Oral Traditions & Yarning
We were not all born to write. While some people invest a lifetime of work into the written word, others pass-on their ideas, knowledge, history, and heritage through oral interactions. Oral-based communities are far more numerous than we may assume as they also exist in smaller pockets within highly literate societies. Here, we explore the world of oral-based communities and investigate the value of meaningful engagement with oral traditions, viewing ways in which knowledge is retained and passed on throughout the generations. I propose that the engagement with oral-based communities needs to be ‘on their terms’, giving participants greater control over the structure of the narrative. We introduce a method of investigation termed ‘Active Yarning’. This participatory technique engages communities or individuals in sharing knowledge through the researcher actively learning their craft, artisanal or biocultural activities. We introduce three examples of Active Yarning from field-based research and conclude that; engaging with oral-based communities in Active Yarning, takes the research beyond hearing and seeing data, it extends to ways of physically feeling data.
We were not all born to write. Writing is a learnt activity centred on putting our thoughts in an explainable order so that they can be presented to an unknown audience in an understandable way. As Pinker, (2014) explains, writing is complicated, and most people write poorly with reoccurring failure to explain what is happening, particularly if the experience is not their own. He posits that language is a human instinct, yet to write is not natural (Pinker, 2014). While some invest a lifetime of work and experience into the written word, others choose to pass-on their ideas, knowledge, history and heritage through oral interactions.
When communities are oral-based, their narrative and perceived heritage are documented by others. As history shows, foreigners to that culture regularly misinterpret subtle signs valuable to the moral and ethical meaning of that group's story (Nunn, 2018). Numerous methods of engagement based on western-centric scientific world views, often fail to capture the point of these oral-based community narratives and activities. They try to determine what is true and what is apocryphal when the intention is to represent a view of how the community functions and how it defines itself (Carman, 2011:494).
Watson (2020) writes of the mythology of technology that was introduced by the Westerners some three-centuries ago, that brought with it, humanism, colonialism, and racism resulting in a global system that ignores and isolates many due to their different way of life. Throughout time, people of deep oral traditions have been ridiculed and referred to as primitive and in need of development. Unfortunately, rapid transitions to western development often exclude ways of supporting and conserving the rich oral heritage of communities that should be the building block for living instead of being viewed as the mythology of lesser cultures. Traditional people that have not adapted to written ways of communicating are not failed attempts at being modern but richly diverse peoples with different ways of seeing the world (Davis, 2013).
In this paper we explore oral-based community knowledge and the value of engaging in traditional methods of expressing, seeing, and knowing the world. It is proposed that there is much to learn by improving our understanding of oral, traditional research engagement, doing research ‘on their terms’. Oral based communities offer positive, meaningful methods of knowledge sharing and learning from the past, unique teaching tools have been developed over millenia (Nunn, 2018). Excluding their world view, is akin to what Corbin refers to as Mundus imaginalis: removing the spirit from matter, the sensation from intellection, subject from object, inner from an outer, myth from history, the individual from the divine (Corbin, 1976:3).
There is, in fact, a significant risk of losing more of the critical elements of both the biological and the cultural diversity of nature and humanity which makes up the human spirit. We explore the core of oral-based tradition, asking simply, what value does it contain? We then go on to investigate one critical method of indigenous or traditional oral-based knowledge sharing, a technique referred to as “Yarning”. The research shows how “Yarning” can be used as a positive way of engaging with oral traditions in a wide variety of communities particularly when gathering knowledge of the past, understanding of traditional forms of knowing, doing or seeing and ways of better understanding the biocultural world around us.
