This is a comment by Ty Nolan on the post “Goodbye, Radiolab: The Fact of the Matter of Storytelling”.
“I’m old enough to remember when this was happening. That means I’m old enough to remember various responses to it. One of these was the American government sending in representatives to interview the native people about the yellow rain.
“What struck me was how the interviewers discounted the narratives of the native people, because when they went back and re-interviewed them some time later, the native people said virtually word for word what they had first said. The conclusion of the interviewers was that someone who supported the idea of what yellow rain was, must have come in and rehearsed the locals. ‘Normal’ human beings don’t tell the same story verbatim in this manner.
“But I’m American Indian. I know what it means to come from an Oral Tradition. It means an awareness your culture is only one generation away from extinction. It means you are raised to listen in a different way than most Americans are taught to listen. In fact in our language, one introduces a story by letting your audience know if you’re about to tell them a story that has something to teach them—or if you’re about to tell them something about your Oral History. When we tell the Oral History of how our treaty was signed in 1855, the elders will explain precisely the time of day, what direction the wind was blowing, where the Chiefs and the non-Natives were standing, and what was said. When you tell a teaching story, that sort of information isn’t useful.
In other words, for people with an Oral Tradition—like my community, or like the Hmong, we do have the capacity to tell the same story the way we told it the last time. What troubled me was hearing the Hmong testimony being dismissed because it didn’t follow the belief system of non-natives.
“It was Jay who suggested it doesn’t take creativity to know you’ve got the wrong answer. It takes creativity to know you’ve got the wrong question.”
Photo credit: Flickr / grjenkin