Ancient and Indigenous Stories: Their Ethics and Power Reflected in Latin American Storytelling Movements

By Riascos, Jaime | Marvels & Tales, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Ancient and Indigenous Stories: Their Ethics and Power Reflected in Latin American Storytelling Movements


Riascos, Jaime, Marvels & Tales


The new Latin American storytelling movements have occupied places and niches in modern society with a variety of repertoires, diffusing tales from different oral traditions to stories by ancient and modern authors, which are transmitting ethical values from different cultures through the power of language and literature. Until around 1980, the terrain of oral narrative in Latin America was empty and desolate, for the oral traditions of our different cultures had become nonexistent in urban centers. The art of aesthetic orality disappeared completely from the landscape of cities.

Today diverse storytelling movements recognize three major origins of Latin American storytelling that were fundamental in preserving traditional repertoires from the different cultures making up Latin America that were alive and existing before the arrival of big cities and the presence of mass media:

1. The indigenous storyteller, or shaman, who already existed in our lands before the Spanish conquerors came. In most cases these men communicated religious, cosmogonie, historical, and medical knowledge by means of the power of language and words.

2. The African storyteller or griot, who was uprooted from his continent and driven to Latin America, and who was forced to speak a foreign language, adapt his religious beliefs according to his oppressor's demands, and mold his culture under the pressure of new geographies and social conditions. The Afro-Latin American storyteller recomposed a large portion of stories, myths, tales, and legends to maintain and preserve his land and people's legacy

3. The storyteller of Spanish descent, who brought to the continent courtly manners and style that amused kings and vassals, and was influenced by eight centuries of Arab domination in the Iberian peninsula and the consequent infiltration of the great figure of the Arab storyteller. This tale-teller of mixed tradition came over with the music and language that would dominate in Latin America and with the repertoires and narrative structures of that time.

These broad cultural groups or genres of storytellers continue to exert power and communicate values to their communities by means of orally transmitted knowledge and entertainment. In small villages, especially in those where TV and radio have not dismembered the communities' natural cohesion, they continue with their oral narratives and preserve traditions and cultural identities.

During the first half of the twentieth century, massive groups of all races and ethnicities were displaced toward the cities. With the birth of several generations in urban areas during the second half of the century, and because of the arrival of other image forms-not the imagined image natural to orality, but instead the all-resolved and finished image of television and the movies, later to be followed by video and the Internet-and also because of the use of other mobile and personal entertainment media, such as recorded music, oral narrators in the cities literally lost their relevance and disappeared as elements of radical importance within the network of new urban societies.

Nevertheless, during the 1980s there was a rebirth in the art of telling stories and in the exercise of our oral talents in aesthetic ways-and not only from a social, commercial, religious, or political perspective. Storytelling had begun to flourish in the big cities of Latin America and Spain, perhaps as a reaction against mass media and because of the human need to listen and be listened to. Today, Storytelling movements that have been growing rapidly maintain constant cross-national communication and artistic and academic exchanges through festivals of tale-tellers. We have national and international festivals held in Argentina, Spain, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, and the Canary Islands, among others.

In each of these countries, Storytelling movements have consolidated different structures that take advantage of the cultural and artistic networks offered by governments, educational establishments, and entertainment venues for children and adults in each nation. …

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Ancient and Indigenous Stories: Their Ethics and Power Reflected in Latin American Storytelling Movements
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