ARTICLES & ESSAYS
Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana - - Why Are Folktales Important?
By Maida Owens
In this world of high technology, one
may wonder why something as simple and low tech as storytelling is
important. On the surface, folktales may appear to be simply entertainment
with no real significance. But the stories told by a group of people offer
a window into that culture that reveals its values and worldview. Probably
of more significance is the fact that stories offer each one of us an
opportunity to participate within our community and connect with other
people in meaningful ways.
Everyday, each one of us tells stories.
While, admittedly, some are more talented than others, all of us relate
events in our lives, tell jokes, or share legends about local people,
beliefs, or events. Each of us knows individuals who excel in their
ability to draw a crowd and pull us into the story being told. Some tell
animated jokes, while others surprise us with a tall tale that begins in a
matter-of-fact style and moves to a fantastic ending. Some of us even
share stories passed down within our culture that are not as common as in
the past: myths, magic tales, and animal tales. The tales or stories
provide opportunities for us to feel connected to others and belong to a
Just as each one of us is a storyteller, each group or
community has storytelling traditions. One group may excel at jokes, while
another may still have individuals telling magic tales. Sharing tales of
haunted houses, supernatural creatures, fooling strangers with tale tales,
or teaching lessons with animal tales, such activities reflect the shared
values and perspectives of our communities. Our priorities, ethics, and
sense of humor are revealed in our stories.
The traits that mark
our stories as unique and set apart from other stories also reveal our
cultural differences and help to define the group. Such differences do not
have to divide us. But rather, they can help us to appreciate the unique
cultural art forms and contributions that diverse groups have to offer the
world. Our own stories, like our other distinct cultural traditions and
art forms, offer us the opportunity to celebrate our diversity and the
boundless expressions of human creativity.
project, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, examines
Louisiana's cultural diversity through its traditional storytellers. Since
1989, the project has presented storytelling in communities, published a
book with the University Press of Mississippi, and produced a video
documentary and this website with Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The next
step will be the development of study units for classroom use.
book, video, and website offer examples of the different types of stories
told by various Louisiana cultural groups. Recognizing storytelling as an
expressive art form, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana
demonstrates that oral traditions are both extremely personal creations
and broad cultural statements, reflecting at once the skill of a single
teller and the tastes of an entire culture.
We encourage you to
consider the tales told by your family, neighborhood, ethnic group, work
group or region and join us in celebrating our cultural
Swapping Stories - Online Resources