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  • Leslie Tourish

Storytellers: Keepers of Culture

Long ago, back when Madonna and I were both young, I was a photojournalist in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Those years were amazing: hard and horizon-expanding. It was a vivid experience to be surrounded by Native American culture.

Looking back, I can see that most elements of their culture flew right over my head. Like the Pueblo Storyteller, a clay figure of a seated woman, her mouth open to speak, arms spread. Tiny clay figures of children would be nestled in the storyteller’s arms, her lap, sometimes even lined up the arms, listening raptly.

All over Santa Fe those figurines would be perched in store windows, or at friends’ homes on their shelves. At the time, I thought they were cute.

Now, as I work on my second novel, I see the Pueblo Storyteller in a different light. These women were the conveyors of culture and family roots. The storyteller’s tales illustrate what is it to do right thing? What happens if you do wrong? What do you do if you don’t know the difference? How can you be brave when strength fails you?

For thousands of years, storytellers have spun tales of fearsome enemies and amazing creatures and justice meted out by the gods. These shared stories bound clans and deepened cultures.

As flames crackled around wooden logs, stories eased our ancestors into their dreams, and helped them face their dawns. We seek out storytellers who work their magic by getting right into our mind. After all, who doesn’t feel intrigued by the question: “Can I tell you a really good story?”

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