Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reflection on Storytelling in Liberia via Alaska

In Alaska I met a tribal doctor who worked for the Native Medical Center in Anchorage. In our conversation she shared her story and her history of dreams and visions.

I asked, “Do you still have dreams, visions and a story?”

She said, “No.”

When I asked, “Are you living your dreams, visions, and your story?

She answered. “No.”

I was perplexed.

She then moved forward in her chair and touched her heart and said “I am my dream, I am my vision, and I am my story.”

I realized how short sighted I was. Always thinking of a story as something I was going to tell or as my unfolding story that I was creating. Her straight forward response, “I am my story,” captured the essential nature of story and the relationship of story to identity.

At times when I share this experience with others they look puzzled and say, “I don’t get it.”

In one incident the response was “How arrogant can you get? To think you are the story.”

As I shared this experience with Liberians, I found that most understood the significance and meaning of the tribal doctor’s response. They know they are their story and that each person is a story. They also are quick to point out that they are not the whole story. Their community including family, town, and clan are the story and the stories are not separate. In spite of being torn apart by war they still see themselves as one story.

The Liberian people in general romanticize the modern United States and some downplay the traditional ways. In the past village storytellers told stories in costumes but many of the young people have not experience this because of the war. Most of the people in Liberia were displaced, refugeed, or experienced some traumatic event. In spite of the total disruption of life, within Liberians remains a natural affinity for storytelling as a means of conversation and seeing life. The traditional forms of storytelling may be lost for some but the informal art and essence of storytelling remains strong in the Liberian culture.

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