Once there was and once there wasn’t



Once there was and once there wasn’t, when the sieve was in the straw, when the camel was a town crier and the cock was a barber, when Allah had many creatures but it was a sin to talk too much…

Turkish; from Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal, More Tales Alive in Turkey, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1992, p. 154
Illustration inspired by a tradicional Latvian drawing


Storm Fools


You could be sitting in your lodge in a winter camp in a storm, snow blowing, and all of a sudden –’cause we didn’t knock on doors– all of a sudden the door flap parts and in crawls this guy with snow all over his hair and coat, shaking the snow off, and it would be a storm fool who’ just come out of the storm. [These storm fools] wandered about from camp to camp telling stories, bringing news. They were definitely regarded as medicine people, elders. They were seen as just a little mad –that’s why they were called “storm fools”.

Ron Evans, metis storyteller quoted by Dan Yashinski, Suddenly they heard footsteps, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006, pp. 29-30
Illustration: motive traditional chinese painting

Getting the story back



I have found the key to the system of marriage (in the old days) among distant relations, a matter which puzzled me last year. At marriage a certain portion of bride’s father’s ancestral story (smaiusta) is transmitted to the husband, e.g. the right to carve or paint a raven on a food box. Unless repurchased this remains in the husband’s family, but as the smaiusta is transmitted it is always remembered that a part of it is in another family and a son, grandson, or other descendant of the wife’s father will seek to regain it by marrying a woman of the other family. As the Bella Coolas express it a man always ‘hunts’ when marrying to get back pieces of his smaiustas.


From a letter of Canadian anthropologist T. F. McIlwraith, to Edward Sapir, 26 December 1923 in, At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: T. F. McIlwraith’s Field Letters, edited by John Barker and Douglas Cole, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003 pp. 113-114
Illustration inspired by a Bushman rock painting in the Cederberg, South Africa

He who didn’t know how to tell stories had to be on his own…


My brother-in-law and Mr. Escalante were those who told more stories, and also my dad; but my dad was somewhat reluctant to tell stories. At night, when all had eaten and washed their clothes, and were lying on the raised floor, they started chatting, and each one told his stories, but they would not always let you just stay there, listening, because those that didn’t know stories had to be on their own, because they wouldn’t accept them. As for me, being a boy they would laugh, ‘ you just stay’, they would say, and in this way I learnt many stories from the huantino people, and also stories from the chunchos (Indians), about damned souls, the viscachas (a species of large rodent), the sun, the mice, and so on. These stories were not all made-up, but things that had happened to them or to people they knew; in such cases they would say: ‘Mr. So-and-so, rest in peace, said…’. You couldn’t go outside to gossip about what was talked about there during those nights. Everybody, before starting, would say: ‘This is not to be retold, you must not repeat it’, if they were delicate matters. Then the names of the people, or of the place, would be changed, so that nobody was upset.

The stories of the chunchos were very beautiful and strange, because for them everything in the jungle talks. And the chunchos my brother-in-law knew were shy as the partridge, that gets sick and ashamed when you look at it.

Jesús Urbano Rojas and Pablo Macera, Santero y Caminante: Santoruraj-Ñampurej,  Lima: Editorial Apoyo, 1992, p.148. Jesús Urbano Rojas is an sculptor of religious images from the Ayucucho region in Peru; his mother-tongue is Quechua.
Illustration inspired by a drawing made on a pumpkin found in Dahomey, now Benin.