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What’s In A Name?

September 15, 2018

What's in a name

A while ago, I was squirreling around trying to think up words to use as passwords for my computer files. I stumbled upon some foreign words for “storyteller”. A-hah, I thought – and began looking up others – and the curious words brought back memories; images of tellers I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had. The strange thing was – sometimes… the cultures and the tellers/experiences did not match.

KADHAAB: the Arabic word brought back a teller from Cameroon in Central West Africa. A college professor in Cameroon, he came to a storytelling institute I held in the capital city of Yaounde. When he walked into the hotel room, he was quiet, composed… his clothing and demeanor very professorial…very Western – until he got up to tell. Suddenly he had on a large, multi-colored cape – and he was dancing and leaping about the room, creating loud, rhythmic calls and responses, and bringing his audience of teachers from five African countries to their feet, laughing and clapping and shouting. Suddenly the walls of that hotel vanished and we were in a village with a fire blazing, dogs barking, children dancing, and the beaming faces of the villagers reflected in the firelight.

CUENTISTA: the Spanish word created a picture of a young Mexican man who was doing some yard work for me. We got to chatting one day and he told me – shyly – about his new infant daughter and how he sometimes sang Spanish songs and lullabies to her at night. I was pleased – and told him so. We talked a bit about the importance of sharing our cultural heritage with our children. As we talked, I could see him sit up a little straighter; speak with more confidence – and I was glad. Sometimes, what we do as storytellers has little to do with performance….

SUTORITERA: the Japanese word conjured up a tiny Japanese-American teller re-creating the famous tale of “The Crane Wife”. I have told this tale myself – many times – but never the way she did…. Soft-spoken and still, she created the unbearable tension of this gentle, sad tale with powerful pauses and exquisite hand gestures.

CONTEUSE: the French word brought to mind a Canadian teller I saw in Vancouver BC at a national festival. She was telling a rollicking folktale – in French – and I was trying – mightily – to follow along. I remember the rush when I finally was able to nail an entire phrase or sentence! But, at the end, when I was clapping and hooting with the others, I realized that it didn’t matter that I’d lost at least half the words. I had still managed to participate; to be a part of the telling of the story.

I am humbled to be part of this world; to stand shoulder to shoulder with storytellers and their stories from all over the world.

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