Storyjamming: An Ancient Tradition

I ran across a passage in Robert Bringhurst’s book, “A Story as Sharp as A Knife: the Classical Haida Mythtellers and their World“, that I think will get you active and potential storyjammers excited:

Chapter Ten: The Flyting of Skaay and Xhyuu, page 217

We could describe the interaction of Skaay and Xhyuu as nothing more than banter – simply a way of passing the time and making a couple of bucks from a gullible anthropologist young enough to be the older poet’s grandson and the headman’s youngest son or nephew. That description is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. In the impromptu mythtelling contest staged by Skaay and Xhyuu there is a structure — just the sort of structure that often seems to spring up out of nothing when skilled musicians jam. Skaay and Xhyuu are telling jokes and spinning yarns, but that is not quite all; they are also working within a tradition as demanding in its way as the Virginia reel, the minuet, the ballad, or the twelve-bar blues.

In Scotland, such a contest between poets is known as a flyting. But the Flyting of Skaay and Xhyuu is different in character from the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy or other familiar Celtic examples. Classical Haida mythtellers don’t  inflate their pride or anger artificially, nor do they confess even their subtler emotions directly; they speak through characters and events, the way musicians speak through notes, motifs and chords, and painters peak through colors, shapes, and lines….

…Just as the classical Haida poets avoid portraying or praising themselves directly, so they avoid the directly abusive language often found in Scottish flytings. Skaay and Xhyuu are survivors, not combatants: two old refugees from death who have somehow not forgotten how to laugh.

Myth is a language made of timeless, not of momentary forms. The themes of the Flyting of Skaay and Xhyuu are not concocted for this occasion; they are original in a different sense. They are thousand- or ten-thousand-year-old stories put to current use; they renew the present world by rehearsing what is known of how that world came to be.

[bold emphasis added by me]

Written by Willem