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
As has been stated, [among the Skidi Pawnee of North America] these traditions, along with the rituals, are regarded as personal property. They have been paid for by the owner, and consequently, according to his belief, now form an intrinsic part of his life. As he tells them he gives out from himself a certain part of his life, levying a direct contribution upon its termination. Thus, as one middle-aged individual exclaimed, ‘I cannot tell you all that I know, for I am not yet ready to die;’ or, as an old priest expressed it, ‘I know that my days are short. My life is no longer of use. There is no reason why I should not tell you all that I know.’
George A. Dorsey, Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. for the American Folk-Lore Society, 1904, p. xxii
Illustration inspired by a rock art painting in the Northern Cape, South Africa
Narrative performances varied on another dimension as well – that of explicitness and length. An admired narrator could spin a story to any length desired by filling in detail, but could also convey the essence of a story in brief. [. . .] Those who already knew the stories would have them brought to mind by the details that were given. The assumption that a part stands adequately for the whole remains alive, and people who credit one with knowledge of the stories sometimes act surprised that one has to ask about a detail that had not been given. [. . . ] A story ends, as a story and an event, but the body of narrative and the world of stories is unending.
Dell Hymes, “Discovering Oral Performance and Measured Verse in American Indian Narrative.” In “In vain I tried to tell you”: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981, p. 322
Illustration inspired by ostrich egg decoration of the Bushmen people
I think of that mountain called Tséé Ligai Dah Sidilé (White Rocks Lie Above In A Compact Cluster) as if it were my maternal grandmother. I recall stories of how it once was at that mountain. The stories told to me were like arrows. Elsewhere, hearing that mountain’s name, I see it. Its name is like a picture. Stories go to work on you like arrows. Stories make you live right. Stories make you replace yourself.
(Benson Lewis, age 64, 1979)
Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, p. 38
Drawing of Anansi, the spider from the Ashanti people
Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their name. You must remember what happened in them long ago. You must think about it and keep on thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. Then you will se danger before it happens. You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise. People will respect you.
Dudley Patterson, Cibecue Apache elder
Dudley Patterson, Cibecue Apache elder; Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, p. 127
Illustration inspired by a drawing of the Huichol people of Mexico
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