Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘mourning rite’

Storytelling Starters ~ Body Stories / Hand

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

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. (more…)