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Why Your Ancestors Opened Their Mouths
By Sandra Scholes
We read a story to children at night so they can sleep safe and sound, but these stories we tell are part of an older tradition that goes back to our cave-dwelling ancestors. These tales were a mix of oral and animated gestures, whose exaggerated movements brought stories to life. Early tales were also a way of conveying religious rites to younger generations. As these children became adults, they would perform these rites to continue the cycle. Many cultures incorporated dance and arts elements into their rituals when telling religious stories, as well.
In their oral versions, stories were first memorized and then told to others. Later on, stories were written in books, useful because they could be read and recounted to others when needed. Stories have also been found carved on stone, pottery, parchment, vellum, and silk.
Mention traditional storytelling to most people, and you will discover just how many of them have read Homer's oral epics, Aesop's Fables, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen. The Vikings had their own way of storytelling by embellishing their conquests at sea. These tales turned into sagas that were mostly about the adventures of their gods and goddesses. These tales then developed into mythology, acting as history, commentary, and evidence of personal experience.
Oral storytelling informs children of bygone days, imparting morals that prepare them for adulthood. A good example of a moral story would be the French tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” A young girl wearing a new coat with a hood is sent by her mother to take a cake and a pot of butter to her grandmother. The journey is treacherous, and she meets with a wolf that talks kindly to her but eventually eats her. The obvious moral of this story is not to talk to strangers.
Because humans have recorded stories for so long, elders can keep on telling tales to the next generation that comes along. Nowadays, oral storytelling has seen a new wave of stories--urban legends. Urban legends started in the late '60s and have continued to provide a social commentary on how foolish people can be. While some are laughable, others send a chill through the spine.
One popular urban legend is “The Hook.” One night, two teenagers go for a drive out and park up in a secluded area to make-out. They hear on the radio that a criminal has escaped from a mental facility and gone on the rampage nearby. It is said that the man, obviously insane, had hacked off his hand in order to escape from handcuffs and attached a hook in its place. The girlfriend is afraid and asks to be taken home. The boyfriend thinks she is overreacting but takes her home anyway. When they arrived, she opens the car door and screams. When the boyfriend investigates, he sees the bloody hook on the car door handle.
These urban legends run along the same lines as “Little Red Riding Hood”; they exist as cautionary tales, and there are quite a lot of them, such as “The Vanishing Hitch-Hiker,” “Bloody Mary,” “Lights Out,” “The Roommate's Death,” and “Check the Back Seat.” Though these are meant to be fun tales with little truth behind them, telling them developed into a whole new way of telling stories to others to get an appropriate reaction out of them.
Even though there has been progression with television and cinema, people will always tell stories to one another, and mothers will always tell tales to their children right before they go to sleep for future generations to come.
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