Aug. 5—Oral storytelling traditions exist in cultures the world over, connecting us with history, myth, and legend, sometimes with a didactic purpose and sometimes just to entertain. But without these traditions to fire the imagination and increase our understanding of our inheritance as human beings, can we really know who we are?
"Listen to our ancestors' stories," writes Monyssha Rose Trujillo (Cochiti, Santa Clara, Laguna, Jicarilla, Diné) in the entry accompanying the storyteller figure (8 inches by 6 inches by 7 inches) by Pueblo potter Mary E. Trujillo. "They've lived more lives than you or I will ever know."
Born Mary Tapia, Trujillo was originally from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. She learned to make storyteller figures from her mother-in-law, Cochiti potter Helen Cordero, who invented the storyteller pottery tradition.
One thing the viewer notes is the size difference between the storyteller, whose form provides the dominant shape of the pottery piece, and her audience: three small figures perched on her thighs and a fourth one peeking out from her shoulder.
Storytellers became popular with tourists in the 20th century and many artists still make them . Trujillo, who died in 2021, was known for a distinctive style of male storyteller figurine with braided hair and a black hat.
If you wish, you can imagine what kinds of stories the figure might be telling the children and, in so doing, tell a story of your own.
"Make your stories worth telling," writes Rose Trujillo. "Those are the ones that live the longest. They bring us back home."
She shares one of her own and its lesson.
"Well, when I was a little girl, I got to taste my first [insert Brand Name]," she writes. "I did not like it. It was too sweet. Too thick. I did not want it. I could not tell my mom; she had paid a nickel for it. I left it outside on the porch in the sun. When your [sic] grandma saw it, she was so mad at me. She told me that she was going to watch me finish it unless I had a nickel to pay her back. I took a big gulp and it burned me. I could not stop choking until I spat it all out. When I was done crying, your grandma showed me the wasp she had found in the [Brand Name] puddle I coughed up. The creature had stung my lip. That is what had scared me. My bleeding tongue was my own doing. I do not remember how long it took until I could talk again.
"So honey, be careful of your selfishness. You might hurt yourself after you destroy an innocent creature."