Oral-base Communities and Traditional Knowledge
In recent years concepts surrounding traditional knowledge and culture and heritage have broadened to engage in discussions of significant and socially complex, intangible manifestations of oral-based or traditional peoples' way of living and learning (Bouchenaki, 2003; Smith and Akagawa, 2009; Taylor and Lennon, 2012; Watson, 2020). There are now numerous ways of talking with and about oral-based societies, but primarily we can conclude that they make up the world's minorities. Of course, owning and directing the narrative of minorities is highly essential to the powerful, as it is used to either create or reconstruct society in what Jenkins (2014) referred to as the "soft side” of state-building. Ownership of the heritage stories of others, for example, contributes to the construction of the nation, allowing some community memories, stories and activities to flood the national identity and others not. It has in the past been easy for these oral- based minority groups to be discredited for not having written evidence of their past (Nunn, 2018).
Is it possible for those of a western world with its written mind-set to comprehend the meaning of stories transferred over generations within oral-based communities? Couch (1989) for example, suggests that the majority of students of orality would conclude, that oral technology is not capable of retaining precise and accurate information over time. Cooke (1990) draws a clear comparison between the education of the western scientific psyche, throughout the stages of life and the learning of the traditional Yolhu people, throughout their life in Northern Australia. Cooke posits that the western mathematical mind is taught to learn through a separation from nature and spirit, exploring in mathematically scientific constructed ways. Whereas, the Yolhu psyche teaches them to be part of the land, nature and the spirit world. The Yolhu people are always looking to learn from within, rather than exploring from outside. Their classroom is a moving living world that they interact with sharing it through stories, songs, yarns, and dances and more (Cooke, 1990). Folklorist and linguist, Gísli Sigurðsson (2004), proposes that perhaps students need to think again and engage with new information gathered from living oral societies while also formulating new questions from limited oral resources.
Throughout the centuries, ethnographers from a western scientific origin have attempted to understand the indigenous, traditional or native other through various means of engagement (Vermeulen, 2008). However, the drivers of these efforts were not primarily to understand histories, heritage or ways of contributing to or improving the world, this was primarily to exploit the heritage of the other in the pursuit of empire-building, meeting the colonial desire to civilise the primitive other or more recently to fulfil an academic need, promote a media narrative or to develop the so-called 'underdeveloped' (Blue, Gregory, et al. 2001; Easterly, 2007). The exoticisation of many traditional peoples has resulted in the misinterpretation of what are often creative oral historical narratives of life events (Nunn and Reid, 2016) or teachings of traditional technologies embedded within the oral traditions of communities (Berry and de Ramírez, 2015).
Western societies have held a long history of rejecting the subtle communications and teachings of oral communities. Cathcart, reveals a stubborn breed of white imperialist with an evident inability to survive and understand the environment of the other in what he calls, “a land of plenty” (Cathcart, 2013:1). History is littered with numerous accounts of colonisers desperate to display their superior knowledge lacking attention to local culture and observations of traditional community practices (Blue, Gregory, et al. 2001). As stated by Berger (1972) “the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,”. There is a tendency to believe that things are either simple or complex, leaving us little feeling for depth, no sense of the positive realities of mystery and enigma (Cheetham, 2005). Today several scholars have attempted to bring some light to what we often perceive as fallacy or pure myth through such techniques as “geomythology (Picardi and Monti et al 2008). Mayor (2004) defines geomythology as; the study of etiological oral traditions created by pre-scientific cultures to explain—in poetic metaphor and mythological imagery—geological phenomena such as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fossils, and other natural features of the landscape.
In discussing the geological origins of the earth, Vitaliano (1973) noted, that scientific theories themselves are analogous to etiological geomyths in that both are efforts to explain mysterious observed facts. Nunn and Reid (2016) for example, explored transgenerational knowledge from 21 coastal locations around the Australian coastline. The stories communities told were then empirically corroborated by geological surveys of a postglacial sea-level rise some 7000+ years
earlier. They concluded that the evidence gives some indication of the extraordinary longevity of oral traditions, proposing that it is likely that this type of record also exists in similar cultures around the world (Nunn and Reid, 2016).
