Posts Tagged ‘storyteller’


Photo: Lukas Vermeer, Flickr
There’s a strong connection with the turtle and the story of creation in indigenous traditions. Native American tales told recently on Public Radio International include tales associated with winter and tales tied to the gradual return of life.

Most indigenous people have oral traditions about the seasons, the origins of life, and the duty to protect the Earth. Recently I heard some Native American winter stories on the radio and learned that when tales are not written down, it’s important to include the name of the person who first passed the story to you.

What follows is part of a discussion that Steve Curwood at PRI’s “Living on Earth” had with Joe Bruchac, a storyteller from the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The radio show covered traditional winter tales and Native Americans’ respect for the Earth.

“CURWOOD: Years ago, I went to visit the Menominee and I met their forester, [who] explained to me that the Menominee only cut the trees that are too old or ill and that as a forester, he was cutting trees that had been designated by the foresters before him that they had been prepared, they would be mature, and that he was going ahead to make preparations for what would be cut in later generations. …

“The Menominee were forced to give up their land, along [Lake] Michigan. But they were permitted in negotiations to keep a couple hundred thousand acres of forest land inside. And they decided that this was their legacy forever. And they started with an estimated billion and a half board feet of timber. Over the years, they’ve harvested over a billion board feet and they have more than what they started with today, because they’ve only cut with what’s too old or too ill to keep growing. It’s amazing. …

“JOE BRUCHAC: It was Stephen Marvin Askinet, who was the elder who told me that story when I was visiting Menominee. He since passed on but he was a wonderful tradition bearer. And one thing I always try to do is to remember to acknowledge those people who shared those stories with me. For example, that rabbit snow dance story can be traced back through people such as Arthur Parker, who was a Seneca storyteller and writer who recorded many of the traditions of his people. …

“CURWOOD: [Do you have a tale about] the solstice, the changing of the season, then getting dark and getting cold? …

“JOE BRUCHAC: Well, there is a tradition among the Abenaki people which has gone back for a long time, called the New Year’s greeting. And it is this when the new year comes, everyone goes from house to house, and they say …


“Which means, ‘Forgive me for any wrong I may have done to you, including wrong that I may not realize I have done to you.’ For it is important to realize that the things you do affect others around you. And sometimes you may not even know that you’ve caused an offense or hurt someone’s feelings. But at the start of the year, beginning again with those words, were able to have a clean slate. …

“As a friend of mine who is a Cheyenne elder [told me], if you carry guilt, it’s like carrying bad water in a cup. You can never fill it again with good water. Instead, pour that guilt out and then do better so that you do not accumulate more of that guilt and you can have fresh water to drink or to share. And that again, is an idea for the beginning of the new year. …

“CURWOOD: This is the time of year when we celebrate life. … Perhaps you could tell us along those lines?

“BRUCHAC: One of the traditions that I have learned over the years, my Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, elders who are friends of mine, such as Tom Porter, a Mohawk elder, is that the first person who came to this earth was a woman.

“That long ago there was a land in the sky, and that a woman fell from that sky land, holding in her hand, the seeds of the flowers and plants. The birds flew up to catch her on their back, and then the great turtle swam up from below the surface of the water for only water was here. And animals began to dive down to bring up Earth.

“The one who succeeded the one who made it was the little muskrat. She brought up a paw full of Earth and put it on the back of the turtle. And then that woman stepped from the backs of the birds and began to dance in a circle with slow, small steps as women dance today in the Haudenosaunee tradition.

“The earth got bigger and bigger, and where her feet stepped and made footprints, she dropped the seeds, the flowers and the trees and the other plants. So life came to be on earth through the agency of sky woman, who is always remembered among the Haudenosaunee people as a Mother, the first Mother of us all. …


Which drum do we hear first? We hear the heartbeat of our mother, even before we are born. We’re listening to the music of life and dancing in that water within our mother’s body. So when we are born, we’re listening for the sound of the drum. …

“[We] say the drumbeat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and that we as human beings must always remember it when we hear the drum to respect our mothers and respect our Mother Earth.”

