I often wonder about that moment…..when the telling of tales first began?
Cave-paintings show how our earliest ancestors lived, and their pictures reveal, like tiny chinks of light, what mattered to our ancestors and what their lives involved. But when the men went away to do the hunting what stories did Neolithic mums tell their young? I’m sure they must have had lots to tell, events in their ancestors lives, stories passed from mother to child? Were those stories about love or, like cave paintings, did they revolve around the thrill of the chase. And what about the battles their people had lost and won? Did these mums tell stories to comfort sweet dreams or risk adding horror to nightmares? And did those primitive mums also sing songs to lull their babies to sleep?
A couple of years ago I was fascinated to hear a folk musician on the radio (I was driving at the time and couldn’t take note of his name) explain his life-long search for the oldest tune in the world. And the most ‘common tune’ he discovered (admittedly sung with different words) in just about every culture he explored, from the Sami peoples of the Arctic Circle to fishermen on the Mediterranean, was the tune known I know as ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star.’
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are?
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.
He showed how the structure/phasing/melody are all extremely simple, which means the basic tune can be played on fundamental, hand-carved instruments. But I wonder if an Egyptian mother sang similar words as she lay on the roof of her mud-brick home with her children, seeking a cool breeze in the middle of the night after an unbearably hot day. Did she look up at the great span of stars and wonder…… We may never know how long the song has been sung but it is strangely comforting to think it precedes written history.
So back to my original question, how old is storytelling? I believe it is likely as old as humanity, if not older. Even, perhaps, we imagined the story and then we began.
World Storytelling Day is celebrated on the Spring Equinox in northern territories and on the Autumn Equinox in the southern hemisphere. The theme for 2013 is Monsters and Dragons. For more information go to: http://www.freewebs.com/worldstorytellingday/