"The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories." --Mary Catherine Bateson
Storytelling is an art that is the backbone of any culture. As ancient as human civilization, it helped human beings to establish connection even before they were able to read or write. It exists in every culture across the globe since time immemorial and its purpose is not just limited to entertainment. It is a brilliant method when it comes to spreading awareness among people about their traditions and beliefs. Many a times these stories are integral part of history, and they successfully deliver a good message in the world. Communities all over the world have storytelling traditions where stories are used to both entertain and educate people. Not only this, stories and storytelling also give hope to deal with everyday struggles.
Storytelling can be oral, written, digital or visual. One of the most ancient types of storytelling is oral storytelling, which means telling a story through voice and gestures. Oral storytelling can take many forms including poems, chants, rhymes, songs etc.
Some of the storytelling methods employed to pass down cultural traditions and values in different cultures and civilizations in different parts of the world are:-
Dastangoi is an art form of storytelling in Urdu, performed by either one or two people, that originated in pre-Islamic Arabia in the 13thcentury, and was extremely popular among the elites and commoners of Delhi and Lucknow. At the centre of dastangoi is the dastango, or storyteller, whose voice is his main artistic tool in orally recreating the dastan or the story.
Turkish Storytelling revolves around “meddah”, who is a storyteller. Meddahs praised and entertained rulers and notable figures by telling funny and suspenseful stories and performing imitations. They were properly trained, and their wit and ability to speak eloquently contributed to their popularity and huge demand.
The history of folklore from Africa is quite interesting and informative. Storytelling across this vast continent instilled hopes in the hearts of people bounded by the malpractice of slavery. African folktales often use Anasi, a spider, who is sometimes wise and sometimes dumb, but never fails to give valuable lessons to people. They also use nature as a powerful tool to deliver strong messages via the means of storytelling.
In this Polynesian dance form originally developed by Polynesians who settled in the Hawaiian Islands, dancers don’t dance to beat, but to language, chants or songs. Without the words, the dance loses meaning as a story. Hula shares traditional stories as well as mythology and creation tales, including those of the gods and goddesses of the islands.
Originating in Lebanon, this traditional form of poetry recitation which is sometimes improvised to music, is practiced across the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates. Here, one poet recites a stanza, in return of which the another poet (opponent) retaliates by reciting a stanza in the same way.
This ancient Sicilian storytelling method takes inspiration from Greek theatre and offers a lot of space for improvisation. Alternating between sung verse and spoken prose, it is often performed on a small wooden platform. Traditionally, stories of epic heroes and their struggles were told but nowadays they also include tales of daily Sicilian life.
Griots, or Jelis, were the storytellers in ancient Africa. In the community of mande people, most villages had their own griot. Griots also played musical instruments, and were a vital part of people’s culture and social lives.
This tradition is practiced in Japan and is performed in monologues by a single storyteller, called hanashika. The storytellers tell tales of daily life and gives historical and moral lessons.
This tradition which developed in the early 20th century in Trinidad, got subjected to censorship by the government quite often because of its use as a political tool. It involves singing about the stories revolving around people’s daily lives, and throws light on political and social disparities.
This Native American tribe have an oral storytelling tradition intended to preserve the tribe’s history and educate the young. Choctaw traditional tales often use animal characters to teach lessons.
•The Jewish People and the Passover Seder
In Jewish faith, the Passover celebration includes a storytelling ritual known as the seder where, during a meal, the story of the Exodus is told. It is an oral tradition passed down through generations to educate the young. An important part of the ceremony is “four questions” asked by the youngest children present.
Irish storytelling involved storytellers called seanchai who would travel from village to village, reciting ancient tales of wisdom of kings and heroes. They also told about local news and happenings.
Shadow Puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling that originated thousands of years ago during the Han Dynasty. It became a highly valued art form by the Chinese working class and was often performed at weddings, parties, or funerals. To illustrate the power a shadow truly has, a puppeteer holds cut-out figures between a source of light and a wall to tell folk stories and illustrate Chinese traditions.
Methods of storytelling specific to India
India, when it comes to culture and traditions, is very rich in art and crafts, thanks to our diversity. A lot of our craft is storytelling. Each region of India has developed its own style and tradition of storytelling in local languages. Some of the methods are:
In this commonly practiced style of religious storytelling, sometimes professional storytellers who recite Hindu religious texts such as Puranas, The Ramayana or Bhagavata Purana are involved, and sometimes it takes place in households. Kathas instill moral values by revealing the consequences of human action (karma). The three major katha tradtions are: Purana-Pravachana, Kathakalakshepa and folk narratives.
This method originated in Tamil Nadu, in South India, and is very popular even today. Here, temple dancers or devadasis, perform a dance that is considered a form of prayer. The dances tell the stories of specific deities, such as Krishna or Shiva.
Harikatha, also known as Harikatha Kaalakshepam in Telugu and Tamil, is an ancient form that took current form during the Bhakti movement in around 12th century. It is a form of Hindu traditional discourse in which the storyteller explores a traditional theme, usually the life of a saint or a story from an Indian epic.
•Storytellers Madya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh is the land of various tribes, and storytelling in almost tribes, serves as a means to preserve it's culture and beliefs. Tribes in Madhya Pradesh such Bhil tribe, gond tribe, baiga tribe, kol tribe etc. especially use storytelling to pass down their traditions.
This community of occupational storytellers from Chattisgarh consider themselves successors of Vasudeva, the father of Lord Krishna. They practice devotional storytelling with majority of the stories related to Bhagvat Puran.
Kaavad is a storytelling tradition in Rajasthan. It is almost 400 years old. It basically involves a portable shrine, also known as Kaavad, which contains colourful images of myths and folk tales. Each page leads to a new story. The storyteller is known as 'Kaavadiya'.
A narrative form of storytelling, Wari Leeba has been a living tradition over the past few centuries in Manipur. It is usually a formal public performance devoted to the Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata or the Ramayana and other religious texts.
•Storytelling via courtesans
Courtesans have existed in Indian culture since 1000 BC. Their musical innovations and traditions have majorly contributed to Indian culture. Kathak, a major form of dance from North India, involving storytelling through movement, is connected to the courtesans.
•Wall paintings in temples and shrines
Wall paintings also serve the purpose storytelling with a religious theme. The propagation of Hinduism and the creation of awareness in worshippers of the characters of the deities were aided by katha with imargery in temples.
The presence of traditional storytelling methods across various cultures prove its importance, and how it has shaped the contemporary world. Storytelling may have different techniques across the globe but its purpose always remains constant. This art has inspired people since ages, and will continue to do so in the future, too