The Abenaki Perspective on
Storytelling


By Joe Bruchac

Storytelling played and continues to play a number of roles among the Abenakis. Well-told stories amuse and involve the listeners, but just as importantly have long been used to teach a variety of moral and cultural lessons to everyone in the community, not just children. Such practices as respecting elders, caring for children, sharing food and
material possessions, making careful use of plants and game animals, and remaining deeply aware of the natural world around them, are still taught and reinforced by traditional tales. Parents tell these stories, children share them with each other, and now, just as it was long ago, there are some men and women who are known as Storytellers (Nudatlogit).

Stories have also been used as a means of discipline. Because children were never supposed to be mistreated (to the point that early European observers remarked on the fact that Abenaki children were spoiled and allowed to "run wild"), when a child misbehaved or did something dangerous or foolish, that child would be told a lesson story to provide them with guidance. The wise or foolish deeds of Gluskonba (or Gluskabe) and Azeban, the Raccoon, whose greed and boastfulness provide negative examples, have
Long been favorites of Abenaki children.

Abenaki people do not view stories as simple entertainment, but as deeply important cultural tools. In fact, it has been said by some elders that stories are themselves alive and aware of how they are used. Some stories were meant to be told only at certain times (in general, the storytelling season is Fall and Winter). Someone who told a story disrespectfully, or at the wrong time, might be stung by a bee during their telling or become ill afterwards.


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