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Storytelling at the Horniman

Debbie from Small Tales Storytelling Clubs reflects upon her experience sharing stories from across India at the Horniman Indian Summer Garden party.

The day dawned bright and sunny over London and over India.  I was looking forward to the storytelling sessions, as today I was performing with four of my young storytellers from Small Tales Storytelling Clubs at the opening of the Horniman Museum’s Indian Summer Festival. The group consisted of Emily, Eve, Joe and Rose beside myself, Debbie.  We were going to tell stories from different parts of India, as well as doing both hand dancing and Bollywood dancing with our audience. 

The sessions began with a hand dance that helps hand-eye coordination and got more difficult as the dance went on.  There was much laughter as the adults tried as hard as the children to make shapes of birds, flowers, trees, and water. Then I introduced the storyteller who was going to tell the next story.  The first young storyteller was Rose, who told the story of a man who wanted a horse and could not afford it, so a wily stallholder sold him a horse egg. This was followed by Eve and myself telling the story of a King who loved his baths yet always ended up with dirty feet.  He was responsible for the first shoes being created. The next story was told by Emily and Joe, about a Topi Wallah (hat seller) who pits his wisdom against the monkeys in the forest and ends with understanding the true meaning of stories. The audience really got into the swing of being either the Topi Wallah or the monkeys, with most choosing the latter. Needless to say, our stories had unexpected endings and brought forth laughter and nodding of heads in agreement.

Finally, I told the story which was told to me when my mother wrapped my first sari around me.  It is the story of a weaver who marries the woman of his dreams and ends with creating the very first sari, which she wore on their wedding day.  We are told this story so that we realise the importance of following our dreams and the possibility of them coming true. Whilst I told the story, I wrapped a beautiful golden sari on a volunteer from the audience.  The moment that last piece was laid over the shoulder, there was a gasp from the audience as it goes from a long piece of cloth to an amazing piece of clothing.  Then I showed the audience some simple Bollywood dance moves and we ended with us all dancing.

Our young storytellers had only positive things to say about the experience.

“Performing at the museum was very interesting as I got to tell stories to people of all ages and it was a wonderful experience. My partner, Joe and I told an Indian story, the Topi Wallah. We used audience participation to include everyone and it was an amazing opportunity. During the performance, we danced with the audience, which I especially enjoyed”.  Emily (14)

“We all had a fantastic time performing at the Horniman. The audiences were very engaged and seemed to love our stories! The surroundings were very interesting, especially in the room with all the masks. The staff were also amazing and looked after us so well. Thank you to the Horniman for having us, we would love to come again”.  Eve (11)

“Getting to tell the story of the Topi Wallah was an amazing experience. We were treated very professionally and were given a great venue to perform in. The atmosphere during the performance and the dancing afterward were very pleasant and overall a joy to be a part of”.  Joe (14)

My memory of the day was that the stories flowed; the young storytellers enthralled the audience who laughed and danced with us.  As for me, I left with the joy induced by the people, both young and old, who had taken the time to come and listen.