Singapore International Storytelling Festival: Telling tales that heal

Singapore International Storytelling Festival: Telling tales that heal

The oral tradition of storytelling is being revived to help heal the pains of the modern world
There are no tall tales to be told at the Singapore International Storytelling Festival.

Once upon a time, we were all storytellers.

We spun yarns around the fire or the cooking pot, we listened to our elders as they told tales of long forgotten or purely imagined places and times, and we passed these stories on to our children.

Today, this oral tradition has largely disappeared as media like film, books and television have almost displaced the traditional storyteller.

But not if Singapore’s storytelling advocates Kamini Ramachandran and her colleagues at MoonShadow Stories (www.moonshadowstories.org) and the Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011 (ending September 5) can help it.

Into its sixth year, the festival celebrates the tradition of storytelling in all its glory: as performance, as education, as expression and, as a form of therapy.

Together with clinical psychologist Dr. Gideon Arulmani, Ramachandran presented a full-day workshop on September 1 showing how storytelling is a great tool in counseling. 

How stories can help people see beyond their problems in a non-judgmental, supportive way. How tales deeply rooted in age-old cultures and communities and universal symbols of the human experience, resonate with individuals at an almost primal level.

“When people listen to a story -- like folktales, legends, fables, myths -- they realize they are not the only ones experiencing a particular issue or problem,” says Ramachandran.

“Universal stories demonstrate that all through time these same human problems have occurred. People feel so much better knowing that there have been men and women just like them who have endured similar issues, and yet have managed to overcome them.”

An audience made up of children's counselors and allied health professionals listened intently as Ramachandran told some of her stories.

The Malay fable of a simpleton Pak Pandir and the Gergasi (Ogre), tells how Pak Pandir kills the ogre’s baby by mistake and his wife in turn leads the enraged giant to his death.

In the gypsy tale “The Starry Loom” a vain, willful girl comes face-to-face with an old spinster at the gates of Time, who weaves the events of man on her eternal loom. The girl desires the power of the loom and wrests it from the old spinster, only to find that it controls her, and not the other way round.

“Amusing,” “horrifying,” “confusing,” were some of the audience’s responses to the tales as Dr. Gideon worked through the different thoughts and emotions that people processed through the stories.

And so the intense workshop continued; with Dr. Gideon and Ramachandran taking turns to address the audience on important areas of counseling and how to use the repertoire of stories to bring the various messages across.

Although most relevant to professional counselors, parents, teachers or community leaders, anyone who reaches out to others would have benefited from this in-depth, accessible and enlightening course.

Beyond this, the Festival offers even more than in previous years, with workshops on using the body in storytelling, creative writing, digital storytelling; a two-day Asian Congress of Storytellers; and the festival’s staple, the Storytellers’ Showcase featuring Ramachandran’s rendering of the ancient Sanskrit epic tale, “Ramayana.”

“Getting back in touch with this art form,” says Ramanchandran “be it as a listener or as a teller, not only opens up a new world of communication at a fundamental level, but also soothes, relaxes, entertains, informs, heals and touches.”

“Family stories, personal stories, cultural stories, religious stories, all anchor a person firmly to his community, homeland or ‘tribe.’ Knowing your own story is important too, for your own sense of identity and rooted-ness in place, space and time; family, culture and land.”

Telling tales is a serious stuff indeed, and not just the stuff that fairy tales are made of.

The Singapore International Storytelling Festival runs until September 5. Go to www.bookcouncil.sg/sisf for more information.

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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