While writing The Corn Whisperer, I learned that some Native American legends are told only during certain seasons. For example, “Coyote Scatters the Stars” is a winter story―told during the time when the earth, animals, and plants are asleep, waiting for the return of the sun.
I learned that Native Americans consider oral stories to be more reliable than written stories. This came as a surprise because I think of verbal stories changing from one person to the next, like the children’s game of Gossip. But this does explain why there are different versions of the same legend. And, more importantly, each version is valued and preserved.
Storytellers are respected elders, such as grandfathers and grandmothers. Children gather around a fire after the evening meal, and the storyteller instructs them to sit straight and listen. The storyteller speaks slowly with a rhythm―giving the words time and space and repeating certain words. Storytellers measure out their stories over the years, reserving some stories for telling near the end of the storyteller’s life.
For Native Americans, storytelling is an important form of communicating wisdom. Told in the context of the storyteller’s culture and location, the story explains the listeners’ place in the universe, how they came to be, or teaches a lesson. Stories are told in an entertaining way―sometimes with a bit of teasing by the storyteller―so the audience will remember the stories and pass them on to the next generation.