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Scottish Traveller Tales

Scottish Traveller Tales: Lives Shaped through Stories

Donald Braid
Copyright Date: 2002
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  • Book Info
    Scottish Traveller Tales
    Book Description:

    The "Travelling People" of Scotland are the traditionally nomadic minority group known also by the derogatory term "tinkers."

    Traveling in groups or in their individual caravans along the high roads and byways of Scotland, they have established a distinct identity and mode of life for themselves that preserves centuries-old cultural beliefs. For their skill as storytellers, as well as ballad singers, they are internationally recognized for the richest storytelling traditions of the world.

    One of their best-known storytellers is Duncan Williamson. He was fascinated by storytelling from an early age and dedicated himself to keeping the wisdom of traveller culture by learning as many stories as possible. While this book focuses on a number of individuals, both Duncan's skill as a storyteller and his extensive knowledge of traveller storytelling traditions are prominently featured through a series of performance transcriptions and interview excerpts.

    Although their oral tales have been compiled and collected in other volumes, this book is the only full-length study that analyzes the stories of the Travelling People. Through an examination of their words, narratives, and songs, it brings readers close to Travellers' own voices and to their distinctive practice of storytelling.

    Indeed, this analytical appreciation of the culture shows how the story performances preserve the history of the Travelling People and reveal the shape and substance of the storytellers' own lives. It renders too the rich variety of stories, the interrelationship of stories and the community, the construction of the teller's identity within the story, and the story's way of understanding and shaping human experience.

    Although concentrated on these Scottish storytellers, this book imparts insights into the process of storytelling in general and contributes understanding of the place of stories in human communities and to human identity.

    Donald Braid, assistant director of the Center for Citizenship and Community and a lecturer in English at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a co-editor ofA Folklorist's Progress: Reflections of a Scholar's Life. His work has been published in theJournal of American Folklore,Text and Performance Quarterly, andThe Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-662-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transcriptions
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: “Let’s Have a Cup of Tea and I’ll Tell You a Story”
    (pp. 3-50)

    A single experience can transform an entire life. For me, one such experience was my discovery of the world of oral storytelling. Another was my encounter with Scottish Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson. Before any of this happened, I had been happily living my life with a bachelor’s degree in physics, first supervising physics-teaching labs for the University of Illinois, then working as an engineering technician in a research group in physical chemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle. I loved science and technology, and I was good at coaxing data about physical processes from reluctant equipment in the research...

  6. 1. “That’s Not a Crack; That’s a Story”: An Overview of Traveller Storytelling Traditions
    (pp. 51-103)

    I encountered many puzzles in trying to understand Traveller storytelling. For example, during a conversation with Traveller Nancy MacDonald, I asked if she, like her husband Jimmy Williamson, had been raised on stories. She said, “No,” and explained that it was not until she met Jimmy that she started hearing stories on a regular basis. Consequently, I did not pursue questions about the role of stories in her childhood. Yet, a month or so later, Betty Townsley commented that one of the best tellers of “old cracks” she had ever heard was Willie MacDonald. She said I really should visit...

  7. 2. “It Could Have Happened”: Storytelling, Identity, and Worldview
    (pp. 104-143)

    As I have already argued in this book, Traveller stories, songs, and ballads are not an isolated category of “things Travellers know.” There is a deep interconnection between Traveller stories and Traveller lives. One place where this connection is particularly apparent is in the relationship among stories, worldview, and identity. Understanding the nature of this connection, however, requires a closer look at what I mean by the termsworldviewandidentity.

    At the outset, it is important to note that personal and cultural identity are not somehow synonymous with superficial artifacts of lifestyle. For example, Travellers living on the road,...

  8. 3. “I Never Met My Grandfather, But I Heard Stories about Him”: Storytelling and Community
    (pp. 144-201)

    The more time I spent with Travellers, the more I became aware that social interactions are centrally important to the organization of Traveller lives. Testimonials to the importance of these interactions came most vividly from older Travellers lamenting the changes they have observed in their lifetimes. Bryce Whyte, a Traveller in his 80s, talked of how Travellers on the road looked forward to the company of other Travellers. He commented that in the old days:

    You were sure to always meet somebody . . . on your travels.

    And every camp you went tae,

    if you didn’t get anybody,


  9. 4. “You’ll Have to Change Your Ways”: The Negotiation of Identity in Storytelling Performance
    (pp. 202-249)

    Given the importance of storytelling in Traveller life and given the virtuosity with which Travellers deal with stories, it is not surprising that Travellers use stories not only as vehicles for shaping belief and identity within their communities but also for negotiating issues of identity and worldview in interactions with outsiders. During my interviews, for example, when I asked questions about Traveller lives and beliefs, I was often answered by stories that replayed past events as a way of teaching me about Traveller identity and worldview. A similar process can take place whenever there is some mediation of the barrier...

  10. 5. “Did It Happen or Did It Not?”: Creativity, Worldview, and Narrative Knowing
    (pp. 250-282)

    The relationship between Traveller stories and Traveller lives should not be oversimplified. Stories are the creative and flexible products of performance. This creativity not only enables performers to adapt stories to accomplish valuable functions within the performance event but also gives performers freedom to play with possibility, explore the relationship between coherence and worldview, and fabricate fictional accounts that may mirror the lived world but which may diverge from it in a number of different ways. Stories can therefore be used to suggest alternate beliefs, ideas, relationships, and interpretive strategies. It is because of this creative freedom that storytelling performances...

  11. Conclusion: Lives and Stories—Stories and Lives
    (pp. 283-292)

    This book is about the mutual influence between stories and lives. One story I tell here is my own. This story relates how my discovery of the world of oral storytelling and my meeting with Duncan Williamson and other Traveller storytellers transformed my life from that of a physicist with a scientific worldview to that of a scholar studying the world of human experience. This is a story of a journey still in progress.

    Another story I tell is about the Travelling People and the interplay between their storytelling traditions and their lives. In the previous chapters I present transcriptions...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 293-300)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 301-310)
  14. Index
    (pp. 311-313)