“The oral traditions of the Aboriginal people taught them from an early age the art of listening and remembering”, says Nyoongar Elder Rosemary van den Berg, PhD, of the south-west people in Western Australia, in a paper titled “Aboriginal Storytelling and Writing”. Among other things, her paper explores the different roles storytelling played/plays in traditional times and contemporary times, and talks about the legacy of traditional stories transcribed into the written word. To illustrate the latter, she uses as an example a story about the Nyoongar sacred serpent (the Wagyl or Waakal) told by two different generations and gender of Nyoongar people. I encourage you to read the paper and the two versions of the story (they’re not long).
The first version is by a Whadjuck/Balardong man who was the Keeper of the Stories, the late Mr Tom Bennell; the second is by a Nyoongar woman, Mrs Dorothy Winmar. Dr van den Berg notes about the two versions that she transcribed herself: “Tom Bennell, The Keeper of the Stories, gives an in-depth, very detailed telling. His generation of Nyoongars were more attuned to their old people and lived more closely with the Dreamtime stories that were a part of Nyoongar life back in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. Mrs Winmar’s version is more contemporary, makes more use of the English language and uses less Nyoongar words.” Then she goes on to ask: “Whose story is more authentic?”
Questions of authenticity in relation to literature are often tricky. In this case, it’s tempting to (more…)