Not a simple message

CIRCULO ZEN

January 16, 1969

It is a Zulu performance, and after the performance, I am expressing an opinion about the symbolism in one of the stories we heard. The Zulu performer stops me, and explains to me that the meaning of the story is the totality of performance, not a simple message. Performance is the thing. The Zulu performer explains to me, “If I am to tell you what this story means, I must tell it again”.

Harold Scheub, The poem in the Story: Music, Poetry and Narrative, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, p. 119
Illustration: Enso
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Quicker is a drink than a tale

FIGURA HN_SERPIENTE

 

And she looked at him; and when she saw how handsome he was, she said,

Will you be so kind as to come home with me to my father’s house and take something?’

So the lad went and sat down, and before she asked him anything she set down wine before him and said, ‘Quicker is a drink than a tale.’

When he had taken that, he began and he told her all that happened, and how he had seen her in his sleep, and when, and she was well pleased.

And I saw thee in my sleep on the same night,’ said she.

J. F. Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. I, Paisley & London: Alexander Gardner, 1890, p. 291
Illustration inspired by a decorative element from the Ancient Egypt

The truth of myths

 

FIGURA HN_RIO GRANDE

 

The myths are pre-eminently ‘fictional truths,’ conveying truths important to life, yet fictional to us and sometimes to the Indians. The Santa Clara Tewas of New Mexico introduce some stories with words such as these: ‘In a place that never was, in a time that never was, this did not happen.’

The Nootka Indians of Vancouver Island insist upon the literal truth of stories of how the founder of a kinship group obtained its prerogatives. Those stories are true because the initial adventure did happen and the story has been transmitted ever since in a known chain of succession. But myths can be referred to in English as ‘fairy stories.’ Inheritance, in short, is a historical fact; the truths of myths may be of other kinds.

North America; Dell Hymes, “Notes toward (an understanding of) supreme fictions”, in I know only so far: Essays in Ethnopoetics, Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2003, p. 382
Illustration inspired by an indigenous motif from the Rio Grande area