The World of Asian Stories, an omnibus of stories and storytelling traditions from 44 countries across Asia, provides an overview of methods and styles across a vast region of similarities and differences. In that spirit, the stories show how distinct, individual voices can combine to make for a unifying cultural experience.
Like and along with The World of Indian Stories, the book invites teachers, parents and children to explore storytelling at home in school.
The book contains:
An in-depth interview with Cathy Spangnoli on Storytelling
An introduction to Asian tellers
A note on storytelling tools
Regional and country maps
General introduction to each region and its stories
Introduction to each country
Activities covering art, Craft, writing, science, nature, songs and games
Things to think about
Riddles and proverbs from different countries
Cathy Spagnoli has been a professional storyteller /writer for about 30 years and has given numerous programmes in the U.S., Canada, South Asia, Korea, Japan and Singapore. She has met hundreds of Asian storytellers and collected a wide range of tales. She has also written several books, numerous articles for journals in Indian and the U.S., and recorded many audio telling. She lives with her husband , Indian sculptor Paramasivam and their son, Manu, on an island off Seattle in a home which they built themselves, and in Cholamandal Artists Colony in Chennai, Indian. Cathy has published many books with Tulika. Among them are Priya's Day, The World of Indian Stories, It's Only a story, and High in the Sky.
Here are short profiles of some Asian tellers; there are so many other wonderful tellers to enjoy, so please keep searching.
T. S. Balakrishnan Sastrigal, one of the most accomplished of recent harikatha exponents in South India, spoke seven languages, knew all the major Hindu stories, was an accomplished musician and could quote about 30,000 poems and proverbs. He came to telling early in his life, but worked in a bank for quite a while as well. When he first started telling, he used to make careful scripts for his programmes. After years, he knew all the stories very well, but he still kept looking for interesting stories and anecdotes from past and present life to include in his repertoire. His programmes were usually held in the musical halls of South India, over the radio, or for various functions throughout the country. Yet he felt his favourite programmes were for the poor in Chennai, for their simplicity showed him "the real wealth of our land: the strength of our saints and the greatness of our people".
Sayakbay Karalaev is a great manaschi. He started to tell extracts of Manas in 1918, then studied under the renowned manaschi Akylbek. His variant of Manas consisted of 5,00,553 lines and he was skilled in improvisation. He was compared to a symphony orchestra for he changed voice and mood frequently, moving from tragic resonance to lilting melody. He sometimes cried, sometimes laughed, sometimes sighed. They say he was at times like water, at times like the desert, and all Kyrghyz people admired his talent.
Two popular Japanese tellers come from different regions and tell different tales. Lively Yokoyama Sachiko learned the stories of her home in Fukushima later in life, wanting to give to other children the story time she never gave to her children since she had to work long hours in her husband's printing business. Her style is often comic, her face very animated, her gestures strong, her timing superb. She gives popular storytelling classes to adults and performs widely in the north of Japan. She is also one of the few Japanese tellers to teach younger children to tell: guiding them in community centre classes, then helping them share their tales in a beautiful museum which was once a farmhouse.
Honda Kazu lives in elegant Kanazawa, a second Kyoto, and shares that elegance through her telling. Kazu, who came to telling some 20 years ago, performs often with musicians, wanting the audience to experience a blend of word, song and sound. Ironically, one of her earliest memories as a child is of the day she followed a kamishibai storyteller as a two-year old and became hopelessly lost. As her fears grew, she suddenly heard a crow caw, and found her mother, who carried her safely home. Kazu's repertoire includes older, classic poetry that she recites (e.g. Manyoshu), as well as the beloved tales of the modem writer Miyazawa Kenji, and newer poems like those of Tanikawa Shuntaro. Recently, she's done bilingual storytelling with American teller Cathy Spagnoli as well.
Lee Shin Ye is the future of Korean p 'ansori singing storytelling. A very talented teen, she goes daily to Seoul's Fine Arts High School, studying school subjects in the morning, and devoting the afternoon to hours of singing. When school is done, she has private lessons with several members of a respected p'ansori family (one teacher, the youngest in that family, is trying to popularise p'ansori with the younger set by recording p'ansori in new ways more suited to ears that love rapl). During winter holidays, Shin Ye goes on a p'ansori retreat - singing loudly in the mountains as p'ansori artists trained decades ago. Shin Ye, whose voice was discovered in a middle school music class and who has already won competitions, will go on to study p'ansori in college. Her dream is to perform on the stage of Korea's National Theatre one day.
One of the best modem storytellers in Turkey was Behcet Mahir, who died in 1988. The non-literate son of a mason, he was drawn to telling after a series of important dreams, and had a large following due to his wide repertoire and his skill in oral composition. He usually told in the coffeehouses, until large video screens and other changes affected that work and he was forced to take a day job as a cleaner. His powerful voice came from a body barely five feet tall. He always told standing, so that "his 366 veins could vibrate more effectively". Mahir's telling of the Koroglu epic of a noble outlaw fighting oppression was legendary, going on for almost fifty hours. (Walker and Uysal: 1966, xvii-xx)
In Syria, Abu Shadi is a grocer by day but by night is a hakawati who tells regularly at a Damascus coffeehouse. He tries hard to build a rapport with the audience, for this is the heart of his art. "I watch them; I feel their mood," he says. "I have to be sensitive to people's problems." He tells his long epics, of Antar and other heroes, because "they tell you the right path of life. They teach virtue, they teach sacrifice, and they teach a love of the people". But the neighborhood coffeehouses have changed. Shop-owners often live away from' the area now and rush home without listening, while tourists drop in but don't understand the stories. And coffeehouses themselves are closing at an alarming rate. But Abu Shadi is committed and he will continue to share his stories, as long as there are listeners to listen. (Aziz: 1996, 12-17)
The Asian storyteller still tells today to encourage devotion, to preserve heritage, to teach, to entertain and to inspire. Although some traditional forms are fading, some can be revived and spread in schools, museums and libraries, with your support. Yes, with your help and interest, in both quiet village and bustling city, Asian storytellers will tell on into the next century.
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