Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Photo: Oxfam.
Folktales help preserve the threatened Rohingya culture.

To understand anything about a foreign culture, you need to turn to its arts: the music, the crafts, the folktales, for example.

Stephen Snyder at PRI’s the World reports about a threatened culture holding on by a thread far from home: “Mohammed Rezuwan is on a rescue mission: The 24-year-old who lives in Cox’s Bazar — the world’s largest refugee camp — is working to save Rohingya traditional stories before a generation of storytellers dies off.

“Rohingya people have lived in the region for over a thousand years, but Myanmar’s government considers them foreigners from neighboring Bangladesh. Over the last four years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been driven out of Myanmar [Burma] by government troops and local militias. Many now live in dozens of refugee camps.

“ ‘We, Rohingya people, have our own culture, tradition. We are on the brink of losing all of them, unfortunately,’ Rezuwan said in a WhatsApp voice message from Kutupalong, one of more than two dozen encampments in Cox’s Bazar, on the coast of Bangladesh.

“The crowded area accommodates families who live in tents and shelters along narrow alleyways. United Nations figures put the exile population in the camp at nearly a million — four times the number of Rohingya still living in Myanmar.

“Rezuwan lives in a bamboo shelter with his wife, his mother, a brother and a sister. The family fled their home in Maung Daw, in the Rakhine district of Myanmar, on Aug. 25, 2017, as their village was set ablaze in a campaign that has forced most Rohingya out of Rakhine.

“ ‘I remember the gunshots ringing out like thunderclaps, the bullets strafing the sky like clouds of hungry locusts,’ Rezuwan wrote in the author’s note of his book, Rohingya Folktales: Stories from Arakan, as told by Rohingya refugees. …

“In 2020, after several years at Cox’s Bazar, he took on the role of folklorist — recording stories passed along in the oral tradition by Rohingya elders. …

“Rezuwan speaks his native Rohingya and learned to speak and write Burmese in school, but his English is largely self-taught. He spent a year collecting material for his English-language book, and the online version now includes 19 stories from storytellers in several of Cox’s Bazar’s camps.

“Research was no easy task. Rezuwan doesn’t have a car or bike, so he walked, sometimes up to five miles, to meet with each storyteller and record his or her story on the phone. …

“ ‘The hardest part is finding and meeting the people from different sorts of camps,’ Rezuwan said. ‘After all, not everyone has the same talents to remember the stories — just because they are uneducated — and so, finding the right person to tell the story was finding a gem from the ocean.’

“The Rohingya language is primarily spoken, without a standardized written script. Rezuwan translated the stories by playing back his recordings and, word by word, constructing English versions of the tales. He then pasted them into WhatsApp and sent them to his editor and friend, Alex Ebsary, in Buffalo, New York, who corrected grammar and word usage. Ebsary said he intentionally edited the stories with a light touch.

“ ‘Folktales are not a universal language,’ he said in a phone interview.

‘If you read these folktales, some of them are quirky. They’re kind of not even the morals that I would think of when thinking of a folktale.’ …

“Rezuwan said his mother used to tell him the story known as ‘A Hunter and a Flock of Heron.’ The version he collected from Rashid Ahmod, a 60-year-old resident of Kutapalong, was essentially the same story he heard as a boy, he said.

“The story is about a hunter who catches a group of beautiful herons in his net. The herons all try to escape by flying around in all directions, Ebsary explained. Rezuwan said the moral of the story is that birds — and people — can’t manage to go anywhere until they cooperate.

“Rezuwan and Ebsary both singled out a story from the collection called ‘A Queen’s Dream,’ which could serve as an allegory for Rohingya as an ethnic minority.

“The story is about a powerful queen who has a vivid dream about torrential rains after a period of drought. Everyone who drinks from the rain loses their minds. So the queen sends advisers to warn everyone.

“ ‘But of course, they don’t listen and everyone drinks the rain and goes mad. And in the end, the queen decides to join them by drinking the rain herself,’ Rezuwan said.

