Once upon a time, storytelling was part of growing up among children in Indonesia. But with changing values and the advent of modern technology, the tradition and art of storytelling have all but vanished. Fortunately, with the conviction that it is worth preserving to enhance children's education particularly in remote areas communities of storytellers and committed individuals, have been working hard to ensure that this age-old tradition continues to entertain as well as to educate, amid the challenges of television and the Internet. On the occasion of National Education Day on May 2, Tempo English reports on the activities of modern-day storytellers in Lampung, Aceh and Padang.
Dakocan storytelling tours villages
A group of inter-professional youths set up a community of storytellers in Lampung. They have since trained more than 4,000 kindergarten teachers.
Pimtuan Aura Marga's mother, Rofiqah Anzulia, is amazed. "My son is no longer crying when he wakes up, takes a bath and brushes his teeth," she told Tempo two weeks ago.
The 32-year-old woman has reason to be astonished. Her four-year-old child earlier lacked discipline. Pimtuam would scream and fight every time he was about to be bathed. But over the month he has changed. Why? Rofiqah has regularly been telling stories. "I've been trying to tell a story every time there's a chance. But most often I do it 20 minutes before going to sleep," she said.
The woman working as a kindergarten teacher became a storyteller after being trained by the Dakocan Storytellers Community. The training was organized for early-age education teachers, in cooperation with the Lampung Education Office. Rofiqah learned that tales can help form children's characters, and as she has proven, after telling stories for four months, she has noticed positive changes in her child.
What is the Dakocan Storytellers Community? It is a group of young people committed to preserving storytelling. Its members frequently visit villages to tell stories to children. This community arranges training for teachers and parents in remote parts of Lampung. Since its founding on November 28, 2002, the group has related stories before hundreds of thousands of children and instructed about 4,000 teachers and parents.
This community was born out of gatherings of activists anticorruption advocates, artists, journalists, and students concerned about the education of young children and their observations of how the practice of storytelling is beginning to fade.
"Though it is low-cost and easy, storytelling can inrease children's intelligence," said Ivan Sumantri Bonang, the Dakocan Storytellers Community coordinator.
To enhance their narrating ability, the community practiced together at the complex of Pasar Seni Enggal (art center), Bandar Lampung.
For five years, they visited all areas of Lampung. "We became street artists, offering stories from school to school, from door to door," said Ivan. They also told stories when invited by non-profit organizations like the Child Advocacy Institute (LADA) of Lampung and the DAMAR Woman Advocacy Institute.
The chief storyteller of the community at the time was Iin Muthmainah, 36, head of Research and Development for the Dakocan Community. Iin had been active in the arts since her her days as a student at Lampung University. "The stories we related were varied, so were their music, display tools and ways of communicating with listeners. Everything was meticulously prepared," said Iin.
The aim is to grab the children's attention. However, "We never tell stories that are startling and make children cry. Everyone should be pleased and happy," she said.
On stage, Iin was accompanied by another member. "Iin is our soul. She's skilled in presenting various characters," noted Ivan.
The musical instruments they usually play are cethik (a bamboo percussion instrument), gamolan (a traditional bronze instrument), guitar, tambourine and flute. Musical rhythms are arranged in cheerful tones. In the middle of a tale, the storyteller often invites children to sing. The lyrics are filled with messages such as the importance of the environment like growing trees, saving money, being truthful and helping parents.
In 2007, the group was asked to train kindergarten teachers by the Early Age Children's Education Management Association and the Lampung Education Office.
"Kindergarten teachers help form the basis of children's characters," Ivan said.
The group prepared themselves with various techniques. Ivan, for instance, devoured different books on education and storytelling theories. "I read the books of Laura Numeroff, Harlock and Richard Eyre. Their works have considerably inspired our community," said the father of four.
For example, he follows the theory of Laura Numeroff, saying that reading a story for 20 minutes can increase the reading and writing capacity of children equivalent to that reached by ten days at school. "It inspired us to draw up a program called Dua Puluh Menit Yang Memukau [A Fascinating Twenty Minutes]," he said.
The Dua Puluh Menit Yang Memukau program, recommends that parents are read a story to their child for 20 minutes before they go to sleep. A child's brain in the alpha phase of sleep more easily absorbs information. This method is even more effective if applied to children aged 0-3, an important phase of their character building.
Parents and teachers should provide their children with stimuli by telling stories in detail and with action.
The Dakocan Community trains parents and teachers in body movement, vocal articulation story formulation and song writing.
However, for parents the most difficult thing is not storytelling techniques. "I'm now overwhelmed because my story ideas have run out," said Rofiqah.
The community is working on a new plan. "We want to organize more storytelling training for working parents," said Ivan. "The most effective children's education starts in the family.
No. 38/12, May 16, 2012