Storytelling: Interview in Indonesia with Storyteller Rutger Tamminga

Children’s Literature

From The Practise of Art and Literature by Shrii P. R. Sarkar

The child’s mind is filled with fanciful imagery, and so the litterateurs will also have to soar in the sky of imagination with outstretched wings. However, they cannot afford to give indulgence to intricacies and complexities in this visionary ascent. The thirst for the distant, and the earnest zeal to know the unknown that abides in the child’s mind must be fulfilled by drawing pictures of magical lands and relating colourful fairy tales. “Real” or “natural” is not so important here. What is more important is to carry the child’s mind along in the current of joy, and in the process to acquaint the child with the world in an easy and simple manner. The harshness of reality should not be portrayed: the child will not want to read or listen to it. “The prince of the mind with his wings outspread in the azure sky soars to the kingdom of the old witch beyond the worlds of the moon and the sun; and, tying his Pegasus to the golden branches of the pearl tree, proceeds in quest of the sleeping princess in the soundless, serene palace. Being informed of the whereabouts of the magic-wands of life and death, and rousing the princess from her centuries-old sleep, he gathers all the information about the sleeping den of the demons, and seeks to establish himself in the world like a hero…” Picture after picture, colour after colour, must accompany the words: this the children’s minds crave.


Exerpted from an Interview with Storyteller Rutger Tamminga during the Amurt Indonesia ECED Teacher Training Program
Semarang-Demak Central, Java, Indonesia
By Didi Kiirti
About ECED (Early Childhood Education), where is the position of storytelling in ECED?

I think first we have to understand the purpose of storytelling. We use storytelling because we want to create an individual space for children. The copy model is just copied, everybody learns the same thing, but with storytelling everybody has their own thought, their own opinion, and learns to find their own expression. So storytelling is more a child-centered approach, and from storytelling we move to reading, literature and writing. So storytelling is just the basic foundation. Now in ECED, the special situation is that between 0-6 years the brain is developing very much and many brain cells make new connections, and the connections the children use they will keep for life, the ones that they don’t use will disappear. So from ages 0-6 you can build a pattern that can last the lifetime. I think storytelling in ECED is even more important than later on, because it creates neurological patterns that will shape how the child is going to live. So that time is more important than any other time.

No other way better than storytelling?

Maybe I’m little bit stubborn. But storytelling you can see in a wide concept. Storytelling includes music. Music is a story. Painting is a story. But I think as far as language, storytelling is not just speaking, it comes also in art, it comes in dance, in many ways. The basic concept depends on story and a story can be linked to so many forms of expression. So I think yes, there is nothing better than stories. And this is how our brain naturally works, because we have different parts of our brain, and even if there is a conflict, when we tell stories the whole brain gets integrated and connected. So actually feeling comfortable, feeling integrated is achieved through stories. That is why children love stories. Stories bring meaning to their lives since sometimes children are overwhelmed when they see the world. They don’t see the meaning, but through the stories they find oh! this is how the world works, this is how I can understand the world, understand myself. So I think the stories are the only way.

In the storytelling there is imagination, but imagination is not the reality of the life, is it?

I think, ya, imagination creates reality.

For example?

The way you think is what you see. That is your reality.

For example like a fairytale…

You have to see what the fairytale is about. So for example, let’s tell a simple story. Fairytale: there’s a brother and sister and they live with the father and mother. Now, they are not happy at home. Mother is not good to them, father is always busy. They run away. So they are going to the forest. On the way they are hungry and thirsty, but everywhere they go the river says, “Don’t drink me! Don’t drink me!” So at the first river, they can stop, but they don’t drink. And the second river they don’t drink, but by the third river they are so thirsty! The boy drinks the water even though the girl says, “Don’t do! Don’t do!” And he becomes a deer, an animal. And sister takes care of the deer. They stay in a small house in the forest and she protects him, she takes care of him. Then a handsome prince comes and takes the princess to the palace. They get married and have a baby. There is a witch. The witch comes and wants to hurt the baby, but they catch the witch and burn her up. The curse is over and the brother becomes human again.

This story speaks about imagery of the heart. Logically is not possible, but the heart can understand the meaning of the story. Because in this story, the sister is self control, she is consciousness, so she can warn, “Don’t drink the water! Don’t do it!” She understands self-discipline. The boy is impulsive. In our psychic structure we have impulse, and we have self control – ability to control the instinct of the impulse. So the story shows that self control is more powerful than impulse. If you follow the impulse you get into trouble, but then, you also can when there is peace. Marrying means balance. Balance means there is intuitive beauty that will let you fight the evil and cure the negativity. So actually the story is about that. You can see actually that the story is very realistic because it speaks about our mind, but through the imagery of our consciousness. I think this is what our children understand. Not only children – adults, too!. We see the reality. We can see things better through story than through intellect. Intellect is limited, while the story can see the bigger picture. So I think there is much wisdom to learn through stories. Research shows that children who grow up with stories have more wisdom to make better choices in their life, better career, more income, better family life, more friends. So these are all good things. It doesn’t come because they are smart, it comes because they are wise, they have wisdom of the heart. I think this is what we want in our society, because society today is facing so many problems. We have the technology, we have the intellect to solve these problems, but we lack wisdom. So we need to develop a Wisdom Society which uses our intuitive abilities to solve the problems. I think this is what we want from neohumanist education.