More broadly across the globe, resource manger’s, researchers and governments are now engaging oral-based traditional communities and enlisting their knowledge in a variety of fields from ecology, waste and wildlife management to the management of fires or aquatic environments (Braithwaite, 1996; Butts, 2009; Huffman, 2013; Watson, 2020). Much of this oral knowledge does not exist in isolation but is often reinforced through a variety of activities and traditions. Exploring oral tradition captured in dance, for example, Helen Thomas, through a variety of cultural studies reveals how dancing constitutes a culturally developed form of knowledge that is articulated through the ‘bodily endeavours’ of dancing subjects and not through the power of the word” (Thomas, 2003:215). Nietzsche (1878) proposed, that the need for people to move in rhythm with others is even far older than the language itself. He simply asks; where are the books that teach us to dance? Quoting the philosopher Heraclitus, Nietzsche concludes of people in general that “we are unknown to ourselves,” (Nietzche, 1887).
According to Hess (2015), the only way to seriously engage with oral tradition is to meet it on its terms and to understand it directly through people who hold it. The bhakti traditional Indian oral poet Kabir, for example, was heard to say; listening, implies living engagement of the body, a wholehearted presence that is contrasted with the insubstantiality of mere words and ideas. In voicing his disapproval of people documenting his oral tradition, Kabir says;
I talk of what I’ve seen with my own eyes, you talk of what’s written on paper. How can your mind and mine ever get together? (cited by Hess, 2015)
Many of Kabir’s fans and followers were of the Dalit caste, often referred to as the “untouchables”, those without access to a formal education given their low caste treatment. While retaining a profound twist of social criticism, Kabir poetically describes his observations of life, the caste prejudices, religious sectarianism, and hatred of the time but he also discussed the mind and body through oral means, all the while urging people to wake up and cultivate consciousness (Callewaert, et al. 2000)
It is also important to note, and perhaps anthropologists and folklorists may agree, even a light exploration amongst oral societies would indicate that rarely is a community purely oral or purely literate (Rosenberg, 1987). In essence, many ancient cultures have been shown to use a variety of written methods of passing on their knowledge. Marshack (1972) revealed how observational experience and symbols of the lunar cycles led to the creation of the calendar more than 30,000 years ago, referring to it as the cornerstone of complex social structures. While modern society sees this writing as mathematics, Cooke (1990) discusses the writing system of the Yolgnu communities as he explores, the message stick, used for communication across tribal boundaries. This symbol-laden stick enabled the messenger to journey from one community to another sharing information far and wide relating to coming events. While most early observers of this technique saw this too as basic mathematics amongst an oral traditional society, Michael Cook (1990:4) stated that;
It should be noted that by removing words, concepts, and structures from their Aboriginal context and putting them into a European box called 'mathematics', I have inevitably lost much of the full significance of their meaning and have certainly not done justice to the intricacy and complexity of the Yolngu world.
Haris (1990) too, sees oral and written text-based societies as antithetic with more differences than similarities in ways of seeing the world. Of the same conclusion, Albert Bates Lord, a scholar of Folklore and Mythology once described the written text as a disease, noting that printed text introduces the notion of “fixed”. He posits that, once writing takes over an oral society, its performances simply become reproductions rather than creations, stating that “this means death to oral tradition” (Lord, 1960:137 cited by Rosenberg, 1987).
As numerous authors agree, a significant juxtaposition appears in ways of seeing and interpreting the world separating the oral traditional communities and devaluing their oral- based knowledge in favour of text-based literate western societies and not only promotes an inequality but removes a richness for all of our understanding of the heritage of humanity (Rosenberg, 1987; Cooke, 1990; Cheetham, 2005; Hess, 2015). While the idea of illiteracy is not promoted and efforts must continue to bring unwritten languages into the realms of modern education, it seems to be equally important to retain those skills and techniques oral-based communities have developed in knowing, seeing and sharing their world (Robinson and Erland, 2003).
