Storytelling and Cultural Traditions

Storytelling and Cultural Traditions

Storytelling is as old as culture. Many societies have long-established storytelling traditions. The stories, and performances thereof, function to entertain as well as educate.


3 - 12


Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, Human Geography, Religion, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, Storytelling

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...
Leveled by
Selected text level

Before there was writing, there was storytelling. Every culture has its own stories to tell. Storytelling is used to entertain and share cultural traditions.

Oral storytelling is telling a story using your voice and moving your body. Not all of these stories are true. For these stories, truth is less important than bringing people together. It can include poems, songs, legends, and more.

Many cultures use storytelling to pass their traditions to their children. Here are some examples from different cultures around the world.

Choctaw Storytelling
Like all Native American tribes, the Choctaw have a long tradition of oral storytelling. Their stories help keep the tribe's history alive and educate the young. There are two stories about where the Choctaw people come from. One is about the first Choctaw people traveling to find a better life. The other says that the people were made from a large hill called a mound. Other stories talk about history and life lessons. Many of the Choctaw tales use animal characters to teach these lessons in a funny way.

Native Hawaiian Storytelling
The Native Hawaiian word for story is "mo'olelo." The word means "to pass down a language" because the stories are shared orally. One story talks about the very first Hawaiian, who was born from a vegetable called a taro. Other stories are about traveling across the ocean.

Native Hawaiian storytellers know a lot about history and family trees. They are special members of their communities. Hawaiian storytelling also uses songs, chants, and dances. For example, hula tells a story through dance.

Stories are very important to Hawaiians. They are fun to listen to and they teach young Hawaiians about behavior and traditions.

Western African Storytelling
People in many parts of Africa listen to storytellers after dinner. The storyteller's job is to entertain and educate. The most famous west African stories are about a clever spider named Anansi.

Griots have an important job in west African culture. Griots are people who tell stories, sing, write about history, and more.

There used to be schools where people could learn how to be a griot. Usually, the job stays in a family. It is passed from an older member of the family to a younger member. Both men and women can be griots. The women are called griottes.

The Jewish People and the Passover Seder
Passover is an important Jewish holiday. It celebrates the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt. This escape is called the Exodus. The Passover celebration includes a storytelling tradition called a seder. During the seder, Jews eat a large meal and tell the story of the Exodus. The storytelling begins when the youngest child at the seder asks why this night is different from other nights. The story also explains why the Jews celebrate certain Passover traditions. This story of Exodus is written down in the Jewish holy book, the Torah. The same story is also told in the Old Testament of the Christian holy book, the Bible.

Irish Storytelling
The seanchaí were Irish storytellers. They traveled to different villages to talk about the news and old stories. Many of the stories were about kings and heroes.

Storytelling is not a thing of the past. Today, storytelling is making a comeback. There is an Irish storyteller who believes the reason is people want to be more connected. They believe that telling stories helps people come together in real life.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

April 22, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources