Strength: the truth teller or the opinionator

Early morning conversation between storyteller and husband


I’m just working out what I want to write in my blog.

And what country are you going to upset today?

I’m not selective, but I do want to write about yesterday’s incident. Some people would say that I stepped into a minefield for challenging the sanctity of the americans’ belief in their right to bear arms, but I reject that metaphor. When there are kids in the world today having their legs blown off by land mines, how can we in all conscience, make light of that by using that terminology to describe a conversation.  It’s like when people say they are starving, or that some one was their slave, or someone is a fascist.  These flippant exaggerations trivialise the reality of the lives of millions of people, past and present. 
No I am not being politically correct. That accusation is levelled at truth tellers as a denigration, because people don’t like being reminded of their insensitivity or privilege.
Truth teller?  Is that how you see yourself? I’ve always thought of you as a professional liar. 
But I know when I’m telling lies, and if other people are telling lies then I want to set them straight; especially those that think they are telling the truth. 
So whose truth are you telling? 
My own of course; everyone has there own version.
What about opinionator? Isn’t that closer to the mark? 
Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.


Here Lies Truth


Yesterday I encountered people who believed passionately in lies. Let me begin with the last one. This is instantly recognizable because its an ‘internet story.’ It is sincere, purports to be the truth, and includes factual information to assist in its credibility. I believed it when I heard my colleague tell it to the library crowd. We discussed it afterwards and I went home and retold it to my husband, who was immediately skeptical. I, being entranced by the tale had suspended disbelief, but then went in search of a source. I wanted it to be true. Numerous sites posting the story came up, but all with no source. My further research showed no evidence of the story’s validity. It was folklore, a lovely story, but not a true story. And so I will tell her what I have discovered, which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t tell it, but does mean that she needs to tell it in a truthful context. I’m a professional storyteller and I feel beholden to know the sources of my stories and credit them when possible. I also like to differentiate between the possible and the actual. 


This takes me to my first encounter, with a number of people who believed they had the right to own and use guns chiefly to protect themselves against their government. No these weren’t citizens living under a dictatorship; they were americans, living in a democracy. Every person over the age of 18 can vote in that country, although many don’t exercise that right. While the US government is currently proposing legislation that threatens the civil liberties of all people living there, the response by these people was not to mobilise citizens to vote or to protest, but to arm themselves with weapons.


They seriously believe that in a democracy all people have the right to carry and use guns, and that this will protect them; from their own elected government.
I understand that there is a valid reason for some people to carry a gun, such as putting down a sick farm animal, or if you are under attack from a bear, or an alligator, but that’ s probably not such a big threat in most American cities. 


As to the other reasons like defending your person and property. Property is just stuff; inanimate things. Nothing worth killing for. As to defending yourself and family? From what? Bears? Oh no its gangs. And they have easy access to weapons that they will always get illegally so gun control won’t affect them, or so I’ve been told. But how do you know if you’ve never done it?


What if the US government decided that everyone had to hand in their guns, unless they had a bear or alligator problem or were farmers (all of whom have no need for automatic weapons). What if?
Undoubtedly there would be outrage by some sectors of the US community; a sad indictment on the morality of that country. But I hold to the vision of a world where strength is not measured in armaments or weaponry but in humanity.


Strength (A Limba Tale from West Africa)


All the animals gathered together and elephant announced his idea to have a contest to discover who has strength.
On the appointed day each animal was to display their strength. Everyone arrived and last of all came Man, who had brought a gun with him and left it in the bushes.
Chimpanzee went first. He held his arms up in the air and shook them, then ran up the trunk of a small tree, bent it down and tied it into a knot.
He climbed back down and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’
Then Deer leaped up into the air and ran five kilometres into the forest and back again without being out of breath.
She looked around and called out, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

Leopard then jumped up and drew out his long claws and began to scrape the earth. The dirt flew left and right and the animals had to moved out of the way.He turned to the assembly and growled, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Bushbuck strode forward, lowered her horns and he ploughed a road through the canefields.

She turned to the crowd and shouted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Elephant then leaned his shoulder against a clump of trees and each one of them broke and crashed to the ground.He turned to the other animals and trumpeted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

 And last it was Man’s turn.  He whirled and he twirled about, then he did somersaults and cartwheels and handsprings. When he was finished he turned to the animals and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals all looked at each other and slowly they answered.

‘It was exciting but we’re not sure if that’s strength.’

So  Man climbed a tree and he threw down the palm nuts. he climbed back down and asked,’Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’ 

Once again the animals looked at each other and said, ‘You climbed a tree, which is great, but that’s really not strength. Can you do anything else?’

Man was angry.

He ran into the bush and retrieved his gun. He ran back with it, pointed it at the elephant and then pulled the trigger.


The elephant fell down dead.

Man jumped up and bragged. ‘Strength! Strength! Wasn’t THAT strength?!’

But there were no animals to answer him. They had all fled into the forest, where they huddled together and talked.

