It has been said that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. That's the importance of storytelling. Stories have been used throughout history in many different ways for development of character and virtues.
Early man used stories to explain natural events. Imagine experiencing an earthquake without ever knowing what it was. In order to understand, the tribe would turn to the storytellers. Across all cultures there are hundreds of stories to explain natural occurrences. They explain where people came from and why they speak different languages. There are stories to explain why birds fly and why snakes crawl. Before there was science, the world was described through story.
Before there was the written word, the storytellers were the keepers of the history of the people. In many cultures, storytellers were considered the most important people in the village. In the event of some natural disaster or in the case of war, the storytellers were always protected. Early man understood that if you lost your stories, you lost a piece of yourself.
Morality and Faith
Many stories were told to help people understand how they should interact with and treat each other. Storytelling taught character development and virtues. Many tribal laws were carried through the storyteller. All major religions use stories to convey their messages.
People have always wanted and needed to be entertained, and long before there were radios or television, there were storytellers. Many stories were told purely for fun. But even these stories often carried elements of the topics mentioned above. For example, the Anansi stories, which can be found all over Africa, were often told for amusement but also conveyed an underlying message. Many of the Anansi stories were origin stories as well.
There are more than Cinderella stories that span the globe. When people migrated they took their stories with them, and as they met people in other parts of the world, they shared the stories.
Everyone associates the story of the Tar Baby with Br'er Rabbit, but there are multicultural tales of tar baby stories from many different cultures from Africa to the Americas, each with its own flavor.
There are many multicultural tales of disaster that wipes out all the bad people, allowing the gods a cosmic do-over. More than almost anything else, stories show how close we are as a human tribe, a tribe of many different flavors.
August House and the National Storytelling Festival both started in the 1970s, each by a young person who was concerned about cultural changes, especially about the quality of stories feeding our national psyche.