Throughout our history our oral tradition has kept us whole. Has kept us together as a people. Has carried our history from generation to generation. Our stories have provided comfort in times of chaos and genocide. Our stories have provide respite as the world has shattered into pieces around us.
While many of us bounce back and forth from the written to the oral tradition, there is something special and critically needed from those who are our old-style storytellers; the ones who have carried the stories from our generations in their hearts. The ones who pass our stories of generosity and understandings to audiences local and global.
In these times, it is important to revisit why storytelling necessary.
First and perhaps most critically, traditional storytelling supports heritage languages among Native and Indigenous peoples of North America. Most of these languages are endangered and the loss of the language keepers is a tremendous tragedy - all the more reason to take COVID19 or any other contagious virus seriously. Although there have been incredible attempts to revitalize the languages, these efforts are often undermined by educational systems that are not sufficient in supporting and maintaining our heritage languages. The function of stories and storytelling is a key component to language learning. This learning of stories and telling of stories allows listeners to understand how language and context function together which is critical for Indigenous language development. Because Indigenous languages are space-place and context oriented rather than object/vocabulistic (as is often the way language is taught in mainstream education), grounding the language in story is a way to break through the colonial aspects of education. Check this awesome video of a Diné kiddo telling a coyote story.
Second, the telling of stories adds elements that can’t be recreated in writing. This is an obvious statement but bears repeating, especially in an age where 240 characters are the rule. Storytelling (and oral communication) allows for a deeper understanding of concept and constructs that can be overlooked in the written word. Further, oral stories can be layered for all ages. For example: a story told to a child can have a simple message but as that child grows up, the story can take on additional meaning and have continued lessons. This is due to the fluidity of storytelling and how it is essentially an organic construct based on the relational aspects of human culture and connections.
Finally, the connections between the teller and the listener have always been one of the strongest connections throughout history. Even now in quarantine, digital storytelling and digital connections have become essential. But these are no substitute for the connection between humans in person. These connections allow the story to take root and build. Think about it: we consume so much media on a daily basis but the story told to you by a friend or family member is so much more meaningful and you often remember that story far longer than the post or IG you scrolled through. You can’t scroll through a storyteller and the best ones can capture your attention and unleash your imagination in dynamic and inspirational ways.
All of this points to the need to continue the art of storytelling and continue to reject the digitization and automation of our modern world. Rather, we can find ways to tell more stories and support those who are serving as storytellers in our communities. Keep those stories healthy and well!
WC Note: We hope you will help us support these storytellers in a time of need. Wordcraft is seeking to raise money for traditional storytellers throughout North America and also to help us cultivate the next generation of storytellers. The Wordcraft Circle Story Keepers project looks to develop and promote one-hundred traditional and contemporary (oral) storytellers by the year 2025. We feel this work is necessary for the continuation of our Indigenous cultures and traditions and we hope you will join us in our efforts!