The establishing of place

haya

The “where” is among the first elements of all human exchange. Most stories, most commands, myths and jokes are meaningless without the establishing of place

Philip Marsden, Rising Ground, London: Granta, 2014, p. 65
Illustration inspired by a beech

 

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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

Once there was and once there wasn’t

zalktis

 

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

 

The world of stories is unending

huevo-bosquimano-decorado

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

 

 

Tales by the mile

mujeres

From our encampment near the shore of this famous lake [Lake Urmia] to the city or Mârâgâ [Maragheh] is eighteen miles: we made this march at night. Moollâh Adeenah, the story-teller of his majesty, was one of our party. The Elchee [ambassador] asked him to beguile the weariness of our road with a tale.

‘How many farsekhs* long do you wish it?’ was his reply.

‘At least five,’ was the answer.

‘I can exactly suit you,’ said the Moollâh; ‘you shall have Ahmed the cobbler.’

I could not help laughing at this mode of measuring a tale; but I was assured it was a common custom, arising out of the calculation professed story-tellers were compelled to make of the leisure of their hearers. All further remarks upon this usage were put an end to, by Moollâh Adeenah desiring us to be silent and attentive; his wish being complied with, he commenced as follows:

‘In the great city of Isfahan lived Ahmed the cobbler, an honest and industrious man…’ [the retelling of the story takes 19 pages ]”.

* 1 farsekh = c. 3 miles = 5 kilometres

Sketches of Persia, from the journals of a traveller in the East, London: J. Murray, 1845 , p. 252 (first published in 1827).
Illustration inspired by Bushman rock paintings in the Cederberg, South Africa

 

 

“He was male and female…”

Máscaras

He was male and female, seducer and seduced. He was glutton, he was cuckold, he was weary traveller. He would claw his lizard-feet sideways, then freeze and cock his head. He would lift his lower lid to cover the iris, and flick out his lizard-tongue. He puffed his neck into goitres of rage; and at last, when it was time for him to die, he writhed and wriggled, his movements growing fainter and fainter like the Dying Swan’s.

Then his jaw locked, and that was the end.

The man in blue waved towards the hill and, with the triumphant cadence of someone who has told the best of all possible stories, shouted: ‘That … that is where he is!’

The performance had lasted not more than three minutes.

Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Londres: Pan Books, 1988, p 117.
Illustration based on a Haida amulet (Great Blue Heron and Human), kept in the Royal British Columbia Museum