Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Body Stories / Hand

As Olympic gold medals mount up for Britain,  my favourite body-parts story has come back to my mind. It’s a story about the way the different body-parts connect and how all of them have to work together. But they cannot function properly as a unit without the operation of thought. I don’t know if the story has a title (told stories rarely do!) but here I’m calling it Give Me a Hand.

Give Me a Hand: the background

Where I heard Give Me a Hand was at an Australian Aboriginal storytelling concert at the South Bank in London some years ago. The concert was an event to accompany a major exhibition of Australian art at the Hayward Gallery.

The Dreamtime paintings of Australian Aboriginal painters are bold and beautiful and very earthy.  They feel very connected to the earth we inhabit and at the same time they give a very real sense of what makes the Australian earth unique. Listening to the stories at that South Bank storytelling, it began to feel like the stories themselves were creating the landscape.

The two storytellers were women on that special occasion. What ensured that I’d never forget it was that, towards the end of the concert, they suddenly announced that they were now going to hold a public mourning event. At first, I had no idea what this could possibly be. Members of the audience were invited to come up on stage if they wished to join in and then the keening began. It  had a spine-chilling quality which at first I found extremely uncomfortable. I felt terribly excluded from it. Then I began to understand.

The mourning, as the storytellers explained it, was for those members of their peoples whose bones had ended up in museums in England. Their wish was that the bones be taken back to Australia so they could be properly buried. Suddenly I realised what this was all about. To the museums that held them, the bones were of archaeological and anthropological importance. To the Aboriginal peoples, they were the remains of real people – remembered relatives such as aunties, great-aunties and great-grandparents.

So here’s the story, Give Me a Hand. Of course, when I heard it, I imagined it happening in the Australian bush as conjured up in the Dreamtime paintings. The words of my telling may not do that for you. But however you visualise it, I think you’ll agree that the story is striking.

Give Me a Hand: the story

One day Hand went for a walk. After a while, she came to a hill. ‘I’d like to get up this hill,’ she said.

Hand tried climbing the hill. But after every move, she slipped back. After several attempts, she said in despair, ‘I wish there was someone to give me a hand.’

And just like magic, another hand appeared. Hand No. 2 said she would help. So together they tried to get up the hill. But at each attempt, they slipped back.

‘If only there was someone to give us a leg up,’ Hand No. 2 announced.

And suddenly, Leg appeared beside them. So now the two hands got together with Leg and, all three in a line, they tried to get up the hill. They slipped back. Leg No. 1 sighed. ‘We need another leg up.’

And as if in answer, there was Leg No. 2.

Now all four of them tried together. Two hands and two legs, they kept on trying. But they always slipped back, until one of them said, ‘We need somebody to help.’

And there, to join them, was Body.

With Body joining in, they continued, but they had no better success until at last the first Hand stopped.  ‘It’s such a terrible shame,’ she said. ‘All we want is to get ahead.’

And there beside them was Head.

Well, Head began thinking about the situation. She started thinking how to organise them. First she arranged legs and hands to be part of body and then she put herself on the top and said how they should all work together. All now became parts of the same working whole and all had their part to play. And it worked. With all of them joined together, they had much more purpose and much more strength. And of course they got to the top of the hill.

And when they got to the top of the hill, they had a very good view of the world all around them and were in a much better position to decide what to do next.

And that’s a true story if ever I heard one!

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