Shonaleigh Cumbers is a drut’syla, a storyteller in a Jewish tradition inherited from her late grandmother, Edith Marks (d.1988), by whom she was trained from childhood onwards.
The drut’syla repertoire comprises twelve interlinked cycles, each of several hundred tales. Training also involves a complex system of oral memorisation, visualisation and interpretation (midrash) of tales.
Historically, following training, each drut’syla (cf. Yiddish dertseyler, “storyteller”) would act as hereditary storyteller-in-residence to her own immediate community. However, the tradition was uprooted, and came close to extinction, in the mid-twentieth century.
Shonaleigh has been active mainly as a professional storyteller to a secular public. By contrast with rabbinical and official Jewish narrative tradition, documentation of the oral drut’syla tradition is sparse, and much about it remains obscure.