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How might you tell the story of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly if you couldn’t use words? Perhaps, you would use actions or pictures. Or even sign language.
Storyteller Ian Sandborn does just that. At the start, he fingerspells the word ‘caterpillar’ in American Sign Language.
Ian uses a method of signed storytelling called Visual Vernacular which is an international variety of signage utilising body language, mime and imagery common to most sign languages and cultures.
Dr Ella Leith, Ethnologist and Folklorist at the Celtic and Scottish Studies Department at the University of Edinburgh said: ‘It’s not specific to British Sign Language or BSL, but it’s part of BSL. Butterflies are deaf so there is something in Ian’s story also about discovering and celebrating your deaf identity.’
The Caterpillar Story demonstrates the importance of our senses when sharing an experience or story. We often use our senses communicating with each other. Communication can become challenging if one or more of those senses is unavailable.
Paul Scott demonstrates this in the story-poem Five Senses, using British Sign Language to show how deaf people can overcome their lack of hearing.
Could you also tell the Caterpillar story using only touch and sounds?
Storyteller Josh Colt Gambrel has collected this Mongolian folktale.
Called Why the Camel Rolls in the Ashes, Josh uses words, gestures, pictures, sensations and sounds in telling the story.
It can be enjoyed by older children and adults. A similar story for younger children is called How the Bear Lost his Tail.
The power of words can be explored by creating and telling stories with only a hundred words or less.
These are called ‘micro-stories’, and in 2014, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, Michael Kerins, a Scottish storyteller based in Glasgow, invited people to create twenty-seven-word stories. The number was significant because Lermontov died when he was 27-years-old.
Here are some micro-stories from Russia, Scotland and one by Alice Ruan from China.
Storytelling uses verbal and non-verbal methods of communication, which means stories are ideal for sharing between languages.
It can be challenging, but it encourages cooperation and an understanding of different languages and cultures. It is also lots of fun, which is what storytelling should be about! Depending on the stories chosen, this approach works for young children through to adult learners.
Renfrewshire-based storyteller Anne Pitcher and French puppeteer Tania Czajka collaborated to create a bilingual version of The Wee Bannock, a Scots folktale for children. Anne told the story to children at Kirklandneuk Primary School, as part of a series of events marking UNESCO Day of Cultural Diversity, Dialogue and Development, on May 10, 2017.
Kirklandneuk is a pilot school in Renfrewshire which incorporates French and Spanish into the daily routine of school life. Principal Emma Wallace wanted the children to have fun while engaging with French and Spanish through storytelling and asked Anne to do a storytelling session with French for Early Years pupils at the school.
Anne said: ‘I love the French language, its beautiful sound and flow, its richness of timbre. The French use their whole bodies when they speak. Their use of facial expressions and their hand gestures are eloquent. With young children, it is good to have action songs, giving a reason to move between stories which helps recalling words in another language. It was a joy to see it all coming together successfully. It was a big challenge but an achievement too.’
Anne and Tania started with a complete version of The Wee Bannock in two different languages and it is something you might want to try out.
This might come from the richness of Scotland’s own linguistic diversity, or with stories from other languages, or a combination of both.
Storyteller Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir (Martin MacIntyre) has contributed this story about the boyhood of Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCool) and his encounter with the Salmon of Knowledge. The story is presented here in Gaelic and English but would make an excellent story translated into other languages.
Read the story in Gaelic here.
Read the story in English here.
Here is another story to try out from Shetland. It's a rich winter story of the Shetland Trows or Fairy Folk, told by George P.S. Peterson from Papa Stour. The first version is written in Shetland Scots and the second in English. This story can provide the basis for a great school or community play.
Storytellers from around the world come each year to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in October. They bring stories with them in their own languages, and in English. In this section we will add these stories as our guests arrive.
However, everyone can share in the Scottish International Storytelling Festival’s own story.
During October, the hours of darkness in each twenty-four-hour period overtake the hours of daylight. This has already happened in the far north of Scotland but spreads across the country because of the angle at which the Earth tilts on its axis, revolving around the sun.
People in Scotland celebrate the Festival of Samhuinn or Halloween at the end of October. It also marked the start of the Celtic New Year. The idea behind it was to ensure our safe passage together through this time of change into the winter season. One way in which people marked Halloween was by going guising round houses in the community and performing short plays.
Later these plays were also sometimes performed at Hogmanay on the 31st December/1st January which became the New Year festival.
Guising plays are great fun. But what people don’t realise is there is more to guising than just ‘trick or treat.’ The point of the plays was to bind communities closer together so that people would help each other through the cold winter and look forward to Spring.
Just like the Halloween Guisers, modern storytellers are concerned with the environment and how people can work together through times of change and challenge.
At this year’s festival, we will be talking about how storytelling can help in taking the core values of the Earth Charter forward around the world.
The 2017 Scottish International Storytelling Festival supports and offers three days of open table talks around the themes of the Earth Charter. The Earth Charter was developed after a worldwide dialogue on common goals and values for social justice, peace and sustainability.
Spanish storyteller and writer, Grian Cutanda, has made a short animation based on an Australian Aboriginal Creation Myth. Australian Aborigines have one of the oldest storytelling traditions in the world. This version has been adapted by Rowan Walking Wolf for global audiences. The film is available in English and Spanish.
For those who would like to explore the role of storytelling in environmental education, Grian Cutanda has made the following material based on his international research.