Carrying on the Ancient Pacific Art of Storytelling

Over the centuries, Pacific people have passed down a wealth of knowledge through storytelling. Many of us cherish memories of people sharing these same stories around the kava bowl, in our churches, in our communities and in our homes. We can remember listening intently to every word, soaking in every detail, and going away with our own reflection and interpretation of what they had to say.

What storytelling looks like today

Today, storytelling is everywhere. Media in all its forms has given us an opportunity to hear and tell stories at any given moment. Just press a button and immediately, you can see what’s happening in the world. If you have a persisting thought, you can instantly share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But even with all of this exposure to storytelling, why are people lonelier than ever? Why are our young people feeling as if their stories aren’t being heard?

The value of a single story

As a result of mass exposure, the value of a single story has significantly decreased. Without scandal or shock factor, no one seems to be interested. With a generation of young people watching and absorbing this type of outlook, it’s no surprise they hesitate in sharing their stories. This attitude teaches them that unless they have something newsworthy to say, it’s not worth sharing, because no one will be interested. They also use the same measuring stick to decide what’s worth paying attention to and what stories are waste of their time.

It’s important to separate ourselves from this for a moment and understand that this is not our Pacific culture. Our culture is one that encourages sharing through spoken word. It’s one that cares about what’s happening in the lives of family and community, no matter how trivial. We come from a culture that believes in the importance of understanding one another, and supporting each other. How can we do this if we’re using society’s standards to judge what’s worth listening to, and what stories are worth sharing?

What we can do about it

The glorification of unhelpful and unhealthy stories needs to stop. Gossip and defamation will always exist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a personal choice not to feed into storytelling that is malicious or harmful. We can begin doing this by focusing more on investing time in listening to what’s going on in the lives of people we know and love, and what’s happening in the community we live in. Understand that stories that warm or break the heart are equally as important to be heard and told. Allow yourself an opportunity to hear these stories by asking people what’s happening in their lives. Begin reading stories that align with your personal values, and ignore ones that don’t. What stories do your loved ones have to tell? What kind of issues are people in your community facing? Is there a story you’ve been waiting to share with them too?

Moving forward 

With one small step at a time, we can all carry on the valuable and ancient Pacific art of storytelling. Be assertive and take time to listen. There are elders in our community who know much more than we give them credit for, and there are children who teach us through the tales they tell us every day. Always remember, that there are people like me, who would love to hear your story too. There is power in every story, and in their most honest and genuine form, our stories connect us with one another. They teach us, liberate us and heal us. And that’s exactly the kind of storytelling our Pacific ancestors would’ve wanted us to continue.

Artwork credit: Troy Carney

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Apela Bell