Who Writes History?

Another question first:

Why are there so many stories with the same cultural background?

That’s the question that relates to the main question. It may not appear to make sense, but think about it.

As an example:

The Romans travelled the world, conquering and spreading their stories, adapting the local cultural stories to include Roman elements. There are a lot of stories based on Roman and Greek cultural history. People still write stories based on these origins.

They were the victors who spread their cultural message through prolific retelling of their stories.

The current trend in genres like Fantasy are all based on a medieval world, mainly focused through the stories from a small geographic area with specific religious and military history.

They are the stories of the victors who overran the indigenous people and their culture.

Some of that subsumed culture is returning to stories. We are learning more about stories from other countries, other cultures, but how many?

Not many, and certainly not enough. There needs to be more, many more stories written by the people who know the cultural history of an area, the real stories, the myths and tales of the journey from one time to another.

Consider this story about Kukeri Dancers. How many people know their story, or the story of the people who know that story?

Not many. Not enough.

We need a variety of stories that reflect more than the dominant cultures, the history of the winners. We need our own history, the stories that created our culture and beliefs, that led us to this moment in time … so,

What is different and unique about your stories?

What culture do they spring from? Is it your culture, or an imposed culture from the conquering winners of history?

And why do I care?

My story, Itchy, originally published in Outback Horrors, uses the name of an entity I learned as a kid, the story told in the dark of the night to warn kids about wandering off into the dark unknown places of the world. Since it was published, I’ve seen the name of the entity used in other forms, similar, but not the same. In my experience, Nargun lived underground, and her husband was a thorny dragon. In other stories from other places, she is married to an echidna. Well, of course, we didn’t have echidna’s in the country where I was born. We did have thorny dragons, and each year, we’d collect one or two for a few weeks – as a pet; they are beautiful and perfectly suited to the arid environment. So the story was adapted to suit the location, but it is a uniquely Australian story.

I want to experience more of these stories. I want to know my culture, my history. I want to put aside the stories of the conquerors and learn about the country I live and breathe, where it came from, how the stories shaped and educated the people.

In summary:

When a story is appropriated from the dominant paradigm, it spreads the message of the conquerors, and consumes the local culture.

So, I ask:

What are your stories? Where do they come from? Who are you in those stories?

from Pixabay.

20 thoughts on “Who Writes History?

  1. Forget stories for a moment. Just think facts (or what is presented as facts).
    We’re basically taught the “safe” things about history. Those that it is felt appropriate to know. To use a UK example, schools will happily teach about the Battle of Britain, a great flag-waving exercise, but are less likely to teach, say, the Amritsar massacre, which does not paint the UK in a good light.
    This effect has gotten worse since the advent of national curriculae.
    Getting back to stories, are they not just a reflection on life as a whole? We write what we know, and what we know is this narrow field of vision.

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  2. It’s an important point, Cage, but it can turn into a rabbit hole. The Romans stole from the Greeks who stole from the Egyptians who stole from the Indians who stole from the Chinese etc etc. I think it’s just as important to own who you are, acknowledge that you didn’t have a lot to do with your own cultural heritage, and be part of sculpting the heritage of your generation.
    Besides, since the internet, I think history is now being written by the victims.

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    • History, as I see it, is a story. And the internet allows everyone to have a story, but where are the origin stories of the different parts of the world.
      ‘… be part of sculpting the heritage of your generation.’
      What I saw of my heritage was ‘borrowed’ culture from television, mainly American, followed by British. Still not part of my culture, except that we looked there to ensure we weren’t looked down upon, based on the history of ourselves as part of that world, and not our own.

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      • I don’t know my heritage, as I don’t have any stories of that heritage, only the ones imposed through education and other forms of governing bodies. Even the stories I read are about other places, other peoples, other regions, even mostly a different hemisphere of the world – there’s nothing I recognise as my heritage or history.

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  3. Those of us whose cultural roots are in Europe or Britain, but who live in North America and other places that were colonialized–what is our culture? We cannot ignore the history of the indigenous people whose lands were appropriated, but there’s a line between embracing a culture and appropriating it. Several people in the arts (writing, filmmaking) in Canada were recently “outed” as claiming to be indigenous, but who apparently are not. Casually tossing indigenous elements into a piece of fiction isn’t the answer either. I suppose the only thing to do is to honour cultures of origin and cultures of place as best we can and to learn from one another.

