Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Storytelling Traditions Around the World

The children at the Global Explorers Kids after school program at Waters Elementary School just finished a session on Storytelling Traditions Around the World. Through the class, students learned about the importance of storytelling around the world and found out about some nontraditional ways of sharing a story. During the eight-week program, 17 children, ages 4-10, created Japanese Kamishibai, Pueblo Indian storyteller figures, storycloths, and sculptural stories. The next few posts share some of the information they learned.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sculptural Stories

Sculptural Stories. Many cultures use sculpture, in particular carvings, to record history and legends. Usually, those within the cultures are familiar with the stories being preserved, and are able to "read" the carvings. After learning about how other cultures preserve stories in sculpture, Global Explorers Kids created their own story sculptures out of painted wood (photo 4).

Totem poles. (photo 1) Totem poles are made by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Carved from giant trees, the totem poles tell stories. Usually the stories are about the family who had the pole made. Sometimes, the stories are about Native American legends. The stories are passed down orally, from parents to children. Those who are familiar with the stories are able to read the stories presented in the totem poles.

Royal altar tusks. (photo 2) Carved altar tusks are made by the Edo people of the Kingdom of Benin, in southern Nigeria, for a new oba (king), to honor his father. The carvings on the tusks tell stories of the Kingdom of Benin. The stories can be historical or mythical, or a combination of both. Many stories talk about the greatness of the oba’s father.

Whakairo. (photo 3) Whakairo is the term for Maori carving. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The main media for carving is wood, jade, bone, stone, and human flesh (ta moko – tattooing). The carvings served as a way to record history and mythology.
Totem Pole, by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Totem Tale: A Tall Story from Alaska, by Deb Vanasse

Online activities and resources
How to read Maori carving
Animated Maori creation myth
Diagram of the Royal Altar Tusk at the Art Institute of Chicago
Stories told on the Royal Altar Tusk at the Art Institute of Chicago
Haida totem poles
Make your own totem pole printable
Color a totem pole
Build an online totem pole
Totem pole story
Video look at totem poles on You Tube
Video look at Maori woodcarving on You Tube

Around Town
The Field Museum of Chicago has examples of totem poles from the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Maori Whakairo, and royal tusk carving. Visit these to see how other cultures tell stories through carving. Another example of a Royal Altar Tusk can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago, in the African galleries.

Illustrating Oral Stories

Illustrating oral stories. Stories were first shared orally, but it wasn't long before oral storytellers started illustrating the stories they told. Sometimes the pictures were created on the spot, as in Aboriginal sand talk and Yup'ik storyknifing. In other cases, storytellers created pictures ahead of time, to be referred to as the story was being told. In the Global Explorers Kids class, children learned about different ways of illustrating oral stories. They had the opportunity to tell a story while illustrating it in the sand, as many Aboriginal people do in Australia, then they created their own Kamishibai stories.

Aboriginal sand talk. In Central Australia, the aboriginals often tell stories while drawing pictures in the sand to illustrate the story. As the story moves along, the images are wiped clean and the storyteller starts with a fresh ground.

Storyknifing. Storyknifing is a style of storytelling, similar to Aboriginal sand talk, used by the Yup’ik of Alaska. As a story is being told, pictures are drawn in the mud with a special knife made out of antler, ivory, or wood. The knives are carved by the fathers and grandfathers, and given as special gifts to the girls. Storyknifing was traditionally used to pass stories down through the generations, usually from mothers to daughters. Today, groups of girls will tell stories to each other using the storyknife.

