<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b><i>The Role of Stories</i></b> <p> <p> I'll break open the story and tell you what is there. Then, like the others that have fallen out onto the sand, I will finish with it, and the wind will take it away. – <i>Nisa, a! Kung San woman, 1969</i> <p> <p> JUST LIKE THE WIND, a story can bring the chill of foreboding clouds or the warmth of a familiar essence. Its seductive touch might entice one on a <i>Journey of Discovery</i>. As with the wind, a story travels from one region to another, its origins often remaining wrapped in a veil of mystery. And as with the wind, a story has a voice of its own, no matter what its source or who is telling it. <p> This voice lures us away from the familiarities of our world so that we may come to know our innate selves. This experience is implied in many Native terms for <i>story</i>, such as the Gaelic <i>sgeul</i> and the term <i>kukumi</i>, once used by the now extinct Xam Bushmen of South Africa. Stories transport us to dreamscapes where we observe ourselves enacting the dramas of our lives. Think of a story as a play with nameless, faceless actors, where each person in the "audience" observes himself as the main character on the stage. From this vantage point, each of us can more easily find the reality within our own illusions and the trust within our own fears, along with the personal guidance intended for us. <p> <p> THE GLOBAL STORY Stories reflect universal themes common to the human experience. No matter what the continent, culture, era, or belief system, the same stories surface, as there is only one storytelling tradition, variations in language, climate, and lifestyle are no more than ripples on the reservoir from which our stories flow. An Arctic Inuit legend of a boy on his first hunt differs little from the !Kung San legend that comes from the African Kalahari. Robin Hood, Zorro, and Han Solo are all the same person. Bugs Bunny was brought to us by African slaves in their ancient stories of Zomo, the trickster rabbit, who in America met his cousin Nanabozho, the legendary Native American trickster who would transform into a rabbit. <p> Storytelling, whether it be in the guise of speech, dance, song, or symbolic art, is probably the oldest of teaching methods. The sharing of stories was undoubtedly a favorite pastime of our distant ancestors as they gathered around the fire. Their stories chronicled their history, amused their young, and instructed them in the ways of life. Ota K'te (Chief Luther Standing Bear), an Oglala Lakota who lived in the 1800s, expressed it in this way: "Long before the Indian was skillful enough to make musical instruments, he composed and sang songs in which he put the history of his tribe. He told of his wars, his ceremonies, and his travels. There were brave songs, medicine songs, war songs, songs of reverence to the Great Mystery, and love songs. Then the lodges had their songs which only lodge members sang. Even the individual had songs which he composed for himself alone ... no matter what event in life the Indian faced—he sang." <p> To this day, storytelling plays a central role in people's lives. We congregate in front of projection screens rather than gather around hearths, and the storyteller's voice reaches us indirectly through a speaker. Other stories come in the form of songs, books, plays, and prayers. <p> <p> WEARER OF MANY HATS <p> The role of stories ranges as far and wide as the spectrum of human life and culture. Some hand down a people's traditions and prophecies, others preserve knowledge of hunting, food preparation, and crafting skills. There are stories explaining the forces of nature such as storms, floods, and eclipses. Healing stories offer relationship and emotional guidance, and awareness-raising stories help people open to their greater potential as they learn to see with different eyes. Maps depicting travel and animal migration routes are sometimes conveyed in story form, as with this recollection of Ohiyesa's from his Santee Dakota boyhood in the 1800s: "It is customary with the hunters and warriors to tell their stories of adventure most minutely, omitting no geographical and topographical details, so that the boy who has listened to such stories from babyhood can readily identify places he has never before seen. This kind of knowledge is simple, and, like the everyday meal, it is properly digested and assimilated, and becomes a part of one's self." <p> I place personal stories in a category of their own because of their importance to both the storyteller and her people. These recountings present the discoveries of journeys, along with lessons learned from the hunt and other personal life experiences. While reflecting upon a story before its telling (a typical exercise), the storyteller often gains new perspective. This is an invaluable gift because it is the pure wisdom-voice of the storyteller, unaffected by anyone's input. So uniquely precious is the gift that it would likely not be had if the story were not shared. <p> There are also those stories that seem to exist purely for the joy of it. Some academics would disagree, and yet my experience and the opinions of Natives, such as the following one from Netsit of the Siberian Yukaghir tribe, tell me that pure entertainment is valid enough reason for a story: "It is not always that we want a point in our stories, if only they are amusing. It is only the white men that want a reason and an explanation of everything; and so our old men say that we should treat