By Wong Swee Yean
The Tale – Thao Kham The Pebble Shooter
Thao Kham The Pebble Shooter is a tale from Laos. t is about an orphan, disabled boy who cannot walk. But his community cares for him. By chance, he learns to aim pebbles and discovers he can aim them well. He is clever and with diligent practice, he becomes a skilful pebble shooter in the village. He also crafts pictures of animals on huge leaves that one day impresses the king who is passing by the village. The king invites Thao Kham to the palace to assist him to play a trick on his most talkative advisors.
The Teller – Wong Swee Yean
Swee Yean is the current President of Storytelling Association (Singapore). She has been telling stories for 15 years. Swee Yean has performed commissioned works for Singapore heritage programmes in museums and has provided customised workshops for schools, teachers and organizations. Recently, she worked with senior citizens to preserve the oral heritage of the Chinese community. She believes that the oral tradition has a very important place in society. While it preserves identity, it glues the whole society together.
“I was a school teacher. To entertain my students, I told stories at the start of the class. My students would look forward to this daily dose of stories. I too, enjoyed telling them. Gradually, I moved on to telling stories professionally. When I tell stories, I like to create a warm and comfortable atmosphere through songs and active audience interaction. I think stories stir up the moral imagination and creating gentle positive change in the audience. Here is one of my favorite stories to tell children.”
I stumbled upon this story when I was looking for stories from the ASEAN countries. The story touched my heart when I first read it because it is a folklore of a society not as modern as the one I grow up in. In fact, Laos is one of East Asia’s poorest country. The story is about an underdog character who lives in a society that is inclusive and celebrates diversity. I am reminded that before Singapore became a modernised and materialistic society, we used to be community-spirited and that we should not forget that part of ourselves.
There are a few different versions of this story. My version celebrates Thao Kham’s spirit and his quest to be independent and not wallow in self-pity.
When I tell the story, I play up the part where Thao Kham tosses mud pebbles into the advisor’s mouth. I describe how the little balls fly in his mouth without his realizing it, rendering him speechless. The mud balls fly swiftly and with precision that the advisor cannot fathom what has flown into his mouth. I describe this scene with multi-sensory images. Children enjoy this scene a lot. I have even seen some children in the audience open and close their mouths, and then swallow the mud balls as if they were the talkative advisor enduring that unpleasant moment. After that, they laugh about the advisor’s embarrassment. It delights me to see my audience get entertained and at the same time get educated about the disabled.
This story also allows a glimpse into a lesser known country. So at times, I tell the story and talk about Laos. It is ironic that Laos was severely bombed from 1964 to 1973 and that many unexploded bombs left behind have maimed the local people and children.
I hope that when children listen to the story of Thao Kham and get entertained, somewhere in their subconscious, they will become more inclusive and more appreciative of the disabled people around us.