Kamishibai. Kamishibai , a form of Japanese storytelling, means “paper drama.” Thought to have begun in Buddhist temples in the 12th century, kamishibai is best known as a form of street entertainment that was popular in the 1920’s-1950’s. The kamishibai storyteller rode between villages on a bicycle that had a small stage. He announced his arrival by clapping together two sticks. As children came to hear the stories, they bought candy from the kamishibai storyteller. The storyteller would tell several stories, using illustrated cards that were inserted in the stage and pulled as the story was told. Today, kamishibai is being used in Japanese schools to teach literacy.
Kamishibai Man, by Allen Say
Terrific Tales to Tell: From the Storyknifing Tradition, by Valerie Marsh and Patrick K. Luzadder
Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Tale, by Megan McDonald

Jaliyaa Storytelling: Stories & Music of West Africa, Storyteller Asha's Baba

Online activities and resources
Video of a traditional Kamishibai storyteller
Video of an African storyteller -
Audio of Aboriginal storytellers telling stories of the Dreamtime
Flash animated Gullah tales, told in English and Gullah

Pueblo Storytellers

Pueblo Indian Storytellers. Pueblo Indian potters have been making figures out of clay for centuries, but the storyteller figures that they are famous for did not appear until the 1960’s. The storyteller figures, which show an elder with children gathered around to hear a story, reflect the importance of storytelling in the Pueblo culture. For centuries, Pueblo Indian elders have passed down their culture, traditions, and history to the children through oral stories and songs. The picture on the left is a traditional storyteller figure from Taos Pueblo. The figure on the right was created by a student in the Global Explorers Kids after school program.
Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale, by Gerald McDermott
The Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story, by Penny Pollock and Ed Young
The Magic Hummingbird: A Hopi Folktale, by Ekkehart Malotki, Michael Lomatuway'Ma, and Michael Lacapa
Helen Cordero & the Storytellers of the Cochiti Pueblo, by Nancy Shroyer Howard
Pueblo Stories and Storytellers, by Mark Bahti
Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters (We Are Still Here), by Rina Swentzell and Bill Steen
Pueblo Storyteller, by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith

The Keepers of the Earth, Red Feather Woman
The Little Hawk Show: Native American Stories & Songs

Online activities and resources
Native American storyteller – tales of wonder
Mini lecture on Pueblo Storyteller figures on You Tube
Pictures of storyteller figures (this is a commercial site, but has some good pictures to see what the figures look like)

Stories in Textiles

Stories in Textiles
While often used for utilitarian purposes, such as clothing, bedding, and rugs, textile art is also used by cultures around the world as a way to preserve their histories, stories, and traditions. The children viewed examples of stories in textiles, including Hmong story cloths, Faith Ringgold’s story quilts, and Chilean and Peruvian Arpilleras, then created their own storycloths (photo 1).

Hmong story cloths. (photo 3) The Hmong are an ethnic group, originally from the mountains of South China and Laos. During the war in Laos, many Hmong fled the country and were resettled as refugees in Thailand and Western countries. Their traditional arts include complex textile designs. The story cloths they are known for are a recent development. Hmong men began making drawings of traditional stories so that they’d be remembered during the difficult days of war. They started making stories about the war, as well. In the refugee camps, the women would stitch these stories on cloth. These story cloths became an important source of income for the Hmong in the refugee camps.

Faith Ringgold’s Story quilts. (photo 2) Faith Ringgold is an African-American artist who draws inspiration from her roots. Quilting and storytelling are traditional art forms in the African-American and African communities. Quilts often tell stories, or send messages, using symbols. Ringgold drew on this history, taking it a step further, by telling personal stories through both pictures and words. Some of her story quilts are almost like books in the form of a quilt.

Arpilleras. (photo 4) Arpilleras are three-dimensional textile pictures, common in South America. They originated in Chile, where women political prisoners made them to send secret notes to outside helpers. Today, the best known arpilleras come from the shantytowns around Lima, Peru. Arpilleras tell the stories of everyday life and political injustices through pictures.

Dia's Story Cloth: The Hmong People's Journey of Freedom, by Dia Cha
The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story, by Pegi Deitz Shea
Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold
Stitching Stars: The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers, by Mary E. Lyons
Tonight is Carnaval, by Arthur Dorros

Online activities and resources
Faith Ringgold’s official site – view images of her story quilts
Hmong Story cloth images
Images of arpilleras (this is a commercial site) and color an arpillera