Storytelling through the ages

Storytelling – the sharing of wisdom from the heart

Today, stories are a fundamental part of our society and culture.  In fact, it is believed by most historians and psychologists that storytelling is one of the many things that define and bind our humanity.  Humans are perhaps the only animals that create and tell stories.  Storytelling can define our values, desires and dreams as well as our prejudices and dislikes and many of these are handed over from generation to generation.  But what about the origin or storytelling?  Here is the story of how it all began….

The history of storytelling is ancient and has been for the most part lost in time.  Stories have existed long before recorded history and the telling of stories has changed forms drastically throughout the ages.  From cave paintings to novels to movies, stories have always fascinated mankind.  Although the methods have changed, the desire to tell and hear stories has remained unchanged and still greatly impacts on the way we look at life. Nobody knows when the first story was actually told.  Perhaps it all began in the gloomy recesses of a cave around a flickering fire where a hunter drew a picture on the wall of his latest kill?

One of the earliest forms of storytelling that has been discovered is from the Lascaux Caves in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.  Discovered in 1940 by a group of French children, a series of cave paintings that date back to sometime between 15,000 and 13,000 BC depicting a variety of animals and one image of a human being.  When closely examined, this mural of sorts follows a very simplistic series of events.  It tells of rituals performed and hunting practices….it tells a story.

In the 200s BC, Aesop’s fables were written down, and continue to teach lessons today in many areas of life.  Aesop lived in the 500s BC but his stories were remembered for hundreds of years without a single shred of paper or other printed material which is amazing.  Oral storytelling was so powerful and people remember Aesop’s tales so well that even 300 years later the stories were revered enough for mass production.

Storytellers began to rise as very important figures in a community.  The ability to tell stories effectively and memorably was a very valuable skill.  Why?  As wars were fought and valiant deeds were done, the people needed some way to remember them.  Instead of simply stating what happened, stories began to emerge as a way to preserve the raw emotions and sequence of the actual event.

It’s possible that stories were used a long time ago to calm the fears or doubts of a family.  As families grouped together with other families and formed clans, the storyteller, who was good at recounting heroic events undertaken by the tribe, began to reach a position of respect and power.  People found them interesting and began to listen to them.

Before man learned to write, he had to rely on his memory to learn anything. For this he had to be a good listener.  A good storyteller was always respected.  He could easily find an audience, eager to devour every exciting bit of information in their stories. These stories were also shared with others in faraway lands.  When people travelled the stories travelled with them and when they returned home, they brought with them exciting new tales of exotic places and people.

The history of storytelling reveals that the stories came in all varieties.  Myths, legends of all kinds, fairy tales, fables, ghost tales, hero stories and epic adventures are all stories which were told, re-told over and over again.  Passing down from generations, these stories reflect the wisdom and knowledge of the early people.  Stories were often used to explain natural disasters and events like fire, storms, thunder, floods, tidal waves, lightening etc.  It was common for people to believe in the stories of gods. Which bound them to a common heritage and belief system.

In Aboriginal Australian society storytelling makes up a large part of everyday life. Storytelling is not only about entertaining people but is also vital in educating children about life.

Storytelling is used in a variety of ways. It is used to teach children how they should behave and why, and to pass on knowledge about everyday life such as how and when to find certain foods. Stories are also used to explain peoples’ spirituality, heritage and the laws. Dreaming stories pass on information to young people about creation, how the land was formed and populated, creation of plants, animals and humans, information about ancestral beings and places, the boundaries of peoples’ tribal lands, how ancestors came to Australia, how people migrated across the country and arrived in a particular part of the country.

The elders use every opportunity to educate the children about the way of life of their people. Stories are told while walking down to the waterhole or grinding up seeds to make damper or sitting around the campfire at night. As children grew older more information is passed on about their culture. Once a person becomes an adult they are responsible for passing on the information they had learned to the younger people.

Storytelling ensures that Aboriginal heritage is passed on to the younger people. This is how Dreaming stories have been passed down for thousands of years and continue to be passed on today.

Today storytelling in Aboriginal Australia is still a very important way of passing on information to people. For thousands of years information has been passed on through stories and songs. Today you can also see and hear it in many types of music, plays, poetry, books, artwork, on television and on the internet and you can now read in books the traditional stories that were once only spoken.

These stories keep alive the traditions and heritage of Aboriginal Australia not only within Aboriginal communities but also within the wider community. This helps to increase understanding and awareness between people.

At The Sound Temple, we feel that keeping the art of storytelling alive is part of our heart & soul and we have been blessed to have many wonderful wordsmiths grace our beautiful space here in Perth Hills including Dr Noel Nannup, Darrell Brown, Jaya Penelope, Melissa Min, Taryn Beri and Jerome Kavanagh.