“The moral of the story is that if a country’s majority are wrongdoers, they have the power to ‘force [the] entire country into a very bad situation,’ Rezuwan said. ‘It’s what we are facing right now.’

“Rohingya have long faced discrimination and marginalization in their home country. The United Nations has called it ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’ If life in Myanmar was untenable, Rezuwan said, ‘in [the] camps, it seems like we are facing the second genocide.’

​​”Since coming to Kutupalong, Rezuwan has organized an educational network where Rohingya children — unable to attend schools — can follow the same curriculum taught in Myanmar. …

“ ‘I wanted the international community to know about our culture, about tradition and about the existence of Rohingya people in Arakan,’ he said.

“Arakan, the name Rohingya people give to their homeland in Myanmar, no longer appears on any maps of the region.”

More at PRI’s the World, here. There is no firewall. You can also listen to the recording of the show there.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Storytime Online.
An inside page of “A Beautiful Day,” which is currently available in English, Spanish, and German.

Speaking of languages, today’s post is about making children’s books available in more languages. It’s from an interview that Boston Globe reporter Alexa Gagosz conducted with Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg, founder of Storytime Online.

Writes Gagosz, “Storytime Online is a new German-Rhode Island educational technology platform where children can read and listen to interactive children’s books from cultures around the world, translated and narrated in more than 15 different languages.

“It works with authors and artists to digitize and publish stories on a global scale. … Founder Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg is launching the Storytime Online platform internationally this month.

Globe: How did you come up with this idea?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I was back in Germany with my family when I was with my sister Julia, who was 9 at the time, and had just moved there from Georgia (the country). I’d bring her to bookstores there, but we didn’t always actually purchase a book. She was just learning German as her second language, and she would quickly advance to the next level or simply get bored with reading the same book — like most kids. At the same time, while around the rest of my family, she was learning English; so, trying to learn two different languages at the same time. I looked for resources for her, but it was difficult to find anything in German, especially for a Georgian. I could find resources in English, but they were expensive. …

“If you go to another country where your language isn’t supported, especially as a child, it makes learning in school nearly impossible. Julia made me aware of this problem, so it became our problem. And I built my own solution.

How does Storytime Online work?

“It’s really easy to use, which was the key. The point is to allow a child to use this technology on their own, even as young as 3. After choosing a language and reading level, various book covers are displayed, and then the child can flip through the pages of the book online. You can read the book to the child, clicking through the pages on your own, or have a narrator read the book by clicking the play buttons.

You can also alter the language of each book in any of the other languages that it is available in.

Which languages are available?

“The languages that are currently on deck or in development include English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (European and Brazilian); Armenian, Georgian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Arabic (Modern Standard); Kurdish, Pashto, Persian (Farsi/Dari), Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. …

How much does it cost?

“For unlimited access to all languages, it’s an average of $5 each month. It’s designed to be affordable, even in developing countries.

How do you get authors and artists to be on the platform?

“Our model is similar to Spotify for artists. You get published and then get royalties, not just for that one language that you wrote the book in, but in all the languages I get it translated and narrated in. But this also multiplies their reach to other cultural markets without doing any additional work.

“Also, all authors, designers, illustrators, translators, and narrators get credit for being part of this effort right on the book’s landing page. If your child wants to continue reading a book from one particular author or narrator, you can click on the person’s profile to see what other books they worked on. …

How are you identifying global refugees to work with?

“I just started working with a digital skills and marketing firm in the UK that trains and employs refugees in Africa. Also, the CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center recently sent out a newsletter about the company’s initiatives to support Ukraine during the war, and I replied to it regarding Storytime Online. I was connected with a CIC director in Poland, and he was able to put me in touch with more translators.

“I developed a partnership with the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, and they have a network of thousands of migrants. Right now, I’m prioritizing Ukrainian narrations and translations, but also working with Ukrainian refugees to support them during this time. With the League’s help, I’m looking to quickly translate and narrate 100 stories in Ukrainian.