Yarning, Oral-based Knowledge Sharing
The slang word, ‘Yarning’ is said to have its roots in the seafarer traditions of storytelling (O’Connor and Kellerman, 2015). It made its way into the vocabulary of early Australian settlers as it became a way to describe the oral-stories of Indigenous people. While Yarns were originally seen as children’s stories, myths or tall tales, today it is recognised that Yarns contain a depth of traditional knowledge about the world that Aboriginal people occupied (Picardi and Monti et al 2008; Geia, et al. 2013; Nunn and Reid, 2016).
Yarns take a variety of forms, but primarily they are about sharing knowledge, as specific topics are discussed in groups or one-to-one. They are informal Yarning engagements where the knowledge and stories are shared as they come to mind based on the topic in the traditional way of ancestral learning or lived experience. Yarning is the person-to-person transmission of knowledge through stories that allows the message to be understood and socially evaluated and shared over time. While Yarns hold the knowledge of the past, Klapproth (2004), posits that Yarning is primarily concerned with the morality of the world that the group constructs and the culture and ethical space that society occupies.
Bessarab and Ng’andu (2010) note that the challenge for researchers is, that Yarns may be focused on whatever element of their story the teller wishes to tell and parts may be left out. They note how the researchers' role may on occasion be to draw out the parts which relate to the research topic, yet primarily yarning involves sharing and deep listening (Bessarab and Ng’andu, 2010). Yarns become a matter of learning as the researcher needs to avoid influencing, biasing or leading the story and thus disrupting the natural flow (Sorensen and Carman, 2009). The researcher, in part, undertakes an approach referred to by Rubin and Rubin (1995) as ‘the art of hearing data’. This requires a deep sense of curiosity while allowing the storyteller to Yarn in their expressive way (Gillian, 1982). In contrast to the western forms of narrative or scientific inquiry, Yarning is an informal and relaxed discussion and experience shared between the researcher and the participant(s). As explained by Bessarab & Ng’andu, (2010) Yarning is firstly about relationship building which allows the researcher and the participant to delve deeper into the topics together.
Berger and Luckmann (1966), refers to people of oral traditions as being connected in “the symbolic universe” where people, the land and the dreaming are combined in an all-encompassing universe. The body of Yarns that are distributed over the members of the culture contains socially valuable cultural knowledge. Therefore, a critical element noted in using Yarning methods by numerous researchers, is, that their voices in the research process should be directed towards an emancipatory research outcome for the community (Geia, Hayes, & Usher, 2011; Hunt & Geia, 2002; Miller, Spring, Goold, Turale, & Usher, 2005).
As Kovach (2009) points out early engagement is a key to building a relationship with the participants and building trust and understanding well before the data collection begins as this results in deeper and richer insights into the research topic. This lead-in time should be greater when a translator is required as they add another layer of engagement and new challenges to the research process. When working with translators or co-researchers, Berman and Vappu (2011) note how building a team makes the process more inclusive and promotes all members to take responsibility which makes the process not only inclusive but equitable.
Geia (2013), discusses the exceptional value Yarning brings to health-related research, as it allows the participant and researcher to interact in a culturally secure space and are free to tell their stories. Academic research techniques rarely consist of discussions on friendship building, but the evidence is that listening to the Yarns, prevents researchers from treating the participant as a number or statistic, a nameless face or as Geia states “just another patient in the ward” (Geia, et al 2013:16). For Bessarab and Ng’andu, (2010) when turning Yarning into something describable to the academic audience they compare it to a type of semi-structured interview, an informal and relaxed discussion through which both the researcher and participant journey together visiting places and topics of interest relevant or not to the researchers focus.
In 2008, Mary Terszack in her book, “Orphaned by the Colour of My Skin” discussed how writing about Yarning is a process of making meaning, communicating and passing on knowledge but also a special way of communicating with her culture. The analysis of various aspects of people’s attitudes towards the past and their culture and how these are formed, constitute a major area of research. As Klapproth (2004), notes, the Yarns of oral communities are primarily concerned with the morality of the world they construct, the culture and ethical space that society occupies. Moreover, Yarns avoid a dominant point of view and do not involve debate to prove what or who is right and wrong.
