Article gives a pretty good definition where it says, Oral storytelling is an ancient and intimate tradition between the storyteller and their audience. The storyteller and the listeners are physically close, often seated together in a circular fashion. Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story. The intimacy and connection is deepened by the flexibility of oral storytelling which allows the tale to be moulded according to the needs of the audience and/or the location or environment of the telling. Listeners also experience the urgency of a creative process taking place in their presence and they experience the empowerment of being a part of that creative process. Storytelling creates a personal bond with the teller and the audience.

The flexibility of oral storytelling extends to the teller. Each teller will incorporate their own personality and may choose to add characters into the story. As a result, there will be numerous variations of a single story. Some tellers consider anything outside the narrative as extraneous while other storytellers choose to enhance their telling of the tale with the addition of visual and audio tools, specific actions and creative strategies and devices.

Some communities still hold on to storytelling as a very intricate part of their culture. One of the interesting things about Scotland is that there are professional Oral Story Tellers. Scotland is home to a wonderfully rich and diverse network of storytellers with varied styles and repertoires. Many storytellers connect their love of stories with their upbringing or childhood influences, but what unites them all is a commitment to the practice of their art. The work of the storyteller ranges from sharing tales as entertainment, to leading storytelling projects with vulnerable groups, such as asylum seekers, people with additional needs and the elderly.

While some of Scotland’s storytellers have been influenced by one or more storytelling traditions, most acknowledge a debt to Gaelic storytelling, storytelling in Scots, or to the traditions of the Scottish Travellers.

The Scottish Traditional Story Telling Centre encourages, supports and facilitates storytelling in families, communities, places of learning and natural environments.

They also recognize and honour several special kinds of storyteller:

  •  Tradition Bearers – those who have preserved and are passing on older traditions of stories. They are our Honorary Founders.
  • Community Storytellers – those who share stories in their communities or through their work contributing to human well-being and quality of life.
  • Professional Storytellers – those who wish to travel across Scotland and exercise their storytelling craft as a paid profession.

Coming even closer home, in our own culture story telling was a major part of the early communities. From our great-great-great grandparents to our own grandparents’ age was full of story-telling as a part of the community and culture. Deep in the parts where reading and writing was not a major part of who they were this was the way they passed knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation. With little stories, proverbs, and antidotes that shared life.

This generation only hears whispers, rumours, and half-stories if we are lucky. TimSheppard.co.uk shared an article explaining how, “Each ethnic group had a large store of riddles, proverbs and sayings, which are still an important aspect of daily speech. Riddles were usually exchanged in the evening before a storytelling session. Riddling sessions were usually competitions between two young people who fictionally bet villages, or cattle, or other items of economic life on the outcome. Many cultures had a prohibition on telling riddles during daylight hours.

The Kikuyu had a very elaborate sung riddle game, a duet called the enigma poem or gicandia set text poem of riddles. It is sung in a duet and the players are in a competition. The duet is strikingly different than the normal singing of the Kikuyu performed by a soloist and a chorus. The poem is learned by heart. A decorated gourd rattle accompanied the singing. One gicandi may consist of 127 stanzas.”

The Swahili people on our coast as well have had a rich oral tradition that has been influenced by Islam. Stories of genies are told side by side with stories of hare and hyena. There is also a very rich tradition of popular poetry that has been part of Swahili cultural life for over four centuries.”

We are possibly losing the importance of passing down the stories from before us in the traditional sense. But story-telling cannot fully disappear from who we are as humans. What we should do though is be more deliberate in keeping oral narratives as a strong part of our culture and lives. Remembering, that people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures can communicate through storytelling.

Storytelling is also a valuable tool in education, language development, therapy, and in building racial equality and religious respect.

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