Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rachel the Raconteur: "Oh, Storyteller, Storyteller, why must I be called Storyteller?"

I have never considered myself a raconteur though I always liked the name of it.

I am a fan of alliteration and revel in rattling "r" words if received enough reason.

Yet, when people ask what I do, I say, "I am a storyteller."

This reminds me of a time. . .or actually the day after my "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" storytelling premiere. My parents flew from Wisconsin to Utah to attend. They were still in town so we went to the LDS Draper Temple open house in the Salt Lake City area.

The tour started at a church building. From there, we were shuttled for about five minutes to the Temple. While on the bus, my Mom told a family sitting nearby--with a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old--that I was a storyteller. Then Mom, still looking at them, addressed me with, "Tell them a story."

Two things ran in my mind. First, you do not argue with Mom. Second, I knew I was a lot like my Mom for I would have done the same thing if I had a daughter.

Maybe 2 1/2 minutes were left of the ride. A Chinese tale flashed into my mind and I shared it. The story ended as the shuttle came to a stop. The family thanked me for the story. As I always have business cards in my wallet, I gave a card. I encouraged the kids to share the story with others. I may never know what will happen as a result, but the storyteller side of me thought, "Ah, this is part of what life is about. . .sharing stories so people can find their own."

Okay, so perhaps the above story could qualify me as a raconteur.

But let us think about the title of "raconteur". It is not all that different than the title of "storyteller" that people like my mother or I use all the time to describe how we share stories.

Yet, have you come upon other beautiful names for the storyteller? Do you then exclaim, like me, "Oh, Storyteller, Storyteller, why must I be called Storyteller?"

Then these words may be of interest--

  • Raconteur--A person who excels in telling anecdotes. This comes from the Middle French language with the verb "raconter" with the "re" meaning "again" and "aconter" meaning "to tell or to make an account". You could also refer to "recount" of which this word came to being about 1456 of Middle French. Yet, if a raconteur shared anecdotes, then what of that the word "anecdotes"? In 1676, it was Greek for "anekdota" with "an" meaning "not" and "ekdotos" meaning "published". Often these tales were giggled or gossiped about as secret or private stories. They were meant to be brief, witty, skillful and amusing.

  • Troubadour--A composer and performer of Occitan lyric poetry in the High Middle Ages (1100-1350). This singer/storyteller created their own works with the main themes of chivalry and courtly love. Their pieces were often metaphysical, intellectual, and formulaic. Often the stories were humerous and sometimes vulgar satires. Their words could be so powerful that often movements were attributed to the troubadours. If they preferred, they may accompany their story with instruments like the fiddle. The etymology is debated as either having Latin or Arabic roots. If the Latin way, then the Old French/Occitan word "trobador" means "trope" or "turn, manner". The Latin way could also come from the Modern French word "trouver" meaning "to find". Most agree that the word "trobar" in Occitan meant "invent" or "compose". If the Arabic way, the word "trobar" is thought to mean "to sing". Then, there are some who declare that both the Latin and Arabic may have been merged on purpose to have a play on words as with the coincidence of "trobar" and the triliteral Arabic root.

  • Bard--Many cultures have "borrowed" this Greek word from "bardos" meaning "to raise the voice, praise" of the Proto-Celtic time, which traces even to Proto-Indo-European. Often, a bard was a professional poet hired by monarchies or nobles to create eulogies or other praising work. If the patron did not pay the right amount to the bard, then these praises transformed into satires. For the pre-Christian Celtic people, the bard sang songs about the wondrous deeds of the warriors or to reveal family geneologies and histories. The bard traveled from place to place like a nomad, though was paid considerly more. Nowadays, bards have been generalized to mean epic authors, singers and/or narrators. For more on Irish bards, then read a post I wrote entitled "Today's Bards and Seanachies: Irish Wisdom in Storytelling Techniques".

  • Seanachie--These traditional tellers from from the Celtic culture and can vary in spelling from "seanchai" to "shanachne" to "seanchaidhe". The "seanchas" means "old lore". If you took the "idhe" and add an "s" to make "sidhe", then you get a word that means "hill of the fairies or people of the faerie mound". These would be part of the tales they would share as well as the history and laws memorized in long lyric poems. Specific speech and gesture teachniques are used. Sometimes stories came from literary sources. Yet, for the most part, the stories were passed from one teller to another teller. A few seanachies traveled, but most settled in one area and became known as "village storytellers". For more on Irish seanachies, then read a post I wrote entitled "Today's Bards and Seanachies: Irish Wisdom in Storytelling Techniques".

  • Skald--This was a Scandinavian poet and singer of Medieval times, and likely the word came from "sekw" and means "to say, utter". Norwegians and Icelandic poets of the Viking times were most common to have this title. You may want to consider that "skald" looks a lot like "scold" and is often attributed to these tellers. In 1150, "scold" meant "person of ribald speech" or "person fond of abusive language". The word "skaldskap" meant "libel in verse". These people were feared due to the ability to make language wound the soul or to mock. Mainly, women used this skill. The word changed into a verb in 1377.

  • Scop--This person was the Old English/German counterpart of the skald. Mostly epics and sagas were told including Beowulf. The word came from the verb "scapan" as in "to create, form". This word later transformed into "scoff" and to mean "abuse, derision". From the Germanic "skeub" we get "push, thrust" and this kind of scop usually believed that the spiritual or the heroic went hand-in-hand with the ecstatic or drunken state. Thus, we receive much mocking in those areas from the scops.

  • Minstrel--Since the 1800s, this term has meant "Medieval singer of heroic or lyric poetry who accompanied himself on a stringed instrument". It did not always connect with a historical place in time. The word came from the Old French "menestral" to mean "entertainer, servant" and from the Middle Latin "ministrals" for "servant, jester singer". Finally, Late Latin brought "ministerialem" to mean "imperial household officer, one having an official duty". The French often saw minstrels as pure musicians, but the English, around 1600s, declared that anyone who delved into the entertainment field for the benefit of a patron was a ministrel. This could include singers, storytellers, jugglers, and buffoons.

  • Ashik--This is a person who sings semi-improvised stories with central themes of worldly love, epics of wars, or both from the areas of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Iran. The teller travels much like the troubadour or the bard yet with spiritual influences. The teller plays the saz, a lute-like instrument. The ashik practices the oral tradition and shares the values held by the tradition of the culture. Today, the ashik can be found in rural areas of Azerbaijan and Iran while this same kind of teller is currently called "bakshy" in Turkey. The word "ashik" comes from the Arabic word "Asheq", which means "one who is in love". "Ishq" is commonly added to words to refer to love. It is also from "ashiqah" meaning "a vine" and refers to the common belief that "when love takes its root in the heart of a lover, everything other than God is effaced". This is also known as "divine love" or "man's love for God" found in the Sufi tradition of Islam.

  • Griot/Jeli--This is a West African poet, praise singer, wandering musician, and who has the ability to remember all of the history of the local area as well as to improvize pieces based on current events. Sometimes the griot is known for gossip, satire, or political comment. Griots married other griots and passed the stories along to their children. The Manding term of "jeliya" means musicianhood with "jali" or "djali" meaning "blood" and refers to the way the stories are passed within certain bloods. Every Jatigi, warrior-king, had a griot and vice-versa or each were considered worthless without the other. Some villages had their own griot to share stories of the births, deaths, marriages, and of everyday events. The French word "guiriot" and the Portuguese word "criado" mean "servant", and so nowadays most of these tellers prefer to be called "jeli" than "griot".

What would you like to be called?

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

(801) 870-5799

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