A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Advocacy and the art of Story-Telling

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 December) — Since the dawn of humanity’s presence in this planet, there has always been story-telling whenever two or more persons gather around and have time for a conversation.  The favorite image of how life was in those very ancient times is that of a family residing in a cave and who gather together around a fire amidst the darkness of the cold night to listen to a person telling stories that excite them.

This tradition of orally telling a story – in some cases epic stories that were chanted by the shamans lasting for days on end –  has persisted until today. But of course the form of story-telling is no longer confined to the oral tradition. Since the written text began to take on as an important form of communication among the homo sapiens, stories need not only be told orally. Thus, eventually, short stories and later on novels were written and today in most libraries and bookstores across the planet, there are volumes upon volumes of books with all kinds of stories.

When theatre moved from rituals to dramatic productions on stage beyond a religious function but mainly to entertain an audience, the story-telling process took on greater excitement for there is nothing like a live performance enveloped by the magic of theatre. Various theatre forms from the Shakespearean ones to the Japanese kabuki to the Chinese opera began to evolve and later on the zarzuela, the Broadway musical and the rock opera. Story-telling became more and more complex involving costume design, make-up, lighting fixtures and followed the commercial route.

As technology progressed, stories began to be told visually as images appear on screen rather than live on stage. At first these were just black-and-white images flashed on screen with the words of the dialogue flashed on screen and with music in the background. But as talkies began to be developed, the filmmaking industry grew by leaps and bounds. The invention of the television further made the film even more able to reach broad audiences across the world.

As computer technology invaded the world of films, the images have turned even more fantastic especially with the advancement of special effects in film-making.  Today it is already common to use the VFX or the visual effect system which is the integration of live action and a generated environment to create realistic effects. Currently, it is the Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) which is the most widely used technique by most of the filmmakers.

Despite the fact that the world has progressed and more communication systems are dictated by the advancement of computer technology, good-old oral storytelling persists. Just look at men having a drink at the corner sari-sari store, and what is the favorite pastime. Telling stories of course.  Barkadas who find themselves gathered together over barbecue and San Mig engage in telling stories; in fact – in many instances – retelling old stories and still having great fun doing so. Women at the salons or beauty parlors, when not gossiping over the love-lives of celebrities would then be engrossed in telling heartbreaking romantic stories.

The pandemic may have cut down on face-to-face oral story-telling but online conversations remain the venue for not just updating family and friends as to our whereabouts but also to share a story or two.  It is in the field of journalism and literature that stories go beyond the talk and are researched on, documented and then put into words for others to read. Filipinos are perhaps one of the most literate people in the world, but unfortunately are not very well-read. Still there is a significant segment of our population who do go out of their way to find time to read written stories.

The ones who are in a hurry and have little time to spare for serious reading can so easily purchase newspapers or go online to get news updates. Social media has overtaken as major source for knowing about issues we care about. However, after a while, there are those who find straight journalistic accounts as too straight to the point lacking in nuances and too impersonal devoid of deep human emotions. Thus, the search for short or long stories, either available online or purchased as recycled books (as in going on a trip to BookSale) or ordered online (for those who afford the exorbitant prices of newly published books.

What is the dynamic that happens when human persons listen to or read a story? They do find recognizable patterns, and in these patterns they can deduce meanings that have impact in the way they live their lives. We use stories so that we are able to get a sense of how the world functions and we can then share such an understanding with others, especially our family and friends. It is said that our impulse to detect story patterns is so strong that we even see them when they are not there.  With stories, somehow we are enabled to imagine the possibilities that will unfold in the future and are better read to face the consequences of the changes.

Those of us who have written non-fiction books in this country know that the readership is limited. One reason is that we are constricted to writing in English – a language which is not exactly the favorite medium of the average person-on-the street.  Hardly is a serious scholarly book a best-seller in the way that textbooks are known to be, which explains why some of us do wish to venture into a writing style that may draw more readers – especially the ones who would rather tread the path of literature.

The writer, Laura Moss, asks the question: what is it about stories that make them so universal, since we know from anthropology that story-telling is a feature of every known culture. She says, to put it simply: “they’ve kept us alive! Story originated as a method of bringing us together to share specific information that might be lifesaving.”  One can easily understand why this is so – because a story involves both data and emotions, it’s more engaging — and therefore more memorable.

The psychologist Pamela B. Rutledge also posits that:  “Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses. In fact, reading a story causes heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex. The neurons in this region are associated with tricking the mind into thinking the body is doing something it’s not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition.”

The neuroscientist Gregory Berns wrote: “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist… We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

More research studies now point that reading fiction make us more empathetic and as we become more absorbed in a story, the more empathy arises out of us. This is very much connected to the fact that as we encounter the imagery in the fictional work, we visualize the face of the main characters and the events they are experiencing. Thus, stories can in fact improve our emotional intelligence, make us less prejudiced and encourage us to be more helpful to others. This is because stories have the ability to evolve with us, to engage us and to connect us with others to something much deeper than simply a desire to be entertained.

Now comes – Mga Lumadnong Sugilanon Nga Mahinoklogon. This is my first published collection of short stories. I have tried by hand in writing novels  – in Cebuano-Bisaya – and have published three so far. Based on my experiences with my three published novels, there is a readership out there. In fact, all three are out of print, needing to be reprinted as there is  a continuing demand. Part of it is that more schools now have teachers who are encouraging their students to find local literature in our own language for discussion in class or for book reviews.

One of my realizations when finishing to write the ten stories in this anthology was this: as I was narrating the stories, I was really also exposing issues impacting on the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters and promoting my advocacy on their behalf especially in regard to their rights to their ancestral domain;  basic human rights – especially in our contemporary times when militarization expands in the Lumad areas owing to the incursions of mining and agri-business firms;  promoting the popularization of indigenous knowledge, skills, practices and spirituality; and exhorting the State apparatus to allocate more funds so they can have greater access to livelihood possibilities, food security, housing, health facilities and the like.

There is only one way for the reader to appreciate what I am writing in this essay. Find a copy of this book. It should be available already by mid-December. You can check with the publisher – Peter Paul Elicor of Alitheia Publications. He can be reached through peterelicor@gmail.com or his cp – 0966-465-9165. Those who are residents of Davao City will be informed where the pick-up location is where they can secure their copy. For those out-of-town, your copy will be couriered through Lazada or Speedo.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012,  “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents]

 

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