How does Storytime Online fit into your background?

“I grew up between the US and Germany. Learning another language was much different in Europe than here in the US. I took Spanish classes in both Germany and the US, but I actually learned Spanish in Germany. In Germany, you’re not just learning for the next test, you’re learning to become fluent.”

More at the Globe, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Nathanael Coyne, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Native tribes have wonderful stories about relations with animals, including “man’s best friend.”

This morning I got a kick out of talking to Stuga40 in Sweden about my post on dog research and the entertaining corroboration that Hannah sent. So I decided to continue the theme with something from the radio show Living on Earth.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Many Native American communities belong to a clan which identifies with an animal. There are bear, deer, and loon clans to name a few. Those animals are featured in their traditional stories. So, to hear some of them I called up Joe Bruchac. He is a storyteller and musician with the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe of Vermont and Upstate New York. And Joe carves and plays traditional flutes. …

“JOE BRUCHAC: We say that the flute came to be when a woodpecker made holes in the hollow branch of a tree that was broken off at the end and the wind blew over it and created that first flute music. So when we play the flute, we try to keep in mind, it’s a gift of the trees and the wind, and the birds. A flute could be played for pleasure or to keep yourself from feeling lonely. …

“BASCOMB: I hope to hear some more of your flute music a little later in this segment. But first, can you get us started with a story? I understand you’re going to tell us a traditional story about dogs.

“BRUCHAC: That’s right. They say that long ago, the one we call Gluskonba, the first one in the shape of a human being was walking around. This was the time before the people came to be on this land. Now one of the jobs Gluskonba had been given by the Creator was to make things better for those humans when they got here. And so he thought, I wonder what the animals will do when they see a human being for the first time. I better ask them.

“And so Gluskonba called together a great counsel of all the animal people. And then as he stood before them, he said, ‘I want each of you to come up and when I say the word for human being, tell me what you will do.’ Now the first one to step forward was the bear. In those days bear was so large, he was taller than the tallest trees. His mouth was so huge, he could swallow an entire wigwam. And when Gluskonba said the word ‘alnoba,’ which means human being, the bear said ‘[bear grunt] I will swallow every human being that I see!’

“Gluskonba thought about that. He thought to himself, ‘I do not think human beings will enjoy being swallowed by bears, I’d better do something.’ And so he decided to use one of the powers given to him by the Creator, the power to change things, a power that we human beings also have and often misuse. Gluskonba said to the bear, ‘You have some burrs caught in your fur, let me comb them out with my fingers.’ And so the bear sat down in front of him, and Gluskonba began to run his fingers along the bear’s back and as he did so, combing out those burrs, he also made the bear get smaller and smaller, until the bear was the size that bears are to this day.

“And when Gluskonba said to him, ‘And now what will you do when you see a human being?” that bear looked at itself and said, ‘[bear grunt] I will run away!’ Which is what bears usually do to this day.

“Now the next one to come forward was one we call Kitschy moose: the big moose. Moose by the way, is one of our Abenaki words, it means the strange one, and that moose back then was really strange. It was so large that his antlers were bigger than the biggest pines, they were sharper than the sharpest spears, and when Gluskonba said the word ‘alnoba’ that moose said, ‘I will spear every human being I see, spear them on my horns and throw them over the tree tops, and stomp them with my hooves until they’re as flat as your hand!’

“And again Gluskonba thought, ‘I do not believe human beings will feel much pleasure at being speared and flattened by moose. I’d better do something.’ So he said to that moose, ‘Nidoba, my friend, you appear to be very strong. Let us have a contest, I will hold up my hands and you will try to push me backward.’ The moose agreed, it leaned forward, putting its nose in one of Gluskonba’s hands, its huge horns in the other, and began to push, and push. But Gluskonba did not move. And that moose’s horns got smaller and rounder and the moose itself got very, very, very much smaller than it was before and also his nose got all smushed in. And the moose looked at itself when Gluskonba said, ‘And now what will you do when you see a human being?’ the moose said, ‘Uhh, I will run away.’ Now one after another Gluskonba talked to many animals. There’s almost for everyone a separate story. … But finally, just one animal was remaining.

