A Tlingit story, told by Lance Twitchell
The storytelling took place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Gruening Building, April 14, 2011. A group of us, four adults and three children were treated to a Tlingit song about the salmon returning to the river and the raven, known as the Trickster.
In the beginning Lance spoke in his native language Tlingit, welcoming everyone. He engaged the children right away by giving them a special bag to hold, a bone with beads that made noise and a woven hat with an ermine and raven feather attached to it. He explained to them that they had a part to sing in the song and how essential that you sing it loud and strong, for it is the song about the salmon returning to the river.
Next, Lance told us a story about the raven, Trickster. Lance transported us through the story by going back and forth in his native language and then English. As he spoke, he would use his arms and hands to make gestures about what the characters in the story were doing and his facial expressions showed surprise, sadness, amongst other emotions. In the end, the raven had helped make the world a better place for the people.
He talked about his Aunt, his family and growing up around his elders. He explained about the designs on his regalia that he wore. He answered countless questions that we had about his culture, storytelling and questions about the story itself.
I can appreciate why storytelling is an oral art form. When you try to translate the story down on paper you end up losing some very distinctive parts of the story such as the facial expressions and physical gestures that you would see when the story was being told. Just like, you are not ever able to translate a conversation from one language to another. There are not words in another language that mean the same thing. The storyteller plays off of the audience as they spin the tale and you can see that the audience is an extremely important piece to the storyteller. The storyteller might do something to engage them more, like the usage of additional gestures as they divulge the story.
I consider our group to be privileged to have had the resource, Lance Twitchell to enlighten us with some of the finer points of storytelling and how this piece is so important to the Alaska Native Culture. I could see that he is passionate about preservation of the language of his people and how significant his culture is to him in his daily life.
Our research group in English F111 is posting a video link to our Wiki page, that way everyone will get the opportunity to watch and listen to Lance tell a Tlingit story and an extra link of questions/answers. Our group’s aspiration for our Wiki page on storytelling is that we hope we are laying the first stone of many more to come.