Storytelling: Cultural preservation

The children, probably from 4 or 5 years old to 12, sat (or lay) on the floor in front, close to the speaker — the storyteller. The grownups sat on the floor or in chairs.

The audience had a speaking part in the story, which the storyteller explained. The younger kids, especially, listened carefully for their part and they said it with gusto. The storyteller’s narrative included body twisting, making faces, foot stomping. She had everyone’s total attention.

The next storyteller — a guy — was introduced by one of the children speaking into the microphone (with prompting). The storyteller plucked several people from the audience, young and old. He ended up with a young boy and his parents, a young girl — a princess — and her parents, a carriage driver (with a pretend whip), along with other folks they would soon meet.

It was the princess’s birthday. The young boy wanted to give her a gift, and he asked his mother’s advice. She thought chocolate, but said, “Ask your father what he thinks,” which the boy did.

The audience laughed knowingly when the father replied, “Whatever your mother said.”

Every now and then during the story’s telling the narrator led the audience in a refrain that ended with, “The best gift of all is one from the heart.”

The little princess had received so much chocolate she was sick at her stomach, so the boy sought further advice.

“Jewelry,” his mother suggested. The boy arrived near the princess’s home just as her parents put two very heavy necklaces around her neck. By this time the princess was really into the story, and she stood humped over from the “weight” of the necklaces.

The boy headed back for more advice. On the way he saw a bird crashing around in a cage. When he asked about the problem, he was told the bird was blind, flew out the window one day, wrecked into two trees and broke both wings. The boy fell in love with the damaged little bird, so the owner said he could have him. By then it was late, so the only gift he had for the little princess was the blind, broken-winged bird.

The princess was overjoyed. At that point the audience said, in unison, the poem ending with, “The best gift of all is one from the heart.”

We humans love stories — the kind we can listen to. Every culture has a storytelling tradition as a means of entertainment, education, preservation of the culture and to instill moral values.

Native Americans have storytellers made of pottery, each one surrounded by children. Those storytellers take their listeners on journeys to the past where memories are preserved for future generations.

An explanation I found said, “Many long winter nights when snakes slept and one was safe from lightning, Native American children would gather around and listen to an elder tell a story.”

My mixed cultural background has everything from fairy tales to cowboy stories. After all, wouldn’t it be cool if you and your buddy roped and branded the devil and then tied knots in his tail?