But patrina kater ruhkendar, avendar kater kodo vesh 
                                      te le purden hi po o kodo baval!

              ROMANI ROOTS

Richard O'Neill - Romani Storyteller

We at Romani Roots are extemely honoured to

welcome Richard O'Neill to our site.

Richard is an extraordinary gentleman whose talent

for telling stories throughout his life and as his

profession, make him an asset to, and fine example

for our race.

We are most grateful to Richard for the following

article which complements and very nicely

introduces our Fireside Storyteller page.

 

We hope in the future to be able to feature some of

his stories!

 

ROMANI ROOTS would like to make it clear that Mr

Rcihard O'Neill is NOT a member of this site.

 

"Dik, Shoon, Rokker"   BY RICHARD O'NEILL

 

   I’m sure most storytellers will get asked the question:

‘So how long have you been doing this then?’

 There are two answers I can give to that question the

first is since I was five so that’s forty one years and the

second one is four years professionally.

 

I was born into a large Romani Gypsy family in the North East in

1962, in a modern caravan, my dad in 1925 in a horse drawn wagon

and his dad before him in a tent. My ancestors came into this country

500 years ago they were believed to be from Egypt hence the term

Egyptians which was eventually shortened to Gypsy. Irish and

Scottish Travellers also have histories going back as far. Literacy levels

were always low but training in people skills, buying, selling and

telling stories for fun and profit were very high.

 

I grew up listening to stories around camp fires, at family camps and

fairs, in caravans at weddings christenings and funerals. When I was

five years old buoyed by having learned to read at school I did my first

performance, some reading (which amazed many of the older people)

and a little selection of tales about my school and the Gorja (non

Gypsy) people I met there. I carried on telling my tales whenever I was

asked, developing new ones especially for my children and their many

cousins who seemed to have a voracious appetite for them. Like most

things you acquire for free it wasn’t something I particularly valued.

However I did realise that the skills certainly came in handy in my

work as a construction company owner who had to explain

complicated plans to customers who had little or no knowledge of

construction, as a volunteer in youth clubs and schools, as a therapist

and trainer and in gaining support to launch National Men’s Health

Week now an international event.

 

Five years ago I set up a website to encourage more Gypsies and

Travellers to express themselves in the written and spoken word and

through that website I was asked to tell stories at a community centre

in Manchester on a professional basis. This led on to a number of

other offers in Manchester to tell stories in places as varied as the

Imperial War Museum and at a corporate board meeting.

 

Since then I have worked with a number of different Traveller

education, museum and library services and a number of charities

and non profit making organisations around the country entertaining

and educating, but also helping to train more storytellers from the

Gypsy Traveller communities through the lollobal storytelling group.

 

I was really pleased to be involved with the ‘Open roads Open Minds’

project in Leeds in which Peter Saunders and his team brought

together Irish, Scottish and English Travellers to perform in schools

and theatres and to record a DVD with storytellers like Sheila Stewart

and Jess Smith.

 

I have been overwhelmed with the response from schools, teachers,

conference organisers and the corporate world to the stories. A really

nice compliment was to be asked to tell a selection of stories and to

deliver workshops at a national Teachers with Travellers residential

conference.

 

The question why tell stories is always in the back of my mind, I do it

because I love it, the reaction from audiences, the satisfaction that

comes from encouraging others to express themselves through story

and the opportunity to give people a different view of the Travelling

communities. We are currently working on a project with a county

council to help them get their message on community involvement

over to a range of different communities through storytelling.

 

Since the play ‘The management reserve the right’ was performed in

Edinburgh and London last year there has been a huge interest from

 high schools to run storytelling workshops especially from students

studying drama. Drama teachers really seem to see the benefits of

understanding storytelling, simply because it is at the heart of all

drama.

 

Two of the most popular children’s stories have been turned into

plays by children themselves, it’s not just about Traveller culture

there are common themes that most of us experience being

 discriminated against, feeling lonely and powerless.

 

The old saying that a man dies twice once when he leaves this earth

and again when no one alive remembers him I believe to be true, we

do keep our relatives and those we have loved and learned from alive

with story but it also gives us a sense of who we are and where we

have come from.

 

Story has been and still is a powerful force within the Travelling

communities in fact it was one of the main factors that decided

Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers should awarded ethnic status in

the1989 and 2000 court cases.

 

These are very exciting times for storytellers, because I firmly believe

the true potential and application of storytelling is still to be realised. I

am committed to training and encouraging more people from the

Travelling communities to tell their stories professionally as I believe

it’s vitally important that audiences outside the communities get a

genuine and clear depiction of our culture the past and the present,

unfortunately there are some who have taken stories not

understanding the language or the culture and represented us

wrongly.

 

I personally don’t anyone tell anyone else’s stories only those I’ve

created or ones that have been passed down through the family.

 

I have been asked if I will run workshops and training courses for

non Travellers to teach them the culture, language and skills to

deliver the stories and the answer is a resounding yes, I would like to

see many more people who really understand my culture and my

stories delivering them around the country.

 

 My older relatives are pleased but also amazed that traditional

Romani storytelling skills are being used in the diversity and

leadership training I carry out for Police forces, local authorities and

government departments and that they have been featured on radio

and on TV.

 

It is the older relatives as well as the young ones who are right behind

my current project ‘Story time live’ a big family storytelling show I

plan to perform around Christmas time in the North which will be full

of the most popular stories like Ora Matchiko, Kushti Feeter and Baro

Mush and characters like Jasper and Bob, King Mouse and the

beautiful Queen. If successful I hope to tour it in 2009.

 

 The advice I was given by my Dad before I did my first public

performance.

 

"Dik, Shoon, Rokker" which in English translates as ‘look, listen and

then talk still enters my head every time I’m about to perform.’

 

 I remember the stories I’ve been told and the people who told them,

they still have a huge impact on my life and I hope I continue to

remember to look and listen more than I talk.

 

Richard O’Neill

www.lollobal.org.uk

 

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