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The Problem with Cultural Tales

I am often asked if a teller should tell tales from other cultures. My rule of thumb for cultural tales is: What does the story have to do with my life? 

 
I was a missionary in Haiti in 1984. I can tell Haitian stories from the stand point that I have been to the country and have had experiences within that culture. 
 
A Haitian story I love I have also found in other cultures giving me choices. I can tell Turtle Learns to Fly as a Haitian or a Native American tale. I have told the story so often I have created my own version.
 
Bye-Bye! A Haitian Tale
Turtle wanted to learn to fly. The birds were returning to New York and said turtle could go with them if he held tightly to a stick two birds would carry. It wouldn’t be the same as flying, but turtle would be able to hang from the stick by his mouth and “fly” with the birds to New York.
 
Turtle was excited and nervous, for you know turtles are quite the talkers. Would he be able to be quiet all the way to New York not once opening his mouth? 
 
The animals gathered to say goodbye to the birds. Upon seeing Turtle high in the sky, they shouted, “Goodbye, Turtle!” To which turtle said, “Good bye!” (Splat!) That is why turtles never fly and always swim.
 
Telling stories outside of one’s culture is not typically improper, but it is rude and even wrong to tell cultural stories that have not been researched or understood from the perspective of that culture. I am uncomfortable telling stories of any culture that do not resonate with me. I suggest starting with your own heritage and then exploring many cultures to learn how all stories begin to connect choosing to tell those that have special meaning and personal significance.
 
Bruchac, Joseph. Native American Stories. CO: Falcum, 1991.
Wolkstein, Diane. The Magic Orange Tree. New York: Schocken, 1978.