The concept of Oral Traditions is a dying art. As many of you know, generations of my family moved constantly starting in what is now Bulgaria, to Romania , to Hungary, Slovenia and ultimately to France. Keeping one step ahead of the mobs, organized to push out Jews. Written records documenting the life of generations were usually left behind in the haste to get away so oral history was the only means to understand my people.
In my youth I would listen to my grandfather tell stories of life in the late 1700’s in Sophia, Bulgaria or life in the early 1800’s in Brasov, Romania. As he would tell stories he learned from his grandfather’s, grandfather, grandfather the cities and people would become alive. I could actually see the people in the town square as if it were a movie in my head. I could smell the fresh bread in the market and the light smell of smoke in the air from all the burning fires.
Over the normal sounds of a marketplace with wagons rolling and horses snorting, comes the sing song words of Yiddish and the Orthodox dressed all in black. When my Grandfather told his stories they were so real, I almost wanted to reach out and touch them. Now with modern communications and a digital world, interest in these stories seem to be dying. Even my own children are living new lives, new people and new places and the stories of old don’t seem to have the same pull on their imagination. Cell phones, video games and modern news media have consumed their valuable free time. I came to the conclusion that Oral Traditions were over and done with in these modern times.
I was wrong, Oral Traditions still live in certain parts of the world. When I spent time with my Mongolian relatives I heard stories going back almost 1000 years to the days of Genghis Khan. This put’s to shame my family’s 200 or 300 year old stories. I think one of the reasons Oral Tradition is still vibrant in Mongolia is there is no competing internet, cell phone coverage or radio and TV outside a couple large cities. Around a campfire outside of a Ger, the old men tell stories. How the horses sounded like thunder when 2000 men assailed a foes camp. How Genghis Khan rallied his men before battle, a dynamic orator. Who knew him as Temujin before he assumed the Genghis Khan title.
Great stories were told about who rode with the sons, Ogedei or who rode with Jochi including who should have been the legitimate successor to Genghis. The secret to Genghis Khan’s military success in capturing the territory from Korea, most of China, Eastern Europe and much of Russia was two fold. First, his army on horseback created a frightening advantage against an army of men on the ground. Second, he never went into battle without first gathering intelligence on his opponents with spies who gathered information on the size, nature of weapons, religion and morale of the opponent.
Genghis Khan is revered in Mongolia probably because it is the only thing that Mongolia was best at. However, he was NOT a nice person and his reign of conquests resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. But the stories did not dwell on this aspect of Genghis reign. The stories were more about all these strange places his men saw – the strange architecture, the strange people and languages and the strange foods. In these conquests they met Muslims, Jews and Christians for the first time. Again, if the storyteller is good, these stories are so vivid it’s like seeing an actual video of the event.
Most of the TMV’ers have lived interesting lives and those experiences and hard earned wisdom should be shared with others. The key is to become a “storyteller” and that is done mainly by practice. So give it a try and you may mesmerize someone with a tale that comes to life.