In Malay, pengiluar lara, ‘Dispeller of Worries’, is the praise-name for the storyteller who possesses the art of enthralling his listeners. In the course of centuries, the Malay storyteller developed and refined his art until it became the very expression of the swift movement of the prince’s horse; the snake’s winding coils; the heavenly nymph flying through the sky, bright and golden. Inimitable are the images that are strewn across Malay tales.
Jan Knappert, Mythology and Folklore in South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1999 p. 195
Drawing inspired by a rock art painting of Kakadu, Australia
[In Iran] whether a man comes to storytelling through formal training or whether he trains himself, he will list the same things as significant for succeeding as a storyteller. A good storyteller is described by storytellers and audience alike as well versed (vared) in his material. He feels that he must be in possession of a full and complete knowledge both of the literary source and of the tumar. A storyteller also prides himself on having in his memory a considerable body of lyric poetry.
»The audience is familiar with the storyteller’s repertoire, and a storyteller will not perform material which is unknown to his audience. The audience, he fells, will never come back every day and pay to hear a story it has never heard before (balad nistand). In short, the valued aspects of being a good storyteller are those which are most reflected in the training to become a professional storyteller – memorization of texts and command of familiar material.
Mary Ellen Page, “Professional storytelling in Iran: Transmission and practice”, Iranian Studies, vol. 12, 1979, pp. 199-200.
Illustration inspired by the drawings of MinaLima for the book by J.K. Rowling Fantastic Beasts and where to find them.
“Papago songs are handed down from singer to singer more carefully than were the epics of Homer. A man dreams his own songs, and he gives them to his son; but before he was born, there was already a body of magic by which the ancestors ruled their world. This collected mass of song and story I have sometimes called the ‘Papago bible.’ Like much of the unwritten literature of our Southwest [of the United States], it is half prose and half lyric […].
”In every Papago village there is and old man whose hereditary function is to recite this ‘bible.’ The accepted time for the recitation is those four nights in winter ‘when the sun stands still’ before turning back from that southern journey in which, it seemed, might take its light away forever.
”On those nights –four nights, for everything holy goes by fours– the Papago men gathered in the ceremonial house. […]
”The men sat cross-legged, their arms folded, their heads bowed. This was the position required by propriety, as sitting upright in a church pew was required by our Victorian ancestors. No one must interrupt the speaker by a question or even by a movement. No one must doze. If he did, some neighbor would poke the burning cigarette between his sandaled toes. If the speaker saw it, he stopped suddenly and there was no more storytelling that night.
”The storyteller had, perhaps, worked years to memorize the whole complicated mass of prose and verse. The prose he sometimes elaborated with illustrations and explanations of his own, but the verse was fixed. The words and tune of every song were ‘given’ by Elder Brother; also the exact point were it entered the story. An old man has refused to tell me a story because he had forgotten the tune of one song and so was unable to tell the story complete. Nevertheless, variations have crept in and the ‘bible’ according to one village is not quite that according to another.
”The ‘Papago bible’ would require a volume in itself […]”
Ruth Murray Underhill, Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press 1968 , pp. 11-13
Illustration inspired by a Sumerian amulet of a frog 3500 BC
It is true that storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it, that it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are, and that we may even trust it to contain eventually by implication the last word which we expect from the ‘day of judgement’.
Hanna Arendt, “Isak Dinesen, 1885-1962”, in Isak Dinesen, Daguerrotypes and Other Essays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. xx; Arend’s essay on Dinesen was first published in 1968.
Illustration based on a Buddhist image.