It is important to strike for the right balance in understanding between, on one hand, traditional knowledge and experience and, on the other hand, the inclusion of stories that are designed to provide a moral and ethical compass for a community. Datta (2018) for example, points out that to her Indigenous community in Bangladesh, their oral-traditional stories are a reflection of their communities lived experience. In contrast, the Brahui desert communities of Baluchistan use rich folklore intending to express the strength of character and cultural morals throughout the community (Swidler, 1984). Importantly, if we are to engage with information in a useful way, we need to understand what the information is telling us (Bang & Firth, 2017).
Guidance on Yarning from the literature
Bessarab and Ng’andu, (2010:40) discuss how there is a myriad of ways of Yarning that may include personal, academic, artistic, political, professional, religious or therapeutic. In each case, there are protocols and certain techniques that need to be followed. There are also different considerations of language, gender, cultural practices, traditional ways of doing, greeting or gathering and expressing emotions yet there are some common threads to Yarning that can be used as guiding principles. Dunleavy (2013) notes that the focus is always on inquiry and dialogue and not on “problem-solving”. She also notes that the Yarning process should be rich in interactions, narratives, and dialogues.
Kovach (2009) discusses the need to take time to get to know the participants building the relationship before diving headlong into research. This is also noted by Geia, Hayes, and Usher (2014). The team discusses the reciprocal nature of the researcher and participant engagement, building a respectful relationship and friendship is perhaps the most important step. The team primarily note that the relationship and a measured approach is at the core. They further remind researchers to be attentive, notice body language, tone of voice, the use of silence, and all the culturally significant signs.
There is a valuable trust-building period to go through with any community. Carlin, Atkinson, and Marley, (2019:3.3) state that, kindness and an ability to listen were highly valued when having a ‘quiet word’ with Aboriginal women. In “Therapeutic Yarning” they recommend that broad and gentle questions were more effective when it came to engaging women about their mental health and wellbeing. Culturally, it was discovered that women did not appreciate direct questions of relationships or for example discussions of childhood as these discussions are brought to the surface by women only once the researcher (in this case their health professional) was deemed
Participants may go on a meandering route to get to the point of a story. Willink (2006) sets out the story of how the researcher fails to hear what is being said until the story is retold many times, again highlighting how the researcher needs to enter the world of the oral- based participant, it is all about the journey, not the destination (Willink 2006, 505).
Bessarab and Ng’andu, (2010) stress, that the researcher must let the Yarn flow and avoid the urge to interrupt when you feel the discussion or story is off track. They point out that their propensity to interrupt has cost them in the past, as they often discovered later when reviewing recordings, that the Yarn was heading toward valuable information yet, they were so caught up in their academic concepts that they failed to hear what the participant was talking about.
(Types of Yarning as proposed by Bessarab and Ng’andu, 2010)
Expanding Yarning Methods to Active Yarning: A Participatory Method
Many traditional ways of learning and sharing knowledge within oral-based communities go much deeper than storytelling in situ and require active participation linking the story to activities, objects and artefacts. Numerous examples of this active engagement and learning exist, for example, from crafts, such as weaving, carpet making or sewing to traditional dances, poetic recital, making and playing instruments to construction, collecting or managing building materials to engagements with the environment, collecting, hunting or gathering food. People are busy active creatures and engaging while doing can have many advantages. Engaging actively with these fragments of heritage evokes different memories, feelings and stories of the past that also connect communities to visions for the future.
I utilise a method of data collection I refer to as, ‘Active Yarning’. It is participatory, action research requiring a hands-on physical approach. Active Yarning takes a new direction to the process of in-situ storytelling, and brings new questions and allows questions to be answered in different ways, (I cannot explain it but I can show you). From my research experience with oral- based communities, Active Yarning allows the researcher to build intimate connections and trust with a community more rapidly than is the case when it is a completely seated affair. When an Active Yarning approach is applied, researcher and participant work together as teacher and student where the student learns how something was originally learnt and physically done through the hands-on experience. The researcher not only listens to the story and inquisitively asks questions, but also feels the process, discovering the story behind the activity.
