“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.”
The world we live now is a world of socially texts based. Inevitably, language is the most essential tools of human capacity. Through language, we can convey complex and sophisticated idea to one and another; we can have an imagination about something.
Initially, words are symbolic representations and mental pictures that human invented through the imagination which enabled us to create complex sounds, influenced by the surroundings in everyday life. Our imagination is enabling us to perceive ideas and things, either by oral, writings or signs that contribute to our communication system.
People have been telling stories since the early days; the ancient days. Nobody knows for sure what and when the first story is told. Storytelling is an essential human tradition that lost in the mist of time; it is an intrinsic part of our lives, societies and culture.
So, what happened to human fascination of the stories? What is the effect for us? Where did the story come from? Which story should we believe? And what can we learn from that?
Nowadays, storytelling is a part of a big business, owned by big corporations. Storytelling moves from a campfire to houses and theatres around the world as the result in the invention of the new mediums such as television, radio and internet. Every day, we are bombardier by the stories that present in our media, both good and bad stories. Such politician and religious leaders are spreading their influence by telling their stories, companies spend million dollars for advertisement, the government uses their stories to promote certain kinds of consensus or propaganda. For example, depicting Germany and Japan as the bad guys, then the communists, and now the Muslim is depicted as the bad guy. Moreover, the present of the state of the art technology enable us to enjoy the story with more realistic effect, which is little needed of our imagination.
But what is the big deal about storytelling? And what is the connection to our imagination and our lives importantly?
Through time to time, stories have changed. Mainly, the changes in its form. Evidently, we can find stories in a cave or rock painting to the tablet, then from novels to movies. Stories are always an intrinsic part of the basis of human lives, in any civilization. Cave and rock painting are of the earliest form of stories of human history ever known.
A series of cave painting have been found in the Pyrenees Mountains in Southern France, the Lascaux Caves, date back between 1500 and 13,000 BC. The painting does tell a story, a story of rituals performed and hunting practices. Therefore, painting is arguably one of the oldest forms of storytelling.
The cave and rock painting represents the cultural imagination and collective consciousness of the tribes which came in varieties. From myth, legend, fairy tales, fables, ghost tales, hero stories and epic adventures to rules, codes and laws that they experienced or imagined. These stories are told, and retold over generations.
Do we think we know any of those stories? Think about it a little bit.
For indigenous people, storytelling is not just as a means for entertainment, but it is associated with practices and values which essential to develop one’s identity and used the story to communicate a ritual, storytelling or dialogue. Thus, the community values and norms are learned through storytelling, which help to guide the future generations in forming identity. This is merely because of the collective narrative both individual and cultural is intermingled in the creation of the story.
Furthermore, the story plays role in teaching and educate the community, it can used to calm the fears or doubts of individual or family. Thus, storytelling play role in affecting human emotions towards things and idea that seems abstract in the real world, which story help us to make sense the world we live in.
Surprisingly, before man learns how to write. Man must rely on their memory to learn anything. It shows how powerful the human brain is, which means that we do not have to write a story in order to people understand; we just need to listen and remember it. For this, man has to be a good listener in order to grasp the knowledge in the story. And the great storytellers are the most powerful people in the world. These stories pass down from generation to generations, which reflect the wisdom of knowledge of our ancestors. In fact, human fascination of the stories cannot be separated to the bounding of the common heritage and belief of the first cause of the Supreme Being, which is God. It is the fact that storytelling is one of the things that define and knit humanity together, as most historians and psychologist noted.
“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around”. — Terry Pratchett
The most prominent of storytelling is the oral telling tradition combined with gestures and expressions. During the Greek era, especially, during Socrates and Plato, which both had an important discussion between the superiority of the speech and the writing. During that time, written form is less common than the spoken word. Although the Greek were already had alphabet, which adapted from the Phoenician. Socrates himself never wrote anything but used orally method to teach his students through dialogue and discussion. Even though, writing expression is established in Greek society, but still Plato is uncertainty of writing that can have immediate sensation in the audience as much as oral; performed. During the time, literary oral performance by orator is mainly centered in Greek tradition. Socrates argues that “Speech is superior to writing”. The most prominent techniques of oral storytelling are the widely used of universal theme and the mode of repetition in the syntax and diction (the way the words are structured and position). In doing so, oral storytelling focus on repetition in order to the audience easily remembers the story.
As we know, The Epic of Gilgamesh was arguably the first printed story in 700 BC. The story is about Sumerian Kings’ deeds. It also related to the Bible’s Old Testament that spoke of men and women, provides tales and lessons, which occurred before they were written down. Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad are also the great example of great epic stories that how human learn from its lesson and example of the power of human memory. Homer wrote his stories around 1200 BC, long before the Greek developed a credible alphabet. The stories are passed down from people to people, tribes to tribes and places to places for hundreds of years until today. And finally, it is written down around 700 BC, which they had to rely on their memory to the accurate depiction of the stories.
Moreover, for hundred years, The Hebrew’s storytellers spread their tales and tradition that passed down verbally through generations. The Christians finally collected and written down in the Bible as the Word of ‘God’. As in the bible, “in the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. And the last, is the Quran; the last revelation of mankind that sent through Prophet Muhammad. Thus, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad claimed that they get their stories directly from God. Undoubtedly, their story has influenced billions of people since the time of the prophethood until today.
The same pattern can be found in China and India, which stories appeared in oral form before it is written down. In China, Storytelling was one of the many arts of the Yu, the entertainers at the feudal courts, during the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256BC). Meanwhile, in India, storytelling is becoming part of their education and their way of lives. The story reflects their life and their experience. Mostly, China and India use music in the narration of their story, combining with dances, humor as well as poetry.
Storytelling reaches vast aspects of human intrinsic and extrinsic lives. For a means of sharing and interpreting experiences to the tools that bridging the cultural, linguistic and age-related divides. Thus stories are universal in that sense. The function of stories is not only to teach the foundation of ethics, values, and cultural norms and difference, but also passes important knowledge in social contexts. The human brain is capable to understand, remember and tell stories. Thus stories can supplement analytical thinking because it requires auditory and visual senses from the listener, which human function can organize the structure of the story by the recognition of language through the expression of his or her thoughts.
In contrast, a story can do tremendous good as well as it can do tremendous evil. Storytelling can be used as a means for influencing, manipulating and even dominations. There are so many examples of evil story, especially in our media nowadays, this spins the good, the bad, and the ugly tales. The promotions of hatred against wrong accusation of other people are examples of evil stories. However, not many people can accept or reject the message, most of the time we bombardier by the same stories over and over again, we cannot resist those message whether we realise it or not it affect our lives. It may lead to the decay of the morality.
Stories can cheer us, give us motivation, inspiration to the endeavour of greatness, and influencing our present and future, at the same time it can upset us, and make us sad. Storytelling determined our emotions, and both are closely linked, and both strongly affects our lives.
If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life. — Siberian Elder