More good stories here, including the one about the rabbit who loved snow a little too much.


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070314-james-hackettJames J. Hackett, storyteller and harness maker, Moate, Ireland, 1937-2017. Seen here visiting his Kelly cousins in Rhode Island.

The late James J. Hackett, quintessential Irish raconteur, did not have an easy life. But the joy he brought to people through his storytelling and kindness leads me to say he led the best kind of life.

I met James through his visits to his Kelly cousins in New Shoreham and wrote about him on the blog.

Turtle Bunbury, co-author with James Fennell of the Vanishing Ireland book series, interviewed James for volume 3, Recollections of Our Changing Times. He put these words on Facebook yesterday.

“Farewell, JJ Hackett (1937-2017), Harness Maker & Poet — Ballinakill, Moate, Co. Westmeath

James Fennell and I are very sad to learn of the passing of James J Hackett last night, 14 September 2017. He was an absolute gentleman and an inspirational man who, perhaps more than anyone we encountered during the Vanishing Ireland project, personified the resilience and generosity of his generation. Here is his story from the third volume of the series, which we post as a tribute to JJ and as a salutation to his brother Michael.

‘There is no doubting that JJ Hackett is one of the more unusual farmers in the parish. He quotes Wordsworth while stoking the Stanley stove.[i] He has a pet crow who can recognise strangers. He is a fan of the philosopher Edmund Burke and he knows plenty about the Abbé Edgeworth from Longford who blessed King Louis XVI as he awaited his execution.[ii] He’s also written his own memoirs, ‘Days Gone By’, for which he is justly acclaimed across the county. His tales are thoughtful but upbeat and give considerable insight into the rough ride he’s had along the way.

‘ “I was born with a deformity,” he says. “My right hip was out and it’s still out. Nurse Brophy, the midwife, didn’t realise. There’s a poem about her. ‘Here comes Nurse Brophy on her new Raleigh bike, out by Mount Temple and home by the Pike’. I didn’t walk until I was seven years of age simply for the reason that I couldn’t walk.[iii] And to this day I do tire easily, especially walking behind a funeral. …

‘Calamity struck in early 1949, the very same dark winter’s night that his younger sister Margaret was born.

“We weren’t long home from school but a tree fell on top of me. It broke the collar-bone, the cranium and it done in the right knee. I was put in a wheelbarrow and taken to Mullingar Hospital, broken up. I never went back to school. I was in hospital for about a year and ten months and I couldn’t walk for about two years.” …

‘Daniel secured his son an apprenticeship as a harness maker with a saddlery and upholstery business in Moate.[xii] His co-workers were an unusual trio whom JJ refers to as “the three deaf mutes.” None of them could speak or hear. And one of them, John Casey from Limerick, was operating with a single eye. “He lost his left eye with a needle when he was making mattresses,” explains JJ. “That taught me to keep the face turned away when I made them. And yet he could turn a collar for a horse, a mule, a donkey or a jennet.”[xiii]

‘They were the elite of harness makers.” ’

For more text, some footnotes, and good photos, see Turtle Bunbury on Facebook. Or buy the book. I wish I had recorded James’s rich brogue. I can almost hear it in Turtle’s interview. Can you?

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Photo: Montgomery County, Maryland, Library

Do you attend a congregation where the children’s “sermon” is given in front of the adults? My husband was recalling the other day how the pastor at our former Rhode Island church was really great with children’s sermons. He was both funny and straightforward. Where we go in Massachusetts, the children’s sermon sometimes plays to the adults too much. But other times it works — especially when the children get to use props and act it out.

I kind of liked this one about different ways of seeing. I’d be interested in what you think.


Whose Reality Is It Anyway?
By Orlanda R Brugnola

It was not a city. It was not a large town. But it was not a small town. It was — just average, you might say. Except for one thing. There was a Storyteller in the town.

That’s Storyteller with a capital S. The Storyteller had arrived one day without advance notice (or as some people would put it, without warning.) There had been no invitation, no request.  The Storyteller just showed up, rented a small house that had been empty for two years and put up a sign inviting people to come and listen to stories.