“It sat there in front of him wagging its tail. It was of course the dog, and Gluskonba said to dog, ‘Nidoba, my friend, are you going to do something to harm the human beings when they arrive here?’ And the dog shook its head and said, ‘No, I’ve been waiting for human beings to come! I want to be their best best friend, I want to play with their children, I want to go hunting with them, I want to live in their houses with them and share their food and even climb in bed with them, I want to be their best best best best friend!’

“And Gluskonba looked at that dog, and he saw that dog’s heart was good. He said ‘Nidoba, my friend, you will be the best friend that human beings will ever have, a better friend than some of them deserve; and so we will know you by this name: Aalamos, the one who walks beside us.’ And so it is that to this day, it is the dog who walks beside us, our best best friend.”

For other delightful animal stories and some Abenaki flute music, click at Living on Earth, here.

Read Full Post »

Owen-Jim-Copp

Photo: Playhouse Records
Back in the day, Jim Copp (right) “made recordings [with Ed Brown] that offered children funny fables replete with sound effects, and were literate and charming enough for adults,” says the
New Yorker.

Years ago, the older of my two younger brothers received a record player that looked like a jukebox and flashed colored lights. It was the beginning of his long romance with records. Neighbor kids came over to see this wonder, and we listened not only to music on the records but also to stories. Call it an early podcast platform. David Owen has a bit of history at the New Yorker.

“When my wife was a kid, in the early nineteen-sixties, she and her siblings listened, over and over, to records by Jim Copp. … Copp made nine records between 1958 and 1971. They contain stories, poems, and songs that he wrote, performed, and recorded with the help of his friend Ed Brown. …

“Stories involve a family that takes a cross-country car trip with a cow; a duck that, with excruciating effort, manages to speak just enough English to warn his housemate, a carpenter, that their kitchen is on fire; a dog with the longest name in the world who goes to Yale; … a nearsighted heron; and a feeble-minded old man, Mr. Hippity, who thinks his chicken pull toy is sick. Copp may be the reason that my wife and her siblings and both our children have always had good vocabularies: destitute, vituperative, locality, inauspicious, gauche, megalomaniac, union suit. …

“Not long after my wife received [tapes] from her brother, she noticed a tiny advertisement in The New Yorker for rereleases of Copp’s records, on cassette. She called the telephone number in the ad, and eventually realized that the person taking her order was Copp himself. … In 1993, I [interviewed] Copp in his home. …

“In 1939, friends whom he was visiting in Chicago dared him to enter a talent contest at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel, whose ballroom was popular with movie stars and mobsters. He performed several humorous pieces that he’d written as a student — ‘Arabella and the Water Tank,’ ‘Peaches and Myrtle’ (about two showgirls, one of whom murders the other), ‘The Mystery of the Revolving Tree Trunk’ — and won. …

“Copp got hooked on performing. During the next three years, he appeared, as James Copp III and His Things, in some of Manhattan’s most famous night spots, among them the Blue Angel, Le Ruban Bleu, the Rainbow Room, and Café Society. … In 1941, Liberty released six of his night club pieces, on a set of three 78s.

“He was drafted a year later, and became the adjutant of an intelligence unit that took part in the Normandy invasion. … He returned to the United States in 1946, but decided that New York and its night clubs had changed in ways he didn’t like.

“Copp decided that his best chance of preserving his night-club material was to rework it, slightly, for children. He experimented with a wire recorder — a tape precursor, which recorded magnetically on steel wire. He sold one piece, ‘The Noisy Eater,’ to Capitol Records, which Jerry Lewis recorded, in 1952. … He decided that from then on he would make his own records. He … would record a single character or instrument or effect on one machine, then play that tape in the background as he recorded another on one of the others. For some pieces, he ‘ping-ponged’ as many as ninety layers. He sped up some voices and slowed down others, all without fancy equipment, and he added homemade sound effects.” For the long read, check out the New Yorker, here.

