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Believe me, you have a storyteller inside you

Telling stories enriches us as the storyteller as well as those who listen.

I spent last weekend at a storytelling gathering on the Kapiti Coast with UK storyteller,  Shonaleigh

Shonaleigh may be the last of the storytellers from the Drut’syla tradition, where a Jewish grandmother would train her grand-daughter to memorise thousands of stories. Her Bubba (grandmother) started training her at the age of four.

As well as being blown away by Shonaleigh’s ability to tell stories for hours at a time, she totally engaged us by creating a lattice of interwoven stories. The experience was magical.

These stories deal with all aspects of what it means to be human – the good and the not so good, the light and the dark. They were captivating, poignant and moving.

What I loved about the stories was how women were often portrayed as feisty and knowing their minds. Shonaliegh shared with us how puzzled she was at the age of 16, meeting the Grimm fairy tales where so often women were depicted as either helpless young damsels, stuck up towerswaiting to be rescued by a strong knight in shining armour, or as hairy nasty and possibly evil old witches or hags.

Soaking in a whole weekend of storytelling got me thinking about the part stories have played in my own life and the role of stories in our work as educators and in the lives of the children we work with.

There is something so engaging about a story told orally – where the storyteller uses his/her body and facial expressions to create different landscapes and characters  for us. It is a completely different experience from reading a book (which is delightful too!).  When a story is told, the listener is free to create his / her own internal images. How many of us have had the experience of going to a movie based on a book we have read previously, only to be disappointed because the cinematography didn’t match our imagination?

I, like Shonaleigh, grew up with a grandmother who told stories. Sitting next to my Granny Florence as a young girl in the 1960’s,while she, already an old woman in her 80’s, told me stories of her childhood are some of my most precious childhood memories.

What makes such stories so captivating? Like Shonaleigh, my Granny Florence had an emotional / spiritual connection to the time and place of the story. They were meaningful. So too for me when I became a mother, the stories I loved telling my young son were the stories of my childhood – and these were the ones that he and other children loved the best. Why because there was something about the way I told them that conveyed realness, aroha and a sense of place / belonging /turangawaewae.

It is a modern myth that adults (and children) need variety and novelty. In fact often
quite the opposite is true: we, whatever our age, need rhythm and predictability –
knowing what is going to happen creates a sense of belonging, safety and
security.  Children ask for the same story over and over again. I
remember my son picking me up if I used a different word. He knew the
story by heart.

That last sentence is important: He knew the story by heart. Because
stories feed our souls / spirit / wairua. They are nourishment as
important as good healthy food and hugs.


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