Pondering the Power of Stories

Good stories affect the way we think and even the way we act.

One of the important issues for Sahtu Press is finding ways to help Lao to tell our own stories in our own words and on our own terms. But what does that mean, and what can it mean?

For centuries the Lao have seen stories as an important way to pass down our values, our dreams, and history with one another, and there has been a place in our culture for those who are particularly good at telling stories, but for most of our history it was also a form that everyone could participate in. Many who’ve come to study the Lao have made note of our tendency for word play, for riddles and intellectual challenges. During our reconstruction, however, it often feels like we’ve gotten away from that.

But how do go about recording, sharing and preserving the stories of our lives and our culture? How do we remind one another that this is a dynamic and continuously growing process? Like the old Lao proverb goes, “If you know, teach. If you don’t know, learn.” We admire that lesson because it also encourages us to take charge of our own lives, our own learning, our own stories.

Telling Lao stories isn’t just about discussing what it is to be “Lao” but to consider our shared humanity. We use our stories to build connections between other cultures and ourselves, and to appreciate the value of listening, weaving together all of these threads into a great tapestry where everyone’s voice adds to the vibrancy of that journey for the next generation. Good stories affect the way we think and even the way we act.

At Sahtu Press, we feel a particular sense of tragedy when we lose elders or younger voices whose full stories will never be heard.

Our ability to tell stories is considered uniquely human, something that’s been with us since we first began to speak. It’s debated by scientists whether we evolved it for practical purposes of survival, or if simply emerged as a result of our brains biologically expanding their cognitive capacity. But across the ages and across cultures, humans have used stories to transform their societies and themselves, well beyond just simple entertainment to pass the time. We’ve used stories to motivate ourselves, and to re-evaluate our world and our relationship to it.

In the past, we’ve seen our community tell epics such as Phra Lak Phra Lam, and the saga of Sinxay, or Manola and Sithong, and of course, the stories of Xieng Mieng. These were our superheroes and myths, our Batman and Star Wars. We also made space in our lives for smaller stories, too, whether it’s the tale of the turtle who wanted to fly, or the ghost stories of the phi kongkoi who’s waiting to get naughty children. But what will be the stories we preserve this century and what will be the original tales we pass on to the next generation?

Bryan Thao Worra