Stories in Community

Recently Morgan Chipopu, a Teller from Zambia, asked me:

what do the folk tales tell us about the origin migration and displacement of mankind? are the folk tales in Philipines different from those in China? How can we use the folklaw (sic) to impart wisdom in today's troubled world? Can movies, soaps be made based on these stories?

His questions open up great spaces for conversation and thoughtfulness about the modern role of storytellers. I appreciate his ability to both look to the past for connection while acknowledging that modern media has a place in storytelling also.

In particular, his question about stories imparting wisdom got me thinking about stories that heal and even more importantly how our heritage stories can bring about healing.

Last weekend, the Lummi performed the final installation of a totem pole created and dedicated to the memory of the three people killed in the 1999 Whatcom Falls blast. We hope to get a chance to see the pole soon and see how the area is recovering. There are certain parts of the Falls area that are still blackened by the blast, limbless trees, barren of bark point upwards like toothpicks.

The Lummi brought their prayers of healing and their way of remembering to the spot even though the land is not reservation land and the people killed not Lummi. What was important was the land and its people were harmed and they needed to be remembered and honored.

About a year after the blast, a group of Tibetan Monks came to the University to create a sand mandala to promote peace and understanding between cultures. Once the mandala was complete and after weeks of painstaking work, the mandala was deliberately marred and mixed, symbolizing the impermanence of matter. The sand was taken to the Falls and sprinkled in the water with prayers of hope and healing. The monks had done this extra ritual after hearing about the tragedy, wishing to show their solidarity with a community they briefly visited.

There have been many memorials for the event, both private and public, and a community coallition lobbied to change the rules about where pipelines can be laid and how they are maintained (this particular line runs underneath I-5 in certain places and underneath an elementary school yard).

These things all came to mind as I read Kim wrote about taking her foster kids to a local Pow-wow.

The 10 year old explained her dad didn't like her and her little brother to watch Dora the Explorer because (the characters) were Mexican, and that Pow Wows were for stupid people. Bear in mind this is a family that used the "n" word and "wagon burners" in their everyday language among other colorful adjectives.

She goes on to write: We spend so much time fighting racism and talking about how race shouldn't matter, but you know, when it comes to these kids,...our kids, it does seem to matter.

Because sometimes it /is/ about bodies and skin and economics and history and religion, even when we are talking about kids, and maybe especially because it's about kids. Our kids. Our kids friends. Our kids playing with kids they don't go to school with but meet at the park. Our kids meeting homeless kids on the bus or on the beach. Sometimes we have to face our own unanswered questions about race and heritage, admit that each of us hold precious prejudices out of fear of our own oblivion.

Later in Morgan's note to me, he writes about storytellers being Lightbearers, and I think that's about having the wisdom and humility to know we all have prejudices we're not proud of, and in fact are trying to heal, and that through stories, through heritage, we can bring about positive change and healing not only for ourselves but for others.


kelvin said...

Wonderful essay. Thank you. You remind me of one of my favorite magics of Story, that a story can come from a particular culture, a certain people from a certain place...and yet, that story can be heard and understood by people far flung from its birthplace. It can heal and change people despite, sometimes because of, the Story's different place of origin, ethnicity, skin color...


Anonymous said...

indeed words, through stories, bind us together regardless of race, religion what have you. To enjoy any given story, go right into it, ignore the author's name, origin and so forth, this will allow a free flow of interest. I agree with rabecca that we have our own reservations about what we listen to or read. Friends, I have come to discover that there is something about stories that we, i mean all story tellers, writers and listerners, have to find out and should make the world understand. These stories can build us and create alot of understanding in the world. Lets try to translate stories from Japanese to Lunda (my native dialect) and english to French, and sooner than later, we will discover that there is after all a general "human landscape", that we are all one!

Morgan Chipopu Zambia

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Thanks so much for dropping by, Morgan!

I look forward to many more conversations on storytelling and community.

As I mentioned in a reading I gave last weekend, it's the job of the storyteller to hold up a mirror to society and say "This is how it is now. What are /you/ going to change things for the better?"

I know that the more we share our stories and heritages, the better our world will be.