By David Zander
ST. PAUL (March 4, 2010) – Six storytellers from the Asian Storytellers Alliance enthralled families attending this month’s “PJ” event, held at the Coffee Grounds Café in Falcon Heights, with a rich evening of folktales, jokes and personal stories.
Parmananda Khatawodi began the program with a folktale he had learned from his grandmother in Bhutan. As he told how a tiny but foolishly brave young rat, aided by a wise old elder, was able to save his community from a bullying elephant, the storyteller magically brought all the characters to life on stage, and there was elephant, rats of different ages and personalities, a deer, and a monkey.
It was a lively audience. Children quickly joined in clapping along with the action in the story.
Next up on stage were Tori and May Garvey, two equally accomplished young performers now in their second year with the Alliance. Tori herself transformed into a wolf as she told the story of the three little pigs from the perspective of the wolf, and again the children in the audience joined in. May followed her sister with jokes.
They were followed by a trickster folktale told by Eh Taw Dwe, a Karen leader from Burma. In her story, Phuoc Tran filled the stage with butterflies, wind, sun and rain, using colorful props as she told the story from Vietnam of How Snail got Her Shell. The evening concluded with the story “Curiosity” written and told by Bilquis Dairkee. This story, like some of the folktales, had a strong morale, but was based on personal memories of her childhood in Bombay, India.
All immigrant and refugees bring their folktales and stories with them to America. The Asian Storytellers Alliance was formed around the goals of practicing the art of storytelling, teaching stories to the younger generation and helping Asian storytellers become part of the larger network of storytellers in Minnesota.
There is a concern that otherwise the rich cultural legacy of stories will be lost. The Asian Storytellers Alliance is embarking on a program of professional development, workshops and grant writing.
This year they will hold monthly story circles. The story circle is an informal way to give members an opportunity to try out new ideas for stories and practice storytelling skills. Tellers receive feedback and suggestions from the other members of the alliance. Issues such as voice, gestures, and props are discussed.
The stories that closed the February meeting of the Alliance at Concordia were an example of the power stories can hold for a circle of adult listeners. The stories were more somber and serious in mood.
Eh Taw told a story he remembered from his village in Burma that contrasted the life of a rich man with a poor man. The story explored the true meaning of ‘wealth’ and poverty, the causes and loss of happiness, and reflected on the nature of stress in modern lives.
Priscilla Aung told a personal story that included a Karen lullaby and demonstrated powerfully how stories and songs connect mothers and sons across generations, and can heal persons from trauma. The evening was hosted by Dyane Garvey at the Hmong Arts Connection, on the campus of Concordia University on St. Paul.
The founders and coordinators of the Alliance are Phuoc Tran, a storyteller and librarian, and David Zander, a storyteller and anthropologist with the State Council. The Alliance currently has about fifteen members. They welcome others to come and practice storytelling skills.
Members are currently preparing stories for future events such as World Refugee Day, Karen Martyr’s Day (August 12), the Minneapolis Mosaic, the Dragon Festival (July 15), a Kite Festival, the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival at the Landmark Center (September), an event for the Council’s cultural legacy series and the annual Tellebration at the Loft.
The Storytelling events are free and family friendly. To learn more about the Asian Storytellers contact David at 651-757-1742.