Several years ago, I taught a course entitled ‘Life Stories in Autobiography’ at a university in Japan in which students read selected published autobiographies and wrote stories about themselves, their experiences, their journeys and their family history.
Every two weeks we’d read and write under a different study theme. During the week in which we covered the theme “Before I was Born”, students were required to talk to their family elders and ask about their family history. One twenty-one year old female student wrote the following short humorous account of her family history, which illustrates how a tiny curve in the fork of a farmer’s hoe can have great impact on entire generations of people of the one family –
“My ancestors were the Jitou, the lord of the manor, in Kumano-cho, Hiroshima prefecture. This is my family story. According to my grandfather, there was a battle between my ancestors and another clan a long time ago when my ancestors were lord of the manor. When my ancestors’ army forces were running away, they asked a farmer where to go. The farmer gestured and pointed the way with his