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Northern Storytelling Conventions - Culture
Written By: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Elizabeth Barrette (Developer)
Long winter nights leave the northerners lots of time for entertaining each other--and ample reasons to have conventions for avoiding unintentionally giving offense.
 
 

Storytelling is a common Northern pastime, and a significant number of northerners work to become skilled at it. There are several common types of storytelling. Any of these types of stories can be told using torn bread (or in a pinch, other food items) as an illustration (though doing so while telling the Ofare and Lere kid's stories can get a negative reaction even from other kids). In addition, the wide Bawdy Story subset is sometimes illustrated with simple faceless puppets, who have a single bead necklace to identify them.

Although many northerners develop storytelling as a skill, the most skilled storytellers are chosen to have this as a profession, for which furshirts are awarded by the tribe. Only a few -- the best -- will have storytelling as their primary role in the community. However, an elder with good storytelling skills who is too infirm to do much else will also be given the respect of being called Storyteller, rather than merely something like "ex-ranger".

True Stories

True stories are told using people’s proper names, and identifying (precisely or vaguely) the time when these events happened. When speaking of people who are alive today, and especially people who are in the room, it is expected that the storyteller will take care not to embarrass or offend those people. When the story is news, rather than entertainment, bad news is expected to be handled diplomatically, in a way to avoid causing bad feelings or interpersonal friction.

The stories told about the recently deceased, in their remembrance ceremony also fall into this category, though the emphasis is different. Here, the emphasis is on what the dead person gave to the tribe, or to the people present at the ceremony. Each person who speaks at a remembrance ceremony may claim one of the deceased’s personal beads, from their necklace or coat, as a personal memory bead or for future use.

Finally, this category includes stories told about historical figures, from the founder of Itadesh to somebody's great grandfather. Many of these stories have morals or are intended to teach something specific about the world.


Animal Fables

These stories are primarily told to children. The characters are the animals of the North, including but not limited to Snow Unicorn, Bear, Snow-Cat, Wren, Owl, Ice-Worm, and Butterfly. Each character’s personality reflects what that animal represents to the Northerners, and each story has at least one lesson buried in it. In addition, the nature and habits of the animals are depicted accurately, so the stories are, in effect, both nature lessons and fable.

For young children, the animal names and accompanying information are simple, for example stories about owls and mice and beetles. Stories told to older children tackle more complex lessons and add more natural details, so that Ice-Wren, a Winter-Wren, and Nuthatch might all have a run-in with Horned Owl, and escaping her, then with Banded Owl, and so on. Of course, lots of stories are told with children of multiple ages present, so the correlation of age to complexity of story isn't absolute.

These stories often have a great deal of physical description, and can be accompanied by using whatever's handy to draw things that could be important, for instance, a lapin may be trying to figure out if it's following a placid sheep or a potentially grumbly and dangerous goat, and the tracks could be drawn in the snow or mud or carefully torn out of the bread.

Some storytellers, especially people who don’t feel skilled at storytelling, prefer to speak of “an owl”, “a mouse” and so on. Furshirts may use this phrasing when an animal is acting in an uncharacteristic manner, for instance, “One year, a polar bear decided not to hibernate for the winter…”


Bawdy Stories

These are stories about sex, romance, and other subjects people tend to be sensitive about. Because people’s emotions are involved in sexual matters, it is very rare for actual people’s names to be used for bawdy stories, even in private. Instead, there is a set of stock characters that are used in such stories. Who is partnered with whom varies from story to story, reflecting Northern culture.

Language Note: The term used in the northern language for these stories starring stock characters would often be translated into English as bawdy, but that is not a precise translation. It has connotations pertaining to physical humor and physical or social expression in any area of life that people tend to be emotionally sensitive about.

Li is the younger man. Li means white, so the bead representing Li is always white. Li is most often portrayed as a stereotypical teenage boy.

De is the younger woman. De means black, so the bead representing De is black as well. De is often portrayed as a stereotypical teenage girl.

Mai is older, can be male or female, and is scatterbrained or lazy. Mai’s bead is a bird. (emai is to fly)

Tei is older, can be male or female, and very focused on practicalities. Tei’s bead is a miniature spoon. (atei is to use or to consume)

Fii is the male outsider—always a person not involved in the active relationship that is the focus of the story, often a very old man. His bead is a bit of mirror. If there’s a moral to the story, Fii is usually the one to voice it. (fiila is nostalgic, looking back)

Raa is the female outsider, also not involved in the active relationship that is the focus of the story. She is often a very old woman. Her bead is a little clay house. She is the mediator, the problem solver, the one people go to for advice. (eraa is to link)

Delina is the name given to an elder of the council, when someone (male or female) shows up in that capacity in a story. (delina is grey) Delina is the voice of custom and responsibility, and often appears as the butt of practical jokes (something one would not do to a council member who was acting in that capacity in real life).

Timi is a name given to a female child (often one who is underfoot or teasing) (timi is green).

Lere is the name given to a male child (often one who is underfoot or teasing) (lere is yellow).

Orsi is a name given to an infant (orsi means milky)

If a story includes identical twins the names are Jute and Yate (jute is "early" or light teal and yate is "more" or dark teal).

When additional characters are needed, they are most often named after other colors, such as the following: teal Te, blue Faya, brown Ofare, clear Eminu, or red Fu. Colors less often used are orange Erora and purple Urari. Occasionally an additional character is named for a trait that matters in the story, for instance, beautiful Oba, ugly Ube, or bright Rai. The choice of colors is often symbolic; someone who farts a lot would be Ofare, someone whose lies are easy to see through would be Eminu.

Children use these names for storytelling too, with subject matter including:
• jokes about bodily functions (usually about Ofare and Lere)
• stories about embarrassing social gaffes or physical accidents (usually about Li and De unless the intent is to poke fun at older folk in general, in which case they use Fii and Raa. If the intent is to make fun of specific elders in a somewhat socially-acceptable fashion, the storyteller will choose whichever of the stock names seems most clever at the moment.)
• fluffy romances (Urari is often the idealized female hero of these stories, and Rai the male hero).

An additional subset in this category of stories, while not "bawdy" by Terran standards, are stories illustrating proper and improper etiquette in matters of sex and romance. The choice of names typically signals which character is using proper etiquette--Urari and Rai, as idealized heroes, use proper etiquette and are rewarded; Li and De fail to do so and suffer the consequences. Other proper behavior, for instance around Elders, Council Members, and Infants, is also commonly modeled in stories in this manner.

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All Related Articles:

Art and Entertainment in the North: Games and crafts of the snow-unicorn riders.

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Art and Entertainment in the North


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