Even in the age of the Internet, we must be able to talk to one another.
So goes the philosophy of Wilburn Hill, a storyteller featured at the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City this weekend.Stories break the ice between people and between different cultures, said Hill, a Tulsa-based Muscogee Indian. And storytelling is something that each of us practices even if we're just telling stories about our brothers and sisters. Storytelling is about where we've been, where we are and where we're going, explained Hill.
"Stories help us learn about the world and the way it works," he said.
In other words, storytelling is not just for children. Hill said adults often bring their children to hear him tell stories but are surprised to find that they enjoy it more.
Hill, brought up to be a tribal storyteller, said that certain people in his tribe are chosen to be trained as storytellers. While he may slightly adapt certain details of his stories, he said, it's important that he remain true to the story's basic beginning, middle and ending elements. By faithfully telling the stories of his ancestors, he said he feels almost as if they are with him when he's telling a story.
Hill believes it's important to pass on the tradition. Because one Native American language dies each year, he said he's teaching storytelling and the Muscogee language to two nieces and a nephew in hopes that at least one will take an interest in it.
Tchin, a Blackfoot/Narragansett Indian from New Jersey, agrees that stories are not just for entertainment. In fact, Tchin prefers to call them "lessons."
That is not to say that his lessons lack entertainment value. He said he knows he's speaking to the "MTV generation" so he can't let his stories be too long.
And he also incorporates visual elements to his performance through the use of props. For example, in one story, when he talks about bees, he quickly puts on two bee finger-puppets. When he mentions snow in another story, he scatters about bits of white confetti. And when he talks about the rainbow, he produces a set of rainbow-colored paper streamers.
Lynn Moroney, an Oklahoma City-based Chickasaw storyteller, doesn't use props, but she hisses and flickers her tongue when a snake appears in one story. And she asked the audience to speak with her during parts of the story.
Moroney explained that there are two types of American Indian storytellers - the traditionalists, like Hill, and what she calls "revivalists," like Tchin and herself. They are people who chose to become storytellers as adults and may have to do research to learn about the significance of their stories.
Moroney has been a professional storyteller since 1989, but became attracted to storytelling when she was the director of the Oklahoma City planetarium in the 1970s. She found that the children she worked with were knowledgeable about Greek astrology and the myths corresponding to their constellations.
But she said many Native American tribes were highly sophisticated astronomers with their own constellations and rich body of myths. She wanted American children to be aware of this aspect of their heritage, so she began to tell these stories in the planetarium.
Another traditionalist is Dorothy Dukepoo, a Laguna and Hopi Indian who grew up in Arizona and New Mexico and now lives in Kentucky. Dukepoo explained that there are many Hopi stories that she can never tell to people outside her tribe.
Dukepoo explained that, while she tells short stories at events like Red Earth, a Hopi tale can last four nights, four weeks, four months or four years. In such extensive stories, the storyteller will begin each time with a reminder of what happened last in the story.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)