In context

23 10 2011

Stephen Fry introduced me to these people last week in his BBC programme Fry’s Planet Word – Episode 4. 

They are the Akha people of Norhtern Thailand who are dependent entirely on oral traditions for keeping their myths, stories and history alive.  I found it fascinating, especially their leader Aju Jupoh  gave the reason why the people abandoned written language for oral accounts.  (Read more….if you want to find out, or you might still get the episode on iPlayer – about 2 minutes in – or alternatively there’s a DVD coming, but not until February!)

Our stories are important to us, and whether it’s the warning from the past to avoid, as in Listen and Learn, or whether it is setting our current situation in a wider context, we all like to hear where we fit into the grand scheme.

When the apostle Paul visits Antioch, he does this contexturalisation for the people in the synagogue (Acts 13:13-39). 

And his purpose in narrating their history?  It is to extend their understanding of their traditions, but primarily it is to set Jesus in context for them – 

“We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do.”

Understandably, there were divided opinions.  Some were fascinated and longed to hear more; others were jealous and argumentative. 

How will Paul handle this?  Will he adapt his story-telling so that he is less offensive?  Will he compromise his message for his own safety?  We’ll see.

Aju Jupoh tells how his ancestors had written stories on buffalo hide, but then it rained.  Everyone with an inkjet printer knows the result!  They tried to dry it by the fire, and liked the smell of “meat”, so ate the hide.  Talk about your tribal stories being part of you!

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