A Historical Perspective
Stories have been told as long as speech has existed, and sans stories the human
race would have perished, as it would have perished sans water.
STORYTELLING HAS BEEN CALLED the oldest and the newest of the arts. Though its purpose and conditions change from century to century, and from culture to culture, storytelling continues to fulfill the same basic social and individual needs. Human beings seem to have an innate impulse to communicate their feelings and experiences through storying. We tell stories in order to make sense of our world. We express our beliefs, desires, and hopes in stories, in an attempt to explain ourselves and to understand others. In The Completed Gesture, a book about the importance of story in our lives, John Rouse writes, "Stories are told as spells for binding the world together."2
According to Ruth Sawyer, "The first primitive efforts at conscious storytelling consisted of a simple chant, set to the rhythm of some tribal occupation such as grinding corn, paddling canoe or kayak, sharpening weapons for hunting or war, or ceremonial dancing. They were in the first person, impromptu, giving expression to pride or exultation over some act of bravery or accomplishment that set the individual for the moment apart from the tribe."3 One of the illustrations Sawyer gives is this Innuit chant from Greenland:
I, Keokok, have slain a bear,
A great bear, a fierce bear,
With might have I slain him.
Great are the muscles of my arm—
Strong for spear throwing—
Strong for kayak going—
I, Keokok, have slain a bear.