In the past fortnight, we have celebrated NAIDOC Week. The theme this year was “Languages Matter”, emphasising and celebrating the unique and essential role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water.
The power of storytelling to impart understanding, connection and meaning is recognised in all cultures and is an important aspect to sharing our history, learnings and strength for future generations.
I recently had the privilege of hearing about the Indonesian community of Simeulue, which was devastated in the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, and their remarkable story of survival. This little known story, I believe, is an amazing example of the power of story and demonstrates the strength we impart to others when we share own stories.
In 1905, a tsunami hit the island villages of Simeulue, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and the complete devastation of the townships.
After such loss and heartache, the community shared the understanding and lessons learnt from this experience with all future generations through family stories shared at bed times, around the dinner table or camp fire.
Although each family story is unique, they all shared a common theme and language.
“When the land does a big shake, where you wobble and you fall to the ground, look to the sea, if the water leaves the land, RUN, run to the hills and shout smong … smong … smong (the local word for tsunami)”.
This story has been told and retold by generations since 1905. So, in 2004, when the ground shook all the villagers looked to the ocean and saw that the water was leaving the land, they all ran to the hills shouting “smong”, following the story their grandmothers had told and retold. This simple act of story telling meant only one life was lost in a population of 82,000 people who live in Simeulue. This is remarkable, when the Boxing Day tsunami took more than 230,000 lives in 14 countries in the region.
I share this story with you because I hope that we as a community can learn from this example of sharing our stories to create awareness, strength and preparedness in our own families, streets and communities.
The community centre has a new community preparedness project, Get Ready Dungog Shire, that can support you to connect with your community. Call Karen on 49921133 or go to our Facebook page, Get Ready Dungog Shire.