Live Storytelling Event

Ethnic Mon Dancers

Ethnic Mon Dancers

The Hidden Words, Hidden World’s ethnic literature project started almost exactly one year ago. So far 5 workshops have been conducted. The first way back last August when poet James Byrne came to Yangon and trained 16 Burmese short story writers on how to deliver short story workshops. Cheers James.

Since then H2 has been on the road, holding week long workshops in Hpa-an Karen State, Mawlamyine Mon State, Myiktyina Kachin state and finally in Lashio, Northern Shan State. 80 local community members have joined the workshops; we have had youth workers, WW2 veterans, University professors, business men, gym instructors, IDP camp members and lots more. No workshop is complete without a Live Literature night. The 5 Live Literature nights have seen readings in Sgaw Karen, West Pwo, East Pwo, Jinghpaw, Mon, and Shan Gyi. Along with traditional musicians, singers and dancers they have showcased the utter originality of ethnic culture and literature in this country.

Over the last year I have the fortune to work with some amazing ethnic cultural groups, the Karen Culture and Literature association, the Mon Literature and Culture Committee, the Kachin Culture and Literature Co-operation, the Shan Culture and Literature Association. Through the dedication of these groups to the promotion and preservation of their literature and culture, the project has also managed to initiate contact with several smaller ethnic cultural groups, such as the Lisu, Mara, Lahu, Myaung Zee, Kokhant, Nepali Gurkha, Hmong and many others.

To celebrate the ending of the first year, we decided to go back to the roots of ethnic literature, to oral storytelling. We invited leading poets Saw Wai and Suu Mei Aung to tell us a true story about themselves based on the theme of ‘Hidden Words’. Of course, as a Live Storytelling event, they performed by memory, without notes, papers or props of any kind. As usual, both poets were fantastic.

Even though the stage at the Signature restaurant was a little bit small, we managed to squeeze some amazing traditional dances from our ethnic cultural group partners in Yangon. Identical twin sisters from Mon state performed an elegant royal court scene, the Shan brought along a drum bigger than the stage itself while the Kachin didn’t even bother with the stage. (Take a look at the photos to see what I mean)

To add a western flavor to the night, English violinist Sebastian See-Schierenberg and Flamenco guitarist Aaron Gallegos performed a duet.

Thanks to everyone who attended the night and for supporting the project so far.

(all images are credited to Kyaw Kyaw Winn)

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About Lucas Stewart

Former British Council Literature Advisor | Author of The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journey's with the Storytellers of Myanmar