Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Museum Storytelling: Paleolithic Tales

With the new year, I embark on a new adventure: A storytelling series in collaboration with the Hungarian National Museum! I match storytelling programs to temporary and permanent exhibitions, telling to family audiences regularly. Since museum storytelling has always been one of my top favorite things to do, I was preparing for the inaugural event with a lot of excitement!

Since we planned to do the series in a vaguely chronological order, the first performance took place in the first, paleolithic hall of the museum's permanent archaeological exhibit. The question immediately arose: What should a storyteller do in the absence of "authentic" sources for caveman folklore? As much as I would love to know what tales were told to little cavemen thousands of years ago, I had to turn elsewhere to build my repertoire for the program.

Here is the thing: Even though we don't have tales from the prehistoric era, we do have tales all around the world about things that happened in those times. Humans have always wondered, and told stories, about how we got fire, how we made friends with the dog, tamed the horse, and many other things that happened too long ago to really remember. So, for my first show in the museum, I picked out a handful of these stories, and created a program titled Fire Thieves.

The program originally included a list of 10-12 stories, out of which 5 were told in the one-hour show (selected on the spot based on the audience's interests and reaction, as usual). I started out with the Ilocano Fire Thieves story from the Philippines, a classic teamwork tale where a trickster and animals work together in a running relay to get fire from two evil giants. The kids (5-10 years old) enjoyed the participation where they got to make animal sounds and mimic running. We also talked about how and when taming the fire probably happened in human history. Next, I told a Kamba folktale from the Congo about how Dog and Jackal used to be friends, until Dog wandered into a human camp, and decided to stay there. The kids were very enthusiastic in making desperate jackal sounds. Since w already tamed the dog, they obviously wanted to know about horses next - so I told them the legend of Sasruquo and the Wild Stallion from the Nart sagas, which not only contains a very interesting hero, but also an early real-life technique for breaking a wild horse by riding it into a river.
The last two stories of the show were both folktales about ancient clay pots being found in the ground. One was from Sabah on Borneo, about a large jar that turned into a mischievous mangas dragon, and the other from Papua New-Guinea that explained why people keep finding shards of pottery underground. The archaeologists present were greatly amused at both.

All in all, I had a great audience for the show. It was by registration only, and filled up very fast; we ended up with 25 people, give or take some museum staff and wandering visitors. The kids were mostly between 5 and 10 with some younger siblings, and they were not only interested and engaged in the stories - but also had some cool archaeological questions throughout the show. I was glad that I was able to use my (8 year old, mint condition) Archaeology MA in answering them.

Museum storytelling is still one of my favorite gigs to do. I am really looking forward to the next one.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fascinating, Csenge--and a good way to build your program. Fire, of course--so central to man's development. Can't wait to see what you do for your next event.