Storytelling is a vital part of the traditions of societies lacking a written language. Storytelling helps preserve the history and culture of the Inuit, native to the North American Arctic. Here, an Inuit storyteller relays the story of a whale hunt to an audience in Kotzebue, Alaska.

Photograph by W. Robert Moore, National Geographic

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    On March 20, 1991, the nation of Sweden celebrated “All Storytellers Day.” Today, the day has been adopted around the globe as World Storytelling Day. From South Africa to Singapore, Canada to Croatia, thousands of people celebrate the art of oral storytelling. Each year has a different theme—in 2015, it was “Wishes.” In 2016, it was "Strong Women." In 2018, it's "Wise Fools."
    Storytellers have an important place in many cultures. In many West African regions, a griot is a storyteller who is also a community historian and politician. The griot tradition continues to thrive in places throughout Mali, Senegal, and Gambia. Troubadours were traveling storytellers who served courts in medieval Europe. Troubadours not only told stories and histories, but relayed information about neighboring communities, medical practices, and political debate. Storytelling saves the life of Scheherazade, the hero-queen of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabian, Persian, and Indian folktales sometimes called “1,001 Arabian Nights.”
    Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication, vital to preserving the culture and traditions of communities as diverse as Aboriginal Australians and ancient Greeks. Storytelling often includes music, dance, and chanting. Storytellers often re-tell familiar stories, but adapt them for a specific audience—making them funnier or shorter for a younger audience, or more complex for older listeners. It is a way to convey history, culture, language, spirituality, and identity
    Vyasa, the storyteller of the Indian epic poem Mahabharata, says “If you listen [to a story] carefully, at the end you’ll be someone else.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Aboriginal Australian Noun

    people and culture native to Australia and its surrounding islands. Also called Aborigine.

    adapt Verb

    to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

    adopt Verb

    to take over or nurture an idea or responsibility as if it were one's own.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    chant noun, verb

    short, simple melody that is repeated as it is sung.

    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    complex Adjective


    convey Verb

    to communicate or make known.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    debate Verb

    to argue or disagree in a formal setting.

    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    folktale Noun

    legend or story passed down among people of a specific culture or region.

    griot Noun

    storyteller and oral historian common to cultures of West Africa.

    historian Noun

    person who studies events and ideas of the past.

    identity Noun

    how a person defines themselves, or how others define them.

    medical Adjective

    having to do with the study of medicine or healing.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nation
    oral Adjective

    having to do with the mouth or spoken words.

    politician Noun

    person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.

    relay Verb

    to transmit or spread information.

    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    specific Adjective

    exact or precise.

    spirituality Noun

    belief in supernatural powers.

    thrive Verb

    to develop and be successful.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    troubadour Noun

    traveling poet or storyteller popular in southern Europe in the Middle Ages.

    vital Adjective

    necessary or very important.