We know that memory and knowledge is captured in the hands of artisan’s the movement of dancers, the fingers of musician’s. We see the passion and intensity expressed in the crafting process and the beauty, taste, sound or functionality of and objects or a learnt movement. The crafting of these items is often situated within wider social and historical processes of the communities active learning. I propose that there are numerous environments where Active Yarning can bring new knowledge. In this section, I briefly introduce three areas that I use this approach and give examples from the field of how Active Yarning is applied.
In theory, there is no difference between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’, while in practice there is (Brewster 1882).
Craft Yarning is a participatory Yarning process of teaching, talking and sharing knowledge and ideas while engaging in traditional craft making activities. In these ‘Craft Yarns’ the researcher engages ‘one-on-one’ or in a ‘group’ by actively mixing and sharing knowledge and experiences around the craft. This type of Yarning brings craft objects to life as the origins of the crafted items and ways of crafting them are discussed. Craft Yarning involves methods of doing where the group are guided through weaving, sewing, drawing, knitting, jewellery, producing fishing nets, mixing colours, preparing or cooking foods, making tools, or objects that have traditional meaning, learnt knowledge. The researcher engages with individuals or communities while being guided through the creative process and thus learning the broader origins of the item or activity and the creator. Yarns develop to stories of the past or visions for the future. Craft Yarning is a shared informal process that is more than a discussion it is a lived experience where skills around the craft and craftsperson are learnt and understood.
Here I engage with a group of refugee women from the same community in Karachi, Pakistan. They share knowledge of the traditional craft of jewellery making. The Yarns begin with the material required for jewellery, and an introduction to some simple knots used in their style of crafting pieces. They Yarn about colours, size, and stories of occasions where different jewellery is made, bought or worn. In this example, the group share Yarns of traditional jewellery from Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Yemen, blending materials, colours, ideas, and techniques with personal experiences. They discuss the value of different designs in stories of wedding, displacement. They sketch designs worn by their mothers, grandmothers and over time they submerge into deeper stories of their families, mothers, grandmothers and homeland as they build bonds and trust.
Artisanal Yarning, is a participatory hands-on active way of learning and sharing knowledge. Artisanal Yarning goes a step deeper than working with crafts. The researcher must already posses a degree of knowledge and skill around the subject in order to engage in this method. It allows the stories to be exchanged more technically and a deeper understanding to be developed. This is more commonly achieved one-on-one and requires asking detailed technical questions of the artisan.
The Yarning journey will often go into the stories of artisanal training, teachers, communities of artisans who explore where why certain techniques are used, where materials are sourced, who or where tools are made, or what projects they have completed over a lifetime. Artisanal Yarns involve developing a feeling for objects and the artisan themselves. It is important to learn the movements of tools and materials but also the movement of oneself. Yarns are often splattered with humorous stories of learning what not to do, ‘incidents and accident’ as much as ways of doing.
In this example, I engage in ‘Artisanal Yarning’ with Rohingya refugees through the construction of bamboo shelters.. As a shelter specialist I am concerned with the traditional knowledge relating to methods and capabilities of the artisans as well as the cultural needs behind their shelter use. In this process, the artisan discusses the type of bamboo to use and how and where the skills were acquired and where. As I learned the limitations of the bamboo variety and the details of connections we also discuss the cost and configuration of the shelter within the context of the refugee camp environment. Building the relationship and respect is of great importance, particularly as artisans facilitate an intimate link with the community. Here the artisan describes his past life, weaving stories of work life with stories of family, homeland and heritage. The Rohingya language is primarily unwritten. While in part and more recently, it has transitioned to text the vast majority of Rohingya communication remains oral. Rohingya artisans, from builders to fishermen learn and impart knowledge-rich with stories through oral means.
