Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Kith and kin

Friends can be a great comfort in times of sadness. So can an awareness of nature, especially in a Spring as mild and lovely as this. The visit of two friends from New Zealand who came to stay this week made me fetch out a newspaper story I’d kept from last Friday. The story was from New Zealand. Its stirring headline had said, River is awarded same legal rights as a person.

Whanganui_River[1]The River: Te Awa Tupua

For a very long time, according to the newspaper story, the Maori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river, Te Awa Tupua. The court case that ensued has finally ended with the granting of the same recognition to their river as to a human ancestor.  Thus, if someone now abuses or harms the river, it would be considered by the law as equivalent to harming the tribe. This judgement is of great importance in relation to such matters as water pollution. The wellbeing of the river has now been officially linked to the wellbeing of the people.

Wow! If only such a ruling could be extended to all of the world’s natural resources. It put me in mind of a Maori story which has long stayed in my mind. I believe it was my friend and colleague, Karen Tovell (Karen is that right?) who introduced me to it. It’s a story about a tree and it felt specially relevant to me on Wednesday morning this week when I woke to the rasping sound of a chain-saw somewhere in the gardens behind us.

The story: The friends of the tree

P1000886Ratu was a big strong man. He decided to make a new canoe from a fine straight tree he came across in the forest.

So Ratu prepared his axe and, without another thought, began to chop the tree down. ‘That will make a good canoe,’ he said to himself as he surveyed it when it had fallen. He looked forward to the next morning when he could continue the work. But when he came back there early next day, the tree was standing in the place where it had stood before he’d cut it down. Its leaves were glistening with dew, its bark was shining in the morning sunlight.

Ratu was amazed and also angry. Taking his axe, he once more felled the tree and this time, he chopped off all its branches as well.

Next morning, he couldn’t believe it. The tree was standing up once more. With birds chattering on its branches, wind stirring through its branches, insects scurrying about on its leaves, the tree was full of life and activity.

‘Impossible,’ Ratu shouted as, enraged, he ran at the tree and cut it down yet again. The following day, eager to make his canoe, Ratu returned at dawn. Now he received an even greater surprise. As he came near where he’d chopped down the tree, his ears filled with the sounds of bird song. And when he came through the bushes, he saw the most unbelievable sight. The fallen tree was still on the ground but now it was surrounded by the many creatures which had lived in it or on it and they were busily repairing the tree, putting back its branches, leaves and bark in their right places.

As the creatures completed the tree, the spirits of the forest appeared and started to pull the tree upright. When Ratu saw this, anger overwhelmed him and, running out of the bushes, he shouted. ‘Stop what you’re doing! That tree is mine.’

Then all the creatures turned towards Ratu and with one voice replied: And who gave you permission to take one of our trees and kill it?

PS:  The top photo is a stock photo of the river, Te Awa Tupua. The second is one I took myself on one of my visits to New Zealand.

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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Kith and kin”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    A wonderful story, Mary. For Christmas a friend gave me a copy of The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel, How they communicate by Peter Wohileben, a book that has transformed my notion of the life of trees and the way they look after each other. I recommend it to everyone!

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Hilary, I shall be looking for this book following your recommendation. I love what you say about ‘the way they look after each other’.

  3. Meg Says:

    Dear Mary,
    Last year I asked Lesley, a NZ storyteller friend, about the way Maori people formally introduce themselves (thru their lineage.) Not only do they name parents and grandparents, how they arrived – their iwi , but also the mountain snd river where they were born. I think its a great acknowledgement of belonging. I got the senior kids at a local school to research and present theirs at assembly.
    Just checked – I was given a photocopy of that same tale by a Maori Librarian in 1994 when I was over at Glistening Waters and I’ve never told it! Small world.
    Kind Regards

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Small world indeed. Another interesting link between Welsh and Maori people, apart from the determined attempts to keep their languages alive is that Welsh people also are quickly keen to find out aspects of lineage when they meet someone new, in particular where exactly you are from and who your forebears are. It’s a great idea of yours to get senior school kids to research and present their lineage – a good way to become aware of it.
    All the best, Mary

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