white men as children who always want their own way. If not, they become angry and scold." <p> <p> PROVERBS <p> Ralph Waldo emerson once said that common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes—an apt description for what we know as sayings, maxims, axioms, adages, and proverbs. Michael Patterson, a proverb collector, defines them as refined, popularly used tidbits of wisdom. I describe them as stripped down teaching stories. <p> These mini teaching stories are so highly regarded in some cultures that there are now proverbs extolling the virtues of proverbs. The people of Sierra Leone say that proverbs are the daughters of experience, and an American adage states that proverbs are short sentences based on long experience. A favorite of mine is "A proverb often flashes light on regions where reason shines but dimly." <p> Some proverbs, such as "Slow down and live," are so mundane and commonplace that one would hardly recognize them as proverbs. Others, like "A book can't be judged by its cover," are cliché and obvious. Many are direct and to the point (Practice makes perfect) and give good advice (A penny saved is a penny earned). They impart solid wisdom based on long experience. Still others can be metaphorical: "A rainbow only follows a storm." <p> Two wellsprings give us our proverbs: wisdom and common sense. Their waters often mix, as when salt-of-the-earth wit is admired and adopted by the learned, or when common people find value in the formal words of the wise. <p> However they are described, from wherever they originate, and no matter who uses them, proverbs are valued in virtually all cultures. Some people, such as the Saami (Lapplanders) of northern Scandinavia, have a sacred word for them: <i>sananlasku</i>. The New Zealand Maori show this reverence in their proverb "Hold fast to the axioms of your ancestors." <p> Because proverbs don't have the substance of a typical story to make them memorable, many employ a clever twist or play on words. For example, this saying from the Damara tribe of South Africa, "He who wishes to seduce a !Kung San man's wife had best first grow eyes on his buttocks," would probably have been long forgotten had it been stated merely as, "If you are going to do something risky, first make sure you have it well planned." <p> In both traditional and contemporary cultures, proverbs are often used for guiding young people when there is not the time or circumstance for sharing a longer story. Proverbs can also be easily remembered and quickly recalled—a boon for a busy parent who must convey something in a hurry. <p> Proverbs are a good example of what all lasting stories have in common: they are entertaining and they are relevant. These core roles are essential, for therein lies their magic and their immortality. <p> The enduring life of a story is the person who becomes the story. Proverb, poem, mime, or movie, its spirit is the spirit of the one who fears or cries or laughs it. When a story is told with heart, a life is shared, and when a story is taken <i>to</i> heart, a life is renewed. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> <b><i>The Soul of a Story</i></b> <p> <p> A STORY'S VOICE, OR SOUL, belongs to no one and everyone. The body of a story reflects the personality of the storyteller and the character of the culture, and like the storyteller and the culture, it is born and it will die. Not so with the soul, for like all souls, it is eternal. <p> We remember stories because they take care of us. Our stories are more important than food or weapons or clothing, because they give us the wherewithal and the wisdom to find nourishment, peace, and warmth. They are the conveyors of culture: they keep it alive and spread its consciousness and cumulative experience. They give culture a continuity that spans generations. <p> We also remember stories because they are ours to take care of. Each one has come to us for a reason. Lasting stories, pregnant with the best of a culture's awareness and wit, have been cradled in the hearts of generations of storytellers and honed to brilliance through countless retellings. They have stood the test of time and have earned the venerable title of legends. The Saami's word for legend, <i>muinaisrunous</i>, is deeply infused with reverence. <p> Legends often begin as personal stories which strike a common chord, so they are remembered and retold. In time they may be adopted by the entire culture. When they persist through war and migration and all else that the ages might heap upon them, they become legends. These cultural treasures are a people's enduring friends and guardians. <p> Stories become legends the way people mature into Elders: by becoming doorways to the more profound aspects of life. As with an Elder, a legend's function is not to explain life's source or meaning but to involve us fully in its richness and experience. In this way, we can come to know life's mysteries ourselves, in our own time and way. It will then be our personal knowledge rather than something we are repeating from someone else. <p> Some legends are a culture's diary, or a history book of sorts, in that they chronicle the life of the people. We call these stories <i>sagas, runes</i>, and <i>epic poems</i>. We consider them to be history and yet they differ fundamentally from our traditional history, which is a noun: a record of dates and events. Sagas and epic poems are verbs: recountings of experiences and awakenings. <p> I watch people who listen to these old stories; adult and child alike become entranced