Reviving a Community Tradition
by Madisyn Taylor
Most cultures use storytelling to pass down family history using the power and energy of the human voice.
Ever since our ancestors could first communicate, we have gathered to share our stories. We have passed along creation tales and tragic stories of love lost. We have repeated accounts of real heroism and simple stories of family history. When our forebears lived closer to the land and to each other, the practice of storytelling was imbued with ritual and occasion. Members of the tribe would often gather around the fire to hear their genealogy recited aloud by an elder or master storyteller. Listeners could track how their own lives, and the lives of their parents, interwove with the lives of the other tribe members, as everyone’s ancient relatives once played out similar life dramas together.
As a custom, some cultures’ storytellers repeat the same tale over and over because they believe that each time you hear it, you come to the story as a different person and view the plot and characters in a new light. Hearing the story over and over is a way to gauge where you have been and where you are now on your path of personal evolution. It also helps the younger generation learn the stories so that they can pass them to forthcoming generations.
When we hear others tell stories, we can laugh at their humorous adventures, feel the thrill of exciting encounters, see parts of ourselves in them, and learn from the challenges they face. Though most of our formal traditions of storytelling are lost, it does not mean we have to be without. We can begin new practices in our own families of listening to one another, of honoring our own journey, and witnessing the journeys of those around us. We can revive the fireside communal by gathering around the campfire or hearth with family and friends, sharing in stories. By building new practices of storytelling, we give ourselves and the ones we love an opportunity to draw ever closer in our shared human experience.