Asian Storytelling: Rakugo, Pingshu And The Art Of Sitting Seiza

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12th page of Kunijo Kabuki Ekotoba showing Izumo no Okuni, the founder of kabuki theatre, on stage. Edo Period, Keichō era (1596—1615) (Public Domain)

Asian Storytelling: Rakugo, Pingshu And The Art Of Sitting Seiza

Intertwined with the development of mythologies, storytelling predates writing and the earliest oral storytelling was animated with gestures and expressions thrown in for good measure. Tools to enhance the oral narrative of the prehistorical storyteller could have been rock art, rhythm and dance, all of which contributed to the audience’s understanding and attributing meaning through the remembrance and enactment of the stories. With the advent of writing, prose, poetry, song, choreographed dance, and theatrical performances developed as modes to tell a story, but oral rendering is embedded in the collective memory of humankind.

18th century Panchatantra manuscript page, the talkative turtle (Public Domain)

Archaeological evidence confirming the presence of stories has been discovered at the Indus Valley civilization site of Lothal in India. On a large vessel the artist depicted birds with fish in their beaks resting in a tree while a fox-like animal stands below. This scene reminds of a story from the Panchatantra of The Fox and the Crow. The Panchatantra is an ancient Indian collection of animal fables in Sanskrit verse and prose. Although the surviving work is dated to around 200 BC – 300 AD, it was based on older oral tradition. The story of the thirsty crow and deer is depicted on a miniature jar, with the deer unable to drink from the jar's narrow mouth, while the crow succeeded by dropping stones into the jar. The animals' features are distinct and graceful.


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