“We do not mean, we do not really mean, that what we are going to say is true.”
–How Ashanti storytellers begin their stories
How can we even attempt to understand each other? Canada is so huge, its climate and geography so different, that many Eastern Townshippers may not have any real understanding or connection to, for example, the lives of those Canadians who live up near the Arctic Circle.
A part of understanding comes from the stories we tell. Here’s the story of an Inuit boy named Tuk (pronounced “took”): Tuk wants to become a hunter, like his father. (Unlike Townships hunters, who stalk deer or birds, Tuk is thinking of seal or walrus meat for his supper. And he uses a spear, not a gun.)
One day Tuk and his father go on a trip, but find an angry polar bear, who chases the pair right back to their home. Tuk warns his mother and sister and even pushes the sled dogs inside to safety, then father blocks the entrance of the igloo with snow and ice.
“Day after day the family waited until there was no food left for them to eat. Still the bear circled the igloo.”
Can Tuk save his family? He will need to be cunning and imaginative…
This is an old, old story, but it still has meaning. Stories offer an understanding of history, and of cultural connection, and more, and are passed down from parent to child. They are not necessarily reality (in the same sense that Grimm’s fairy tales are not reality, but instead point to a shared cultural imagery and imaginary).
Tuk’s tale is from Susan Milford’s Tales Alive! Ten Multicultural Folktales With Activities (1995, filed in C-136 in the children’s section of the Lennoxville Library), and it is filled with stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat. They are from countries such as Turkey, Italy, Ghana, and Scotland.
Milford notes that stories from different cultural traditions may start to sound familiar. And she asks, “What does this tell us? That folktales are just another of the many things the world’s people have in common with each other.”
Each story is followed by a handful of related crafts you can make. Goggles that protect from snow blindness cost about $100 when purchased from an Inuit artisan; but you can make an inexpensive pair with poster board and elastic. Other activities involve cooking, papier maché, candle making, and creating your own board game. These are all great ideas for kitchen or dining room table projects, as the evenings grow ever longer.
This week, the City of Sherbrooke is holding its Semaine Sherbrookoise des rencontres interculturelles – a way to show that our city welcomes everyone. The Lennoxville Library is taking part, offering a special Saturday, October 10 multicultural children’s storytelling morning (and it’s free).
Sometimes our heroes encourage us to discover more about other cultures. Nelson Mandela renounced violence, encouraging South Africans to peacefully demand an end to apartheid. He was eventually elected his country’s first black president, and is one of only six foreigners to receive honorary Canadian citizenship (in 2001; others include the Buddhist Tenzin Gyatso, and the Muslim imam, the Aga Khan).
Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales (2002, at C-136) is a great read, a beautiful book featuring 32 tales from multiple African countries. (The stories here are at a higher reading level than those in Tales Alive! and adults will enjoy them also.) A few of these stories feature the delightful Hare, “a cunning, impish character” who seems to hop in and out of multiple storytelling traditions (Kenya, Zambia, and the Xhosa people of South Africa).
Of course not all the stories that we tell are magical or mystical. Some are very practical. Like the story of Sylvia, who waited for her mother to pick her up after school. And waited, and waited, and finally was so worried that something awful had happened that she began crying.
That was when little Michael, and his dad Mr. Tanaki, calmed her down and told Sylvia that they would sit and wait with her. It turned out that grandma had offered to pick up Sylvia as a surprise, but got lost! And so everything ended well, with the four of them going out for ice cream.
That’s from The Tale Of The Silly Goose And Other Stories: A Multicultural Storybook (by Vicki Rogers and Sharon Stewart, 1993, C-138), and includes a couple of magical tales — the Silly Goose, for example, is named Gisele, and she ignores warnings about a hungry fox. Gisele lives on a farm run by Farmer Singh.
But most are stories about moments in our real, human lives. Edwin and Rupinder are both new students at a new school, and want to make new friends. But instead they meet and both want to play with the same blocks. They get into a fight.
Eventually, though, they start to laugh, and do, indeed, become friends. As might happen in any school playground.
The artist Dusan Petricic has written and illustrated a beautiful picture album, titled My Family Tree And Me (2015, C-104). You can see that the little boy’s red hair comes from his father’s side!
Each page is a portrait of a different generation. If you start at the front, you get father’s side, going from the great great grandfather and grandmother to “me”. Start from the back, and you get mother’s side of the family. In the middle is a multigenerational, multiracial family tree (including a gay uncle). A lovely book.
Here’s one last picture book: My Pal, Victor/ Mi Amigo, Victor (by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Robert L. Sweetland, 2004, in C-84). The library’s Saturday storytelling hour this week will feature tales in English, French, and Spanish. If you want to have fun learning a bit of Spanish (or you’re working on your English), this book is indeed bilingual. Or you can ignore one language and just read the other. The story itself is charming. A little boy talks about how much he appreciates his best pal, Victor. Victor tells great stories, has a wonderful imagination, and loves baseball. His jokes are funny (the answers to the jokes are on the very last page), and he waggles a flashlight under his chin for Halloween.
The point is, Victor really likes Dominic back, which means a lot to our narrator — because Dominic is in a wheelchair. And just wants to be treated like anyone else. And that’s what Victor does.
Please come by Saturday at 10:30 a.m. for a trilingual storytelling time. All are welcome! Tous sont les bienvenus! Todos son bienvenidos! That’s English, French, and Spanish.
Nelson Mandela believed in the power and importance of stories: “Because a story is a story; and you may tell it as your imagination and your being and your environment dictate; and if your story grows wings and becomes the property of others, you may not hold it back. One day it will return to you, enriched by new details and with a new voice.” And so Canadians, and those who come here to become Canadians, tell each other stories, adopt them, change them, and share them again and again.
— Eleanor Brown, October 9, 2015
This is one in a loosely connected group of columns; go here next https://bibliolennlibrary.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/an-amnesiac-teen-finds-himself-battling-monsters-by-jupiter-the-roman-gods-were-more-warlike-they-were-forging-an-empire/