The story brought back memories, especially of my father’s wire recorder. He had a couple of his recordings made into actual records, and when I grew up, I found someone to turn a record featuring my squeaky voice (“The Birth of Willie”) into a cassette tape.

Read Full Post »

The Little Golden Book called The Poky Little Puppy, by Janette Sebring Lowrey and Gustaf Tenggren.

Golden Books were a big part of my childhood. What about yours?

My mother especially liked to read us The Poky Little Puppy, I guess because we were all inquisitive — and took too long with everything.

Recently, NPR offered a trip down that memory lane.

From Lynn Neary: “In the 1950s and ’60s, if there were any children’s books in a house, at least one of them was likely to be a Little Golden Book. … Those beloved books celebrate their 75th birthday this year.

“First introduced shortly after the start of World War II, many of them — such as The Tawny Scrawny Lion, The Saggy Baggy Elephant and The Poky Little Puppy — have become classics. …

” ‘Up until then, children’s books were found mostly in libraries or high-end book stores and were meant to be handled with care. They tended to be very expensive. So even if you could find one of these books in a store, only a certain percent of the population could afford to bring them home,’ explains author Leonard Marcus.

“Marcus wrote The Golden Legacy: The Story of the Golden Books. He says the printers, publishers, writers and artists who brought Golden Books to the market had a lofty goal — they wanted to “democratize children’s books,” making them both affordable and accessible. To that end, they were sold in department stores, train stations, drugstores and supermarkets. …

“Golden Books became a kind of totem of the times for baby boomers who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s. George Saunders, author of the bestselling Lincoln in the Bardo, says Golden Books were a highlight of his visits to his grandmother. …

“He says he remembers the pictures best: ‘In those editions there’s some magic between the words and the images. … I could feel in my mental and physical reaction to those books that something really incredible was going on.’ …

“The books are now published by Penguin Random House.” More.

I loved Golden Books. My father preferred to read us books he considered classics. He was certainly amusing when reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. But my brother and I found Hans Christian Andersen stories creepy (the children of Dickens found Andersen himself creepy when he visited). The one upbeat tale in our Andersen collection — “The Tinder Box” — we insisted our father read over and over no matter how often he urged us to pick a different one.

Read Full Post »

I have decided that if Ireland ever names people as national treasures, it should include James J. Hackett of Moate.

Last night at the Kellys’ party, James clinked the glasses at the table and called everyone to attention. Then he recited Yeats’s poem “The Ballad of Father Gilligan,” preceding it with a little history and acting out all the parts.

The grandson of a man who taught Latin and Greek in a hedgerow school back in the dark days when the English forbade sending Irish children to school, James has taken it upon himself to preserve the culture. His ordinary conversation is a living history, and he is frequently dropping into poetry.

James’s book Days Gone By is written in the way he speaks when talking to friends or taking people on a tour of some ruin. Consider this sample.

“It was long past the witching hour when the poteen revellers came upon Kate resting on the puchann and in a most distressful state.* They took her along to the wake, where she related all her adventures. Great was the wonder and fear that was expressed at hearing this story, and needless to say, many a post mortem was held upon Kate Brambles’s account of the witches’ dance at the half way house in Ballylurkin Bog on the Hallow’een night that Tubbs Lanigan was waked.”

Recent chronicler of Ireland lore and customs Turtle Bunbury discovered James in Moate and has included him in one of his Vanishing Ireland books. Bunbury also features James on a Facebook page, which I hope to access as soon as Turtle accepts my friend request.

[Update: Turtle has just put my post on his page, here.]

You may recall that I blogged about James once before, here, at another time that he was visiting his Rhode Island cousin.

(*James says a “puchann” is a little hill in a bog.)

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
James J. Hackett in New Shoreham. He made his own shillelagh of blackthorn. He also made one for John and mailed it to him with instructions on how to cure the wood.

070314-james-hackett

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: