Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The oral tradition of storytelling

Storyteller extraordinaire, Daniel Morden
We live in a country where the indigenous people of our land tell the story of their culture through word of mouth, music, art and performance. There are less books written by Aboriginal folk than, say, there are books written by the Spanish, the Italian or the Chinese... but that doesn't make the stories less compelling.  Stories don't have to be documented to nevertheless capture the imagination.
     Listening to Daniel Morden at the Sydney Writers' Festival this week, the importance of story-telling as a way of engaging people and creating myth was indelibly hit home.
As Morden pointed out, "No one is forgotten when they die; they're only forgotten when they are no longer remembered." 
      Morden then went on to put on a spell-binding performance illustrating the potency of story-telling. I was mesmerised as he recounted the story of a man who was banished by his clan because he was unable to tell a story, any story.
      During his exile, the man hits his head on the side of a boat and turns into a woman, eventually marries, and gives birth to three sons. Many years pass and the woman falls and hits her head again and comes round, only to find herself a man again, back in the same place where the original transformation took place.
       The man returns to the campfire where the original story-tellers are still sitting, and tells his story of turning into a woman, marrying and having three sons. And when he is finished, the chief of the clan points out that "to have a story, you have to go and live a life worth telling".
         What a story, what a truth! Which is another point Morden makes, namely that humankind tends to shrink from truth. That is why story-tellers thrive, capturing truths for listeners to unpackage and unveil for themselves.
        Ideas! Imagination! Performance! Morden has travelled from Haiti to Papua New Guinea in search of stories.
        Last night, he sprinkled some story-telling dust on us all. Catch him if you can during the rest of the Sydney Writers' Festival week. Visit

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