‘Did you what he did? Was that strength?’ 

There was silence while they all pondered the question.  

‘No that was not Strength.  That was DEATH.’

Since that day the animals will not walk with Man.

When Man enters the forest he walks by himself. And they still talk of him. Man; the creature who cannot tell the difference between strength and death.


Sources: Limba stories and story-telling [compiled and translated by] Ruth Finnegan Published 1967 by ClarendonP. in Oxford, UK   MacDonald, M. R. (1992). Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About. Linnet Books, USA

Look out for Bears



The Mischief Maker

In a time when people are traumatised, shocked and particularly vulnerable, the mischief maker comes to the fore and sets about causing as much distress, confusion and fear as possible. They spread misinformation, create and inflate rumours and cause unrest. To what purpose? Their own enjoyment of of course. You can be sure that whenever there is a natural disaster, they will surface, like cockroaches scuttling out of a drainpipe. In the recent floods in Brisbane and the surrounding areas, warnings were consistently issued by the media to check the sources of information, particularly on social network sites, where rumours and misinformation abounded.

I was reminded of the Burmese folktale about the mischief-maker’s tree, or the ‘gon-bin’ and I think it a most appropriate tale in light of understanding the power of the mischief maker. This is my retelling of this tale.

The Mischief Maker

Many centuries ago a raft carrying three people washed up onto the shore of the Burmese coast. They had all been banished from their country for the following reasons. One man was a thief who had stolen food, a woman was accused of witchcraft and another man a mischief maker who told lies about people.

When the King heard of the new arrivals he ordered hi ministers to give a thousand pieces of silver each to the thief and the witch and the mischief maker was to be executed immediately.

The King’s courtiers were shocked and asked the king why he had decided thus. The King replied.

The thief stole because he was hungry and if he is given enough money to grow his own food, then he will have no need to ever steal again. The witch too is poor and was envious and unhappy. If she is given money she too will have enough to live on and be a good person. But the mischief maker will always be a mischief maker.

So the mischief maker was taken to a beach and beheaded. The next day one of the King’s courtiers saw the head on the beach, its eyes and mouth wide open and it spoke.

‘Tell your King to come and bow before me or I will knock his head off.’

The courtier was so shocked, he ran back and told the King. But the King did not believe him and accused him of making fun of him. The courtier convinced the King to send another courtier with him to witness the mischief maker’s words. The King agreed to send another man, but when he appeared before the head, it said nothing. The courtier returned to the King and the King in anger, ordered the first courtier to be taken to the execution grounds and be dispatched for lying.

When the mischief maker saw that he had caused the death of another he laughed at the executioner and said.

‘I may be dead but i can still cause trouble.’

The executioner reported what he had heard to the King, who was filled with remorse for what he had done.

He ordered that the only way to stop the mischief maker was to bury his head deep in the sand. the executioner did that, but the next morning a strange tree grew in the spot. It grew and grew and finally it produced a most unusual fruit. It was shaped like the mischief makers head, complete with two eyes and a mouth. The King took the fruit and shook it and to his surprise he heard a gurgling sound inside, as though the mischief maker’s spirit was inside whispering his lies. 

The ‘gon bin’, which is now called ‘ohn bin’, in English is known as the coconut palm. 


Photograph by Roman W. Schatz



Each year I am asked to tell a story to celebrate Christmas at my local library. It is an event I always enjoy, because it enables me to share my gift with others. I chose this particular tale because it reflects my philosophy on fulfilment.


There was once a father who called his three sons together and asked them to prove their love for him by undertaking a challenge. They had one afternoon to fill a barn with whatever they chose, as long as it was with their own hands. The son who could fill the space would be the winner.

Each son left and thought about the best material he could use to fill the barn. On the allotted day, the father invited all the townspeople to witness his sons show the extent of their love for him.

They all sat outside the barn and watched as the eldest son brought armload after armload of hay into the barn and the middle son bring in bag after bag of feathers. By sunset the barn floor was covered in feathers and the walls were high with piles of hay.


During the afternoon the father sat on a chair in the centre of the barn and watched his son’s endeavours. In the twilight he called for his sons to stop and come to him.


‘My eldest son, you have brought loads of hay into the barn. It will feed the cows and the sheep and the goats. And my middle son, you have brought in feathers to make pillows and mattresses for our beds. But where is my youngest son?’


In the darkness, the silhouette of the youngest son appeared.


‘What have you brought to fill the barn my son?’ asked the father.


There was the sound of a match being struck and the lamp which he was carrying was lit, illuminating the barn. And then he began to sing.


The townspeople filed in to the barn which was filled with light and the sound of the youngest son’s song. The father smiled at his sons and knew that each one loved him, in his own way.


‘We are like this barn and need to be filled,’ he said. ‘We need to fill our bodies with nourishing food, we need to fill our time with creative work and most importantly we need to fill our hearts with the light of love.’


And everyone began to sing and the barn overflowed with light and joy and love.


Photograph by Roman W. Schatz