Monday, May 27, 2013

Coffee Table Folklore

This week I sat at a black wrought iron bistro table. It was one of many on the pebbled sidewalk of “Coffee Street”. One city-block long, the street boasts several national chain coffee shops attached to brand name bookstores that now replace what used to be independently owned establishments.

Now, as back then, the late May sun is generous. Coffee drinkers, like sunflowers, sit outside turning their faces to the warm light. They bask in its summer-is-coming promise.

At the table next to me were two older, retired men who were reminiscing about their respective careers. While I was not eavesdropping, I was able to hear an occasional partial sentence. I was struck by how even just a phrase conjured up the start of a folktale.

For example:

“When I was in Nigeria we didn’t worry about that…” said the light-haired man. 

Worried about what? I wanted to know. What was going on at the time that would have caused worry and how was that worry handled?

Ever on the lookout for living folktales, I was tempted to lean over and tell them to preserve the folktales they were telling one another. Concerned about appearing to be nosy, I said nothing. Instead I wondered whether or not they even knew they were telling each other folktales.

Most people don’t.

That’s the rub for me. Especially when it takes literally only minutes at a time to preserve a folktale that can be shared with others long after we are no longer around to do the telling ourselves.

Either one of those men could have jotted down bullet points about what they were sharing. At a later time they could have gone back to those bullet points and flushed them out into a sentence or two… maybe even three. And that would have constituted a folktale their families and friends could have enjoyed for years to come.

It’s really that simple. So the next time you find yourself telling others something about your life, try to find a few moments afterwards to jot down somenotes about that folktale-in-the-making.

With such a skeleton you can add sentences here and there until the folktale has been fleshed out, so to speak.

You (and others) will be glad you did!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sun Folklore

Summer is quickly approaching.  The sun stays high in the sky longer, warming up the earth for several months before making a seasonal change into Fall. Like many heavenly bodies, the sun, a big part of our summer celebrations, is the topic of much folklore. Each culture has its own myths, legends, stories and folk wisdom about how the sun first came to light up our skies.  From escaping evil spirits to needing attention, the sun is a force in many folktales. Here are some examples of folklore about this ball of fire in the sky:

Siberia- One day the evil spirits of the land stole the sun out of the sky.  The animals of the land stumbled around in the darkness looking for food and shelter.  Finally, the wise raven called a council meeting to plan how to free the sun.  The hare was sent to find the sun since he was the fastest in the group.  The hare traveled for days until he found the hole where the evil spirits had hidden the sun.  While the spirits were sleeping, the hare climbed down the crevice and stole the sun back from the evil spirits.

Cherokee - The sun was jealous of her brother the moon because the people liked him more. The sun got so angry she sent a fever to kill the people who looked at her funny.  The sun traveled every day across the sky to see her daughter, so the people placed a poisonous snake at her daughter’s door to kill the sun.  The snake bit the daughter instead and the sun was so distressed she refused to shine.  To make the sun happy again the people danced in her honor.  Today, the Cherokee Tribe continues to please the sun by performing the sun dance.

Tsimshian- The sky used to be completely dark according to Tsimshian legend.  The chief of the land’s younger son, “One Who Walks All Over the Sky,” was sad at all the darkness.  He decided to make a mask out of wood and light it on fire.  Legend says that he travels across the sky every day wearing the mask to light up the sky.

Even with today’s scientific interpretations, the Sun remains a mysterious force of nature that people still try to understand. Folklore is one very useful and long-standing way to do that.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Folk Musician Bob Marley

 Bob Marley is not only a folk artist, who is recognized for his reggae music talent and revolutionary lyrics, but he is also an iconic figure around the globe. This Rastafarian musician has set a precedent for anyone involved in reggae and the ska (rock steady reggae) genre style of music. Although he passed away on May 11, 1981 (born February 6, 1945) his presence is still felt and celebrated today.

Marley’s imprint changed popular music. He was not a powerful singer and songwriter, he was loyal to his native Jamaica and support revolution and spirituality live on through his lyrics.  The end result is that he sang about the Jamaican people’s fight for freedom.

His messages are what made him a musical folk hero that people all over the world could relate to. That’s why as a solo-artist and as a part of Marley and The Wailers, he released over 12 albums in his lifetime, selling over 20 million records.  

He was dedicated to the Rastafarian movement – a monotheistic (one-god) spiritual movement that emphasizes and traces its origin to Abraham. This commitment  played a key role in his efforts to bridge the gaps between Jamaican ‘third world’ reggae music and the world outside that allowed him to unveil political issues in and around Jamaica.

Many have said that his folk spirit expressed love, peace and freedom for all. These values add to his recognition as a folk hero.