Monday, September 29, 2014

The Stylistic Practices of Trickster storytelling

The trickster figure Reynard the Fox from the wiki

Before I share a number of trickster stories allow me first to delve into their development and some of the qualities that stand out as stylistic conventions in my traditions.

1. The trickster isn't always in animal form. Sometimes it is a crafty fellow who also manifests greediness and gluttony. A good example from my culture is "Ishe Katabazi," whose misadventure and triumphs escalate one after another across time, scenes and various settings.

2. The story is always told in the past, both in narrative and calendar time, perhaps to convince the audience that whatever they're listening to did happen. "Obwakare nakare..." indirectly meaning, "a long time ago/once upon a time..." is how they begin. Even when the storyteller is making up a story in the present time, he or she will use language that evokes and takes the audience back to the past. This fascination with the past amuses me. I want to dig deep and find out why. 

3. The trickster is often capable of shapeshifting, at once becoming man, woman, tortoise, woodpecker, wolf, a god (think Legba) to fit the shoes and suit convenient for the moment.

4. The trickster, in spite of lying and deceiving people, almost always tells the truth but not in the manner that folks expect.

5. The trickster is loved and despised at the same time. Our humanity at its best and worst refracted by his cleverness and flaws.

6. Stories of tricksters belong to the people like folk and fairy tales. There's never one person to claim authorship. Any member of the community can narrate them at will, and in the moment of sharing, the raconteur owns the story until there's another teller and another. When we were growing up, with my siblings we took turns spinning tales and it was not uncommon after say my brother had finished his story for one of us to exclaim, you've told my story, that's what i had in mind. And we would all say, well, it's no longer your story. Time to find another one. In a community where stories went around faster than a pack of cigarettes or pot of tea, it was inevitable to get a familiar story and reinvent it completely or add a few fresh details to make it kind of new. We very much enjoyed doing that. It's no wonder I'm still mesmerized by stories and narrative techniques.

7. The moral in trickster tales is often twisted like Jacob in the Bible who was rewarded with blessings and a messianic lineage for his treachery [read wit], and Esau just a victim of circumstances

8. How a story ends may vary from teller to teller. Like performances, the perspective of the teller always comes in in spite of the script. This is an element that stories and plays have in common. Having recently revisited a few Shakespeare plays, I'm amazed by the multiple endings depending on the period, actors, directors, and the spirit of the moment. Therefore, since I'll be recalling stories from memory and sharing them, how I remember after all these years is going to be different from what the story was in the beginning. Who knows what might happen to the details?

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