Jewish storyteller keeps four thousand mythological stories in her head


Shonaleigh Cumbers is probably the only living Drut’syla: storyteller and story keeper in the Jewish tradition. She will be coming to Zwolle on the weekend of March 22 to start telling the Menassah cycle.

The Menassah cycle is a series of four thousand mythological stories that date from around the year 1600 in the forests around Apeldoorn. The stories are not written down anywhere. Shonaleigh flies around the world to share the stories, so they don’t get lost.

Shonaleigh lived in Oldenzaal until she was seven. She was taught from the age of four by her grandmother Edit Marks, who barely survived the Second World War, to tell the Menassah story cycle. Each cycle contains hundreds of stories.

This tradition of telling thousands of traditional stories originated in the Netherlands and was passed on for centuries through generations of Jewish women. The tradition almost became extinct. Shonaleigh now lives in Great Britain.

Telling stories in the concentration camps

Shonaleigh’s grandmother was born in Enschede and spent the Second World War telling stories in the concentration camps. “She firmly believed that it was the stories that saved her life,” says Kitty Peetoom of the Story Boat.

From the age of four, Shonaleigh and her grandmother worked daily learning to tell and remember the thousands of stories. It was very common for her to fall asleep at night while listening to songs and stories in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Dutch and Turkish. Only when Shonaleigh was already over twenty did she realise that these thousands of stories were never told in the non-Jewish world.

Nowhere in writing

The stories are told as a labyrinth of intertwined and merging fairy-tale stories in which sometimes the same characters come back; stories that have retained their topicality to this day. Together with her husband Simon Heywood, professor of storytelling in England, Shonaleigh is working on her life’s task: recording all story cycles so that they will not be lost if she is no longer there one day.

In New Zealand, England, Canada and America, hundreds of enthusiasts of the storytelling tradition and of stories travel to the Teller, Tales and Tradition weekends to listen to the complete cycle. That is now also possible in Zwolle.

The Story Boat

In four years, as the seasons change, Production house De Verhalenboot in Zwolle programs the weekends of Teller, Tales and Tradition, in order to offer the complete Menassah cycle to the Dutch public. The working language is English. The first weekend is from 22 to 24 March, plus a separate evening show on Saturday 23 March. Location: Statenzaal Zwolle. More info: www.deverhalenboot.nl/verteltraditie

You can read the original Article here (Dutch)