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Ancient storytelling traditions

Cultures around the world all have their own traditions around storytelling and storytellers to reflect their ways of life, values and aspirations.

In ancient Greece, storytellers were travellers who peddled fables (stories with a moral or a message), legends (like the stories of Aeneas and Ulysses), and myths (about the gods). As well as passing on information to people all over Greece, the storytellers also spread the use of the Greek language and helped to unify the people.

Northern Chinese storytelling is called “pingshu” and its roots go back to 770 BCE. It became recognised as an official artform in the 1600s and storytellers had particular clothing, equipment and practices that marked them in their profession. Pingshu practitioners are still recognised today, along with other storytelling traditions from antiquity.

Hawaiian storytelling comes out of the melting pot culture of the islands to create moments like this.

In Western Africa, there is a timeless tradition of storytelling, where each village or town has its own storyteller called a griot. Really, they are combinations of storytellers, singers, dancers and drummers. Each evening, the griot (usually a man) calls the people to hear the day’s story by beating their drum and shouting “come listen, come listen!”

Arab storytelling, like most traditions, draws from a canon of folktales. One of the traditions held in high regard is hakawati. Even now, storytellers are sponsored during Ramadan by cafés and hotels to entertain people during the long evenings.

Storytelling is still a big part of the multitude of cultures around the world. There are storytelling festivals held around the world honouring the importance of the pastime and the storytellers of today don’t have to leave their bedrooms to share their stories with the world.

What kind of storyteller are you?

Image credit: Al-Nawfara Coffee Shop, Damascus, Syria by yeowatzup under a Creative Commons Attribution licence

September 13th, 2011 by Sarah Jansen
Filed in: For Family
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Zahmoo is a story bank for collecting and sharing your family and business stories.


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