As a heritage interpreter, I have been helping to create connections between people and the cultural, natural, and historic sites they visit for over 14 years.
What images come to mind with the word storyteller ? A porch with a rocking chair where grandpa would talk until you drifted off to sleep ? Maybe an aunt recanting childhood fairytales or a cousin who wonderfully told stories as she made them up in progress ? With many of us, storytelling is often associated with our elders, for it is their stories, our ancestral stories, which were orally being passed down to succeeding generations.
Oral traditions of storytelling have been the primary method of recanting the history of societies around the world. The term “prehistoric” refers to “pre” written history. It was passed down orally from the elders. A Merriam Webster definition of “oral tradition” states they are, “the stories, beliefs, etc., that a group of people share by telling stories and talking to each other.” Native American traditions of storytellers have existed well into modern times, with most tribes relying on oral traditions to pass down histories of tribes and clans, explaining nature and creation through engaging stories younger generations could connect with.
The terms of “myth” and “legend” have been attributed to many of these centuries old stories. The term “story” itself is often seen as a label referring to fictional accounts, but there is always truth upon which legends are born. These traditional stories have become known as folklore which encompasses traditions, stories, music, dance, and art. However, it is the art of storytelling which resides within those best known for holding the attention of an audience. It awakens something within the audience, conjuring up mental images or passionate emotions which connect with the words of the speaker.
Connecting the past to the present through living history brings stories of the past alive and breathes life into those who came before us. They become more than statistics in a history book. It is the historical interpreter who guides the connection to the past. Through relating stories of the past in an engaging manner, relevant connections are made with people, places, and/or events of the past.