Stories & Power


The origin of stories had to do with survival and power. Elder Justin Wilson stated that villages had 5 levels of language knowledge. The first whom was the chiefs and medicine men knew the more sophisticated form ranging from trading, how to handle internal conflicts, justice, outside interactions and more. That goes all the way down to the fifth who only know basic verbiage: commands such as eat, sit, work and foods. Think about the first words you learn in another language: hi, bye, please, thank you, water, milk. That is like the fifth level on knowledge. As Le Guin wrote, “Writing existed for the millennia, important to powerful people”. The same goes for language, hence those who held stories. That is why there was a specific job/role in tribes that were the storytellers that held the language, knowing how to express it.
When I write of power and structure, I mean stories helped their people learn about the land, food, gender roles, and religion/belief systems. The first stories must have been through music, as music is used to remember things. After speaking  with Elder Robbie Littlefield she showed me the Tlingit lullabies which all were short stories (some like a repeated chorus) that taught of what I mentioned. Where to get the salmon, how to kill it, how to respect it, etc. The following is the Haida story of The Salmon Boy, depicting many lessons.

One of my favorite books is “Guns, Germs and Steel”. It’s interesting how dynamics change as population rises and how it affects the stories told. There is a graph that shows population and how when it gets to a certain point it has slavery in its food system. I’ll never forget that. Why? Because I didn’t kill my first animal (a fish I named Peter) until living here in Sitka. The guilt that came from it was very heavy. So I think about in history when it came to having to kill a large amount of animals to feed a large amount of people and thats how I think religion emerged. There needed to be a story about making it okay for the member that had to do it. And a story to justify how the person in charge was going to divide it up. Or labels that say a story behind the product and if it goes with your religion or beliefs (kosher, halal, fair trade, organic).
Image result for food labels kosher organizImage result for halal food meaning


When do we tell stories? – Rebecca Williams

Stories were meant to teach roles, lessons and histories. Because of technology, migration and colonization, we in a Westernized way of living can loose our stories. In Puerto Rico, I was not taught one story about the Tainos or Africans. It was all stories like the “Identifiable Victim Effect” Moreau speaks of. Christopher Columbus was ‘the hero’. We (as in my Taino ancestors) were labeled Indians just because the Spaniard colonizers thought they had landed in India. We were taught this was our names because of who had the power to say the story and name its characters in writing. For example the only history we have of Puerto Ricos (translated into rich port) name was that Tainos called it Boriken, yet we don’t know what that meant. All we can find is that it translates into “Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord”, but to say that is to imply Tainos religion.
To bring it more local, its sort of like the Denali versus Mount McKinley debate. Denali, named by the Koyukon language for YEARS, yet by those in power named it after someone who had never even visited the state.

Also, to bring in a controversial topic because when do we get to speak of it other than with complete strangers online? There are stories we hide of fear for disapproval. We all have stories that have made us who we are. Stories that can change who we are at any time. After the hurricane in Puerto Rico, crime got really bad. Everybody was scared. People were getting locked up and in the news as the prisoners were being arrested they’d be yelling they did it because their kids are hungry. Who is to say I wouldn’t go to the extreme to provide food for my family during a disaster? When do we relate with other stories?

There are stories that can’t be hid. As women our sexual stories are more consequential. Theres always a societal pressure on our bodies. We either have had no kids, kids, or abortions. The latter two could result from our first time having sex and your next partner could or could not judge you with either decision. But what about their sexual history? Those stories could be easily hidden by walking away or disguised by ‘working’, traveling, etc. My dad literally lived a double life that way. Two different stories, yet I can’t even keep up with one.

“Why do we NOT connect to certain stories? Is it the storyteller? How the story is told? The story itself?” –  Erika Horn

I think we do not connect to certain stories because people tend to prioritize their own stories/experiences/preferences. Therefore, if the story being told doesn’t have anything to do with the interests due to the experiences of the person, then I think the person looses interest. Maybe it is the tone of the storyteller as well, that either engages or disengages its audience. To add, I think it has to do with timing of what is going on in the story. We live for that suspense/tension part so if it comes too late I think interest could be lost. King stated  “one of the tricks to storytelling is, never to tell everything at once, to make your audience wait (p.7).”

Kings questioning of authenticity bring me to think about cuisine and cookbooks. What is AUTHENTIC anymore? Historically, cookbooks started to show exotic stories and use of ingredients from privileged colonizers who could visit these distant places, have access to write about them, go back home and then profit from them. You still see this to this day. We were arguing about this in a civil way in one of my food classes one time. Look at the cookbook “Thug Kitchen” and its authors for example. Who can freely use these contexts and not be seen less than thanks to their race? So I often ask myself, who is saying the story? Who is profiting?

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Watch the video below and think about what the song story might be about:

The  lyrics:

Little brother, little brother, stop crying, stop crying
Though you are crying and crying, who else will carry you
Who else will groom you, both of us are now orphans
From the island of the dead, their spirit will continue to look after us
Just like royalty, taken care of with all the wisdom of such a place

Little brother, little brother even in the gardens
This lullaby continues to the different divisions of the garden,
From the island of the dead, their spirit will continue to look after us

Little brother, little brother, stop crying, stop crying
Though you are crying and crying, who else will carry you
Who else will groom you, both of us are now orphans
From the island of the dead, their spirit will continue to look after us

Can you tell this story from the stereotypical picture shown on Youtube or from Deep Forests "Sweet Lullaby" that depicts a desert (obviously not the Solomon Islands)?
Stories reach as far as how powerful the author, not the character, is.

One Comment

  1. Kendell Newman

    The opening line here grabbed my attention — it’s declarative and promises to go deep into big ideas. This declarative style threads through the piece, as you often speak directly to the reader: Think about the first words you learn … Look at the cookbook …

    I see a thematic connection between the story of the Salmon Boy and the song/story you share at the end of this piece — both stories featuring boy children, death, and confusion. They are also very different stories — particularly in how they are represented, and who they are authored by, on youtube. Is there more to say there?

    I appreciate that you maxed out formatting options available for text in a post . As a reader, I find myself assuming that both the bolded quotations and bolded text (“Stories & Representation”) represent section headings or change of topic. If this isn’t the case, you might play around with formatting a bit more to make your transitions clear.

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