Monday, February 4, 2008

Cherokee Stories

The last few years have seen something that to me is very beautiful: living, current tellings of Cherokee stories - as well as those of other American Indian nations - available to wider audiences. No more the dry anthropologies of the late nineteenth century: these narratives of myth and folklore are bright and vivid in their colors, alive, current, real. Barbara Duncan's Living Stories of the Cherokee - which transcribes the tales of active storytellers in the Eastern Cherokee Band in North Carolina (storytellers who tell their tales at schools or at council meetings, or just on Saturday afternoons on the porch) - is a monument in literary anthropology. Its authenticity and vitality is due to: 1) the fact that Barbara Duncan lived in Cherokee, North Carolina - she was not an outsider brought in; and 2) she treats each story as both story and record, rather than as just one or the other: in this, she grasps something central to this culture's storytelling. Definitely take a look: it is a passionate book.

Also - recent years have seen a surge in children's books - with such art! - telling the old stories: the story of the first strawberries, for instance, is beautifully told and beautifully painted in Bruchac and Vojtech's book:

I wish I had the last painting in that book scanned to offer here, but you will have to buy or borrow the book. It is a breathtaking illustration: the man and the woman together, reunited by the strawberries, and holding the berries cupped in their hands together, their faces lit with the soft red glow of the shining fruit.

These books mean a great deal to me personally. Strawberries and a few other "leftovers" from past generations had great significance in the house in which I grew up, though often without much definition - all that was left of that segment of our heritage. To this day I keep strawberries in the house, by the door or on the mantel - though it was not until I was a teenager that I knew why.

Impersonally, as an admirer of folklorists and all artists and scholars of mythopoeia, I celebrate these books as a great gift to this generation.

Also, take a look at what's coming in Cherokee, North Carolina: this nation has no casino - instead, vibrant drama, a museum, a cultural center. Somehow throughout the brutality of the centuries this people has kept its dignity and its stories and by doing so has remained a people. It is something to be admired and celebrated, and it is a wondrous thing that a wider audience is now listening to their musicians and their storytellers. We are traveling further around the circle of Time.


Anonymous said...

Well fantastic again! I'm part Cherokee and always wanted to get a hold of some readings. So thank you again for the terrific introduction!

Anonymous said...

Eustace Conway was also influenced by the Cherokee, and has been important as a naturalist in the education of young people, promoting a respect for nature.