in childlike wonder. A good story never becomes outdated and a person never outgrows his thirst for one. <p> Stories embrace the enduring spirit of a traditional people. We who come from cultures preserved by written stories, which we call history, often have trouble understanding this. Because we take our stories to be a literal chronicling of past times and culture heroes, we tend to place the same expectation upon stories from the oral tradition. Even though both <i>story</i> and <i>history</i> come from the same Latin word <i>historia</i>, they differ in significant ways. History is a linear chronicling of what a rationally based culture values and critiques: things, places, and events. The old stories embody a different consciousness, a different way of perceiving the world, which we are about to explore. <p> <p> LIVING THE STORY <p> Stories have life because they are about living people—you and me. We are the stories' heroes and fools. "Sometimes I feel like the first being in one of our Indian legends," comments Lakota mystic John (Fire) Lame Deer. Story characters personify our aspirations and desired qualities. Often free of reward or sanction, the characters provide us with examples of behavior to emulate and avoid. We reenact their adventures, follies, and lessons as our life journeys parallel theirs. In doing so, we personalize and expand upon the story. This is our gift to the story for the blessings it has given us, and this is one of the ways the story stays relevant to the times. <p> This personal relationship with a story's characters is evidenced in the North Australian Yolnu Aborigine's term <i>wanarr</i>, which means <i>culture hero</i>, as well as <i>ancestral and personal sacred objects. Baayama</i> is another similar term from Australia's Gamilaraay Aborigines. <p> The characters of stories are often one dimensional. This is so that they can clearly symbolize singular aspects of the self. When we look at all of the characters together, these aspects of self merge and we find a dynamic, multidimensional persona in whose footsteps we can tread. A story works when we become the persona, and vice versa. <p> <p> ANOTHER REALITY <p> To be relevant to our life and times, stories do not have to make rational sense. Stories seldom fail because they are too imaginative or unrealistic, but because they are not imaginative enough. A story needs to take us out of our present reality so that we can look back upon it and gain perspective. Therein lies both the beauty and the power of story. By not being constricted to our personal or cultural understanding of reality, stories can bring us new worlds of awareness and possibility. <p> Because children of most modern cultures are indoctrinated early on with the supreme value of logic, some children react with scorn and disbelief when hearing a traditional story. And rightfully so, because according to the definition of a lie, traditional stories are full of them. Many adults not only accept these lies, but they like to dress them up with terms such as <i>culture hero</i> and <i>metaphor</i>. The paradox is that these lies give us the story's truth, and the more skillfully and attractively the lies are told, the stronger the truth. <p> Stories are like dreams in that they address the now. They resonate with where we are at and offer timely insight and guidance. At the same time, they connect us with times and people past, to help us realize that others before us have faced the same questions and challenges and have done the same silly things. In this way stories can help us to feel that we are not alone: that we are connected with the common human experience. <p> We all know stories and use them for the same purposes: to entertain, provoke, inspire, and transport. Because our stories are about real life, they have sanction to speak explicitly about all the textures of life, from bodily functions, sex and violence, to birth, growing pains, and death. In Native societies even the very young are familiar with these events because they occur openly and are viewed as natural parts of life. For this reason, "adult stories" are rare, and such stories might actually be used to help their children explore and understand life. <p> Recently a woman expressed to me her concern that her interest in traditional stories kept her dwelling in the past, thus interfering with her efforts to be more in the moment. I was fascinated by the question because I had not considered it myself, so I jumped on the opportunity to explore it. Following is my reply: <p> My awareness of my world is limited by my sensory abilities. When I broaden my concept of self to include the life around me, I become this life and its experiences become mine. In this way, when I guide young people they give me the gift of seeing through their eyes and touching with their hands. When what they experience runs parallel to the experience of my youth, I am taken back to that time, which allows me to relive the experience and grow anew from it. I can do so because I see life as a spiral rather than a progression. There is really nothing new under the sun, because as my life comes around upon itself, I revisit the places, experiences, and feelings of old. And yet each time I gain something new, something I hadn't noticed or been ready for the last time around. <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Whispers of the Ancients</b> by <b>Tamarack Song Moses (Amik) Beaver</b> Copyright © 2010 by the University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.