Published articles by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Coastkids Illawarra
December 2009

Storytelling a skill for everyday
Part One

By Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Many of us have heard of the oral tradition of storytelling. It is often referred to as a romanticised feature of days gone by or of the culture of "others". There are also many professionals referred to as storytellers: the author, scriptwriter, songwriter, screenwriter, to mention a few. What is your place then as a parent, family member, community member, storyteller?

While some may see it as a feature of the past, oral storytelling is a practice that is alive and well in Australia and the world. Folk tales, cultural tales, creation tales, religious tales and the life story are available for you to hear in person, on CD, bit-torrent and iTunes download. I am a professional oral storyteller. I tell stories and do workshops with children, youth, adolescents and adults in a number of different contexts and settings. I do not read books to people. I tell the story in the traditional manner, from my mouth and heart to your ears and heart.

Lets have a closer look at the home and storytelling. The immediate example of storytelling being alive and well is gossip. Essentially this is storytelling as the juiciest pieces of gossip contain characters, hearty descriptions and captivating twists in events. This form of storytelling is enjoyable for the teller as well as the listener.

How many times have you recounted stories from you youth, living in another country or part of the country, of family members near and far - surely everyone has a story about that excentric aunt! We use stories to remember and honour people, as we tell of our experience of them, of the times we shared. All of these are transmitted though story.

And then there is my favourite - stories about food. Growing food, scarcity of food, where it comes from. Can you actually tell about your favourite foods without telling the story behind it? The way it has to be made? Who you shared it with? Is it a family favourite? Probably the majority of stories I hear are about food and they are always soooo much better when I get a taste as well!

Inherently and within the movements of our daily lives we are storytellers. Lets take it a bit further then and look at storytelling and your children. How often do you put the book down and tell a story to your children?

It is surprising to realise how much the oral story is a part of our adult and family lives; yet as the most important primary literacy tool we have it does not gain the level of use or recognition it deserves.

In a recent study it was found that "Storytelling is the single, strongest predictor of literacy. Those who hear stories before the age of four, read the best."
- George Wells report findings (2005)

Oral stories (not movies or book reading) establish the sound structure of a language. They are entertaining and captivating and ignite imagination and language as a joint endeavour. Children learn to enjoy sounds, descriptions and will take in a moral lesson from a story with ease. Many stories cover the themes of trying hard to achieve a goal, that little people can overcome great odds, that honesty and kindness can pay off, not looking after the earth can have disastrous consequences ...

Stories assist our sense of identity. In Australia we have a strong association with battler tales, the convict who made it against the odds, the thief who wore a metal outfit to outsmart the law, the kid who rose up and became a great sports person. The stories we choose to tell as a family, as a nation as a person make up our identity.

They also help with language (and cultural) transmission. Have you noticed it is only those of Scottish decent that use the word 'caniption'? My mother was born in El Salvador and the stories she told me included Spanish phrases. This was the beginning of my Spanish language lessons. I became familiar with the sound and structure of the language from these stories. It is a method I use in primary schools today to teach Spanish. Stories with repeated 'riffs' or phrases are loads of fun and great for memorisation.

Leslie Silko, a Laguna storyteller (Native North Amrican Indian) is quoted as saying;
“I will tell you something about stories.
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.”

So what can you do to start telling a wider range of stories to your children? Stay tuned for part two in next issue.......

©Lillian Rodrigues-Pang