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    • The answer lies in there – to learn from one another by having more stories than those of the dominant culture, and also by having the subculture stories, those from the margins and therefore marginalised even within their own cultures. Embrace the stories, and we learn and enjoy the full aspect of our cultural history, and all those that surround it with influence and history and ritual.

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      • Which was precisely my point when I said earlier about being ‘part of sculpting the heritage of your generation’. Perhaps a good place to start is by tracing your lineage and exploring why they did what they did, how much choice they had in that, what were the social conditions of the time etc and write their forgotten stories.
        When I did that I found that my great-great-grandfather, who was supposedly a French sailor who jumped ship in Robe SA, was in fact a run-of-the-mill English scallywag with a gift for embellishing the truth and a propensity to purloin anything that wasn’t nailed down. From that unprepossessing start, I became fascinated with the fact that Robe was the embarkation point for Chinese people heading to the Victorian goldfields and followed their trials and their tribulations, which are now being played out in ‘New Gold Mountain’ on SBS.

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  4. I’m not sure if all Australian schools teach kids about the Dreamtime, but the Offspring’s school did, and I truly believe that’s where we need to start, with the kids. Make Aboriginal culture as much a part of the curriculum as English history or French or Italian. In fact, I’d love to see Aboriginal languages taught in mainstream schools. But then, I’m a ‘New Australian’. I fear that the culture of denial that dates back to settlement will not be displaced easily. Before we can embrace /our/ shared Aboriginal heritage, we first have to admit that we tried to erase it for close to 200 years. :/

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    • It’s a problem for a lot of cultures, where they did not have an army, or their ‘military’ was more hunter than warrior, and when they were invaded, the invaders took over all levels of history and culture, rewriting from creation forward.
      So, maybe it’s not that it was erasure (that’s the political term for actions taken), but more, worse than that, recreating the origin stories and the associated culture, burying what came before as uncivilised and unworthy of an independent, separate history.

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      • I think that here in Australia we had both. Early Settler policy was a kind of protracted genocide with mixed blood children being assimilated and divorced from their past and the other half of their culture.
        There’s a great website put together by the Guardian that documents all the massacres carried out by white Settlers against Indigenous peoples: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars
        It’s compiled from first hand written accounts by the Settlers themselves. Eradication was part of the mix. 😦

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      • There are many more. Many, many more stories. One in Qld, where an ‘outsider’ group was offered land if they got rid of the locals. What they did was offer gifts of flour (with cement mixed in), and raw tobacco (toxic/fatal when carried against the skin, which they were advised to do to ‘dry’ it before smoking). Two days later, they returned. No one left alive, but the offer of land wasn’t upheld, so a new killing spree, the ‘outsiders’ being shot as murderers.
        One of many stories I doubt will make it to our history pages.

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      • Sickening. Simply sickening. This is the history that we were never allowed to see. This is the history we have to acknowledge before there can be any real reconciliation or moving forwards. Far too many Australians believe that history has nothing to do with /them/. They didn’t kill anyone, steal anyone’s land, blah blah. What they fail to realise is that every single non-indigenous person living in Australia today is benefiting from the atrocities of the past. 😦

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      • And maybe we’re not truly Australian until we know our history – all of it – as well as the Brits know theirs, the Europeans know theirs, etc. We are the product of our past.
        However, the past cannot be ‘fixed’ by allowing one group or another to become the ‘right’ view – we need all the residents to come to the party and acknowledge that there is a way forward, and it is together.
        In every group of people, there are good, bad, passive, aggressive, etc. Allowing one group to overspeak/talk over/be louder only continues the dominant paradigm process, even if it changes ‘heads’.
        I see it as you see it – these stories belong in our classrooms so we can learn from the past and work toward a stronger, better future.
        And that’s it for me and politicking … oops.

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      • Don’t stop ‘politicking’. Every voice counts. I keep thinking about that quote ‘The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.’ We may not be able to do much to right the wrongs of the past in an individual sense, but we can keep the conversation going, keep it front of mind, keep it current until finally, one day, we won’t have to.

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      • I think we will always have to keep talking about it, whether as the stories of our time, or the histories of the past, or the education of the future. One and the same, except to those who choose power above community.

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