Tunkashila…From the Birth of Turtle Island to the Blood of Wounded Knee. (Gerald Hausman)
“A Sioux medicine man once stopped in a field of grass to talk to a stone. Addressing it reverently, he called it Tunkashila, which means “grandfather,” “Oh, Grandfather, tell me how the the world began .” And the stone spoke.
Tunkashila, as the epigraph suggests, is the history of the world as told by a stone. It has been said that the little bears resemblance to the large: microcosm, macrocosm, which is why, in this case, a simple stone, a chip off a mountain, should rightly tell the tale of the beginning, middle, and the end of the world. In Native American mythology, this little stone harkens back, and bears witness to, the creation of the earth. It is, in this sense, a part of the stream of time, a part of the source of all things, a participant in the pageant of all life.
These words brought home to me the importance of telling stories, because they may well have been used by Grandfathers and Grandmothers through the ages to keep the story of their people alive.
I was halfway up a mountain, in Leirvik, in small football clubhouse on the Faeroe Islands, celebrating a wedding of two people from a community of 800 inhabitants based at the foot of the mountain and hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean.
Even in the recent history of the community, winter cut them off from their neighbours on the other side of the mountain and those on islands a few miles away.
From November until March, snow, storms, hail, fierce winds and raging seas isolated this small group of people from almost all of their fellow countrymen and women. In this situation, all the people had to pass on the history of the past, was a story, and they had a brilliant way of passing on the tale.
One man, from one family, stood in the hall, as we waited in a circle ready for a ritual which had been undertaken at every wedding in the community going back into the mists of time. One man, whose father, grandfather and ancestors have been given the role of telling the history of the village going back to its beginnings. Each momentous event and the people involved were remembered by word of mouth, passed from one generation to another.
The person standing in the hall at weddings, the beginning of a coming together which would increase the population of the village and its continuity. That person had the responsibility to commit to memory the past story and add to it from their generation.
All over the world, native people have used stories to keep their community together, used word of mouth to keep its people's identity strong.
In 2007, under a blue sky, as the chief of the Upper Mississippi Mdewakanton Lakota people stood centre stage, telling the young men and women of the tribe the history of their ancestors. The land he stood on, was the land his people lived on in the past. It was sacred and its story needed to be told because we all know what has happened to fractured communities across the world.
That moment in time, the book I have in front of me now and the memory of the wedding ceremony in the Faeroe Islands are the reason I wanted to open Storytelling Corner. The reason I want to give a space for people to tell their story. I hope you will join us.
P.S. Have you got a story to tell or have you written a book about a story you can tell?