Biocultural Yarning is an active participatory process of learning about people and their lived environment through active engagement. It is an effective research method for exploring the interwoven links between the biological and the cultural world. Biocultural Yarning can become part of foraging, farming or any work activities that engage with nature, land or wildlife. I have used biocultural Yarning with land surveys in Indonesia, while developing community forest management systems in Tanzania and while learning patters of Tavy agriculture in Madagascar.
In this example, I join the community with daily activities ranging preparing seedling bags for the community plant nursery to walking the forest tracks to remote farm plots in a joint community survey. For centuries, these forest families have practiced 'Tavy' or slash and burn agriculture. The land use is determined by a complicated kinship system with the land lying fallow for a period of regeneration before being used again. This oral traditional knowledge is kept in the communal memory bank and discussed and agreed with the seasons. Yarn’s in situ commonly relate to land, and land use, ownership and crops however, while actively moving through the forest yarns are by far the most informative; as each section of forest, and at times a single tree, can open a new story in the biocultural links to the forest management system. The members of the community explain the past and link it to current environmental problems which point to land change and impacts of deforestation from excessive Tavy. This biocultural evidence gathering through stories contributed to the native Suraka Moth Silk Programme with the response being the introduction of native tree species to the periphery of the forest to support biodiversity and sustainable economic activity for the communities.
I began by reminding us, that much of the story of mankind is held by oral-based communities, captured in a variety of forms beyond the written text. Unfortunately, there remains a divide between literate ‘westernised’ societies, who have become less conscious of the cognitive processes and the societies whose way of life and traditional knowledge remains embedded in oral forms. I set out how these oral ways of knowing and sharing knowledge go beyond the knowledge of indigenous communities, extending to a much wider population of minorities. These are populations that may not have a written language or they may have minimal engagement with text as a way of communicating, learning, teaching and passing on their way of life. I emphasise, that there are numerous ways that oral-based communities learn, share and store complex traditions, practices, facts, events or moral threads of their culture. I then turn to researchers such as Nunn and Reid (2016) who continue to reveal the origins of oral-traditions that date back many thousands of years. They do this through scientific methods, that verify and unearth a history of a nation that was previously viewed as mythology. Of course, to the holders of these oral-traditions, these stories had always been true, as they always said they were.
To better understand the way of life of oral-based communities, I discussed one effective research method, the practice of “Yarning” as a method of knowing, sharing and learning ‘on their terms’. Both collaborative and therapeutic Yarning methods were clearly described by Bessarab and Ng’andu, (2010). These Yarning techniques continue to gain popularity with researchers working with oral-based communities particularly those in the area of public health. I propose that Yarning is a less intrusive investigation into minority community lives and is a method to be explored further in a variety of other disciplines. it is most relevant for example, when exploring the past, heritage, culture or human links to land and nature. I further propose that Yarning can be taken several steps further to what I refer to as ‘Active Yarning’. Active Yarning being a way of sharing stories and knowledge while actively engaging in the process of craft ‘doing’ or ‘making’; or in a more technical exploration around artisanal traditions or when exploring biocultural links between, culture, nature, land and language. It requires the researcher and participant(s) to actively Yarn while learning to make or do - thus seeing, hearing and feeling data.
We experience the oral style of knowledge sharing as a sensitive, slow-moving, multi-faceted web that takes time to untangle, yet through the engagement with people and their crafts, artisanal activities or biocultural activities, we can more quickly build bonds and mutual understanding through shared physical experiences. We know that memory and knowledge is captured in the hands of artisans which is seen in the passion and intensity expressed in the building processes or in the beauty, taste, sound or functionality of and objects or a learnt movement. In my experience the crafting of these items is often situated within the wider social and historical processes of the communities active learning and better demonstrated than explained.
Finally, the engagement with oral-based communities should not be viewed as theatrical, nor should it be a search to simply find fact from fiction in the stories of others. There is a myriad of ways that human societies are forced to make sense of the world. It is critical that engaging with oral-based communities is an active two-way process, and a philosophical stance in the pursuit of understanding and equality
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