Is it storytelling just for early childhood, not for higher levels of education?

The format is different but the process is reading, so literature is the next step. It’s ongoing. So actually if you look at neohumanist schools all around the world, at least in junior high school, they already do the program. They all are actually literature based. So we have to move from this kind of creative storytelling that you will see these few days. Move forward to reading stories and then from stories we create our lesson plan, our curriculum.

Do we have already a curriculum based on storytelling?

Literature based on storytelling for early childhood? Ya, we have. Your “Circle of Love” is story based, and the book “Story Bug” that I brought last time is storytelling and your other books are storytelling based, too. So the whole structure of our curriculum is actually story based.

How about university’s curriculum, is it possible to include storytelling?

University is more academic, so we have to teach them the academic side of literature as well as the storytelling aspect. And I hope we can train student teachers to become storytelling teachers when they get classes of their own.

So is it possible, no?

Literature.. ya, of course. The whole process, of course. Actually anything that is story you can say is art. Obviously for the humanities and languages, but you also can do storytelling for science, math, or biology. So actually there is no subject that cannot be taught through story, but the format is different.

Is it history related with the storytelling?

I think history, ya. Already the word says hi+story. It means it’s a story.

But not everybody enjoys history – for example like me. I don’t really like history but I like stories.

Maybe you need to learn history through stories. My teacher was a storytelling history teacher. We loved him and we loved history, that is why I studied history. You can look at history like so many facts, so many years, so many battles, so many wars, so much back fighting all the time, but if you see it all through story, you can get interested. News is a story. Actually, science is a story. Science is changing all the time. It is just how we look at things. That is why I tell you, imagination creates reality. How you see the thing is what you call reality, but actually it is just our imagination. We need to train young children have healthy imaginations because imagination can also be destructive and create horror. People have committed suicide because their imagination was destroying them. The values come through your story, how you see the world, how you see yourself.

About BCCT (Beyond Centre and Circle Time) method – how to implement storytelling in it? Do you think is it possible?

Of course! I think stories can be extended to many activities. So let’s say you tell the story you told yesterday about the banana. Then I think that could find extension in nature studies, or you can do art, or because this is story you can do drama. You can also do math: you can count trees, you can measure trees, you can multiply trees. Let’s say you have five banana trees and every banana tree has two babies. How many banana trees do you have? Multiplication. The wind comes and one banana tree falls. How many banana trees are left? Subtraction. So even in math everything can be done through stories. You can extend stories to every subject, depending on your national curriculum requirements.

Is it good to tell a story everyday?

Every class needs stories.

Is it not too much to give them everyday?

You can ask your children. They will tell you, “Never enough!”

They never feel bored, for example, the same story repeating?

That is why with creative storytelling we have to use many different ways to attract the children, and I think if you are creative in storytelling then nobody is going to get bored. They are going to love it! Then of course you also have to give them time to process the stories you tell. It is not like you are 24 hours talking stories, stories! But this is the basis of your curriculum and from there you do your reading, your spelling and your other activities.

What is something special that you got from your workshop in Indonesia?

They are so lovely. I think you know every culture has different values and, as I said, people tell their values through storytelling. Every culture has to explore different ways for finding the path to the inner self. We want to promote storytelling as a need for self realization and as part of the process of self discovery and of understanding who we are as a people and as individuals. I think this is basic to being human. Everybody has the same longing to know who we are. I think now the biggest challenge for me is to find the way that is psychologically and culturally appropriate for our teachers to understand and naturally accept this method for going deeper inside, because it is all about identity: Who are we? Then, from our social identity we have to move to a deeper understanding, maybe an emotional identity. After that, we need to go deeper than emotion, and there are maybe some psychological practices we can use to find the deepest identity. And if the teacher has that deeper self insight, the teacher can guide the children in a better way. You have to understand that children live in a very open state of mind where everything is magical, everything is charged with something loving and blissful. I think if the teacher can reinforce that in children, they will maintain that blissfulness throughout their adult life. So this spirit, this part you can talk about: what we teach, how we teach and why we teach, but the most important is: who is teaching and who do we teach. Who is teaching? This aspect is actually the first and most important. What is the Identity of the teacher and of the student? Because whatever you teach is constricted or conflicted with so many emotions that some percentage of it will affect the student negatively, while if the teacher develops self knowledge it will turn out that the same material can inspire the same student. I think that process is the biggest thing I have to learn from association with the teachers.

We can seek to gain and keep for ourselves, but rather a divine energy that flows through us. By emptying our personality of selfishness, we allow ourselves to become like a hollowed out reed flute, an instrument. The Divine then flows through us, like the wind through a flute, producing beautiful music. As we learn to release the compulsions of our ego, and open up to becoming a Divine instrument, we allow the magic of “krpa” or “Grace” to happen. A classical part of the spiritual path consists in exploring this question of how to let go, open up and allow the Higher Self to work through us.