The past, peace, and storytelling: our shared verbal commemoration
by Raquel GOMEZ
13 March 2018
Dealing with the past is one of the main issues in the peace process. As humans, our past is always influencing our present and our future.
Managing the past, individually and collectively, and trying to understand the past from different perspectives is the purpose of the film, “The Choices We Made: Bystanding and Conflict in Northern Ireland”.
Segments of the film were screened within the setting of “The past, peace and storytelling”, one of the events of the Imagine Festival in Belfast.
The film was produced by Corrymeela, the oldest peace and reconciliation centre in Northern Ireland, in cooperation with the non-profit organisation Healing through Remembering and Ulster University.
The film shows, as Sean Pettis (executive producer) put it, “a multiperspective about the conflict”. Through the personal stories of Bronagh, Katie, Yvonne, Robert, William and Laurie, we learn different ways of living with the conflict.
After the screening, Ulster University Professor Duncan Morrow introduced a panel discussion about the potential of storytelling as a process for dealing with the past.
The panellists were Graínne Kelly (Ulster University), Claire Hackett (Healing through Remembering and Falls Community Council), and Sean Pettis (Corrymeela).
Storytelling, commemoration, memorial museums, truth recovery and acknowledgement are the five preferred mechanisms by people to deal with the past, explained Hackett. Since the start of the peace process, she has been collecting narratives from different communities.
“I think it is so necessary for us to deal with the past. I don’t think we can just move on. I think it is part of the human condition to remember, to make sense of the past in order to create our future. That is the key for every society, and for societies that came from conflicts, it is even more imperative,” Hackett emphasised.
“As a society, we need to wake up. We are going to need to tell our stories and make sense of them”, said Graínne Kelly, who remarked on the importance of listening to people’s voices and oral histories. But, she highlighted, the most difficult part is how you handle people’s precious stories.
“It has been a privilege being in people’s homes and recording these stories and then transcribing them. It was only then when I realised what a historical record it was. We need to do it in as an ethical and safe way as possible,” explained Kelly.
Justice is, according to Kelly, the main people’s motivation to tell stories, especially when people tell their deceased loved one’s stories. It is a kind of shared verbal commemoration.
Duncan Morrow ended the event with the paradoxical words, “The biggest problem in Northern Ireland in the future is the past.”
Storytelling is a part of our human genetic code, our DNA. Human beings are made to tell and listen to stories. Sharing experiences has made human survival possible.
Storytelling can be the glue to connect people.