Mind you, that was not so easy for people in the town.  They were nervous about it and wanted to know wanted to know if the Storyteller was qualified. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was accredited. They wanted to know if the Storyteller was male or female. The children didn’t care of course. … On any afternoon you could be sure that most, if not all the children in town were at the Storyteller’s house.

And so the Storytelling began. The Storyteller might say: “In the smoking tiger’s time” …

“Wait a minute! What do you mean?!”

“Oh, that’s just the way stories begin in Korea: ‘In the smoking tiger’s time’ is just a way of saying: ‘Long, long ago’ ” … And the Storyteller would continue …

All the children and youth listening to the stories wanted to listen forever because the stories made them feel amazed and happy.  And they wanted to share their amazement and happiness with the rest of their families, so they asked the Storyteller if they could take part of the story home with them and the answer was always “Yes, of course!” and so they did.

[Here the children act out taking wondrous things home and finding that the tiger, the mossy rock, the mountain, etc. make their parents apprehensive.]

The children [said] to the Storyteller, “Our moms and our dads won’t let us bring anything home from the stories. … Can you do something?” …

And then something began happening in the town that got everybody talking. Things started showing up in unexpected places — sometimes very unexpected places. A big tree right in the middle of the street.  And then a tiger in front of a garage. And a huge blue mountain at the front door of a house. …

Because the mayor was up for election in a week or so, he said, “I will personally take care of this immediately!” And he marched right over to the Storyteller’s house and knocked on the door.  …

“This has got to STOP!” said the mayor. … “All these things that are showing up everywhere … Today I couldn’t even get into my own house because there was a mountain in front of the door!”

“Why don’t you just go through it? … It’s a story-mountain. … All you have to do is enter the story,” [said a voice.] …

“Maybe I should talk to an expert about this!” [the mayor] thought.  He liked experts.  …

“Why don’t you tell, me about it,” the [expert] said. And so the mayor did. …

“Why did you decide not to enter the story as the Storyteller suggested?” …

“I got angry and didn’t want to. … I’m kind of afraid, though I don’t know what I am afraid of.” …

“New things are unsettling and most of us are reluctant to jump in.”…

“How do we know we will like how the story ends?” [asked the mayor].

“Well, that’s really in our hands.  All of us who enter the story decide how it will turn out.” …

“The mayor thought about it some more and decided that maybe the [expert] was right and that he ought to go back to the Storyteller and find out how to get into the story after all.”


We often joke that our dear UUs explain everything too much. But this sermon must be the exception that proves the rule. See the full children’s story at the UUA website, here.

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At Moth Radio Hour, people who can tell stories well are recorded telling theirs before an audience, without notes or prompts. I was driving home one day when I heard a story by Jensi Sartin, who showed fishermen in Bali how to save their livelihoods by “banking” some fish.

A bit of background on Sartin comes from the Aspen Ideas blog: “Jensi Sartin is the director of the Reef Check Foundation Indonesia in Bali, where he devises community-based strategies to protect the coral reefs in Indonesia. [In] his story ‘The Fish Bank,’ [he talks] about how he tried to bring the fish back to Bali.

‘This is not just about 75 percent of the world’s coral reef going extinct, it’s not just about the fish that will just disappear. This is about people, because there are lots of people that depend on this coral reef. There are a lot of people that depend on the fish and this healthy coral to feed their family.’

“Sartin says that his experience growing up in the rainforests of Borneo – where deforestation was already under way – prepared him for his professional career as an advocate for the world’s oceans. ‘All of these things are connected,’says Sartin. … ‘Protected areas are not about managing resources, they are about managing people.’

“Sartin says community-based conservation forms a crucial part of sustainable development, especially in regions of the world that are environmentally stressed.” Here is the Aspen link.

If you missed my review of the climate-change movie Revolution, which shows how coral reefs are sending us a warning, check it out here.

And you can listen to Sartin’s inspiring storytelling at Moth.

Photo: Caroline Lacey
On the Moth Radio Hour, Jensi Sartin talks about creating a fish bank.

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