Oral Tradition and Climate Change
Since tie immemorial, people have been telling stories. Storytelling has served as a way of building coherent, cohesive community. It is also a way to pass down wisdom from earlier generations for the benefit of future generations. The wisdom of storytelling could be applied to today’s ecological challenges, such as climate change. But this has not occurred often enough.
Ever since the invention of the printing press, the written word has rapidly eclipsed the voice of oral tradition— similarly, truth-telling, once the function of stories, has been largely usurped by modern science. Of course, oral storytelling has never gone away, and it continues to thrive even as it has shape-shifted into other forms, such as film, theatre, dance, hip hop, and spoken-word poetry.
When it comes to climate change, there has been a rush to rely on modern science. Science is the accepted means for predicting and controlling the weather. But the discipline of climate science has a very short history. We have been only recording daily temperatures for less than a century-and-a-half.
The oral tradition, on the other hand, has been recording changes to the climate for millennia. Virtually all cultures have flood stories that date back to the ending of the last Ice Age. Some stories date back to the Stone Age. Moreover, stories have long provided a means for living in harmony with all our relations. They teach not only by telling us what to do, but what not to do. We can learn from everyone and every creature—even if the only thing we learn is how to identify a bad example. During times of crises, the perennial wisdom of storytelling is needed more than ever. How can storytelling augment the work of climate science in understanding what is unfolding today? How can traditional stories provide the larger wisdom we need to reset our imbalance with the natural world? Join us as we explore the continuing relevance of storytelling today, with our guest storytellers Regina Ress and Valentina Ortiz.
“We are hard-wired for story. We listen to story and parts of our brain light up…”
~ Regina Ress
“The wisdom is in the old stories. But as storytellers, we make the old new… Oral tradition is alive.”
~ Valentina Ortiz
Glenn Aparicio Parry, PhD, of Basque, Aragon Spanish, and Jewish descent, is the author of Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again (SelectBooks, 2020) and the Nautilus award-winning Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature (North Atlantic Books, 2015). Parry is an educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher whose passion is to reform thinking and society into a coherent, cohesive, whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the director of a grass-roots think tank, the Circle for Original Thinking and is debuting this podcast series of the same name in conjunction with Ecology Prime. He has lived in northern New Mexico since 1994. www.originalpolitics.us
Regina Ress is a long-time resident of the fabled Greenwich Village neighborhood in New York City. Regina is an award-winning storyteller, actor, educator and author who has told stories in English and Spanish in the US, Latin America, and Europe; from schools, prisons, and parks to homeless shelters, Lincoln Center, and the White House. As an educator, she has taught at kindergartens, universities, daycare centers, nursing homes, prisons, and international storytelling conferences. She is the recipient of National Storytelling Network’s 2003 Oracle Award for Leadership and the 2015 Oracle award for Excellence.
As an actor, Regina has performed in national tours, regional theatre, off-Broadway, and in the all-star revival of The Women on Broadway. Regina has also been Nominated for two Carbonel Awards for acting (South Florida Theatre Critics award). Her most recent acting role was as Lettice Duffet in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage—a role written for Maggie Smith. She is a regular contributor to the NPR affiliate WFUV-NY with her stories about New York City. Her CD release, New York and Me: We’re in a Long Term Relationship, features stories about NY with accompaniment by musician Michael Moss; it won a 2014 Honor award from Storytelling World.
These days she keeps busy teaching Storytelling in the Classroom and Beyond for New York University and produces the long running series, Storytelling at the Provincetown Playhouse in NYC. Regina is also on the Board of Directors of Healing Voices – Personal Stories, where she makes films to raise awareness of domestic violence. And she also finds time to be the Vice-President of the Storytellers of New Mexico.
Valentina Ortiz Pandolfi is an award-winning storyteller, musician, and writer. She received the Cenzontle de Oro prize for her storytelling and has taught storytelling workshops in many different institutions, from universities to rural elementary schools, specializing in the creation of personal stories as the reconstruction of individual and community history.
She began her career as a theater actress in the 70s, and from 1993 on, she has been a percussionist in several bands and orchestras, playing tropical, swing music, and also performing in Afro-cuban and Mexican traditional ensembles.
Valentina has written and performed the play Bigu La Tortuga with the troupe “La Fábrica, danza-teatro y otras ocurrencias” And she regularly produces her own shows that combine stories, music, and movement in Mexico and also in international festivals around the world.
She has produced three records with her original stories and music: Earth Stories, Words of the Living River, and 100% Xochiquetzal. She has also published several story books, including Taming History, a story written about the Mazahua indigenous women of Santa Martha del Sur.
She is the general director of the non-profit association Zazanilli Cuentos A.C. organizing art workshops and creative collaborative projects with marginal groups of Mexico.
Valentina recently finished the video recording of the community project Voices of the River, developed in the small Mexican community called La Huacana, in the state of Michoacan. This project is a community reflection about water management.
Traditional native flute music by Orlando Secatero from Pathways CD.
Liberty song by Ron Crowder, Jim Casey and Danny Casey
Featured illustration by Sir John Tenniel from his classic illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Public Domain
Photo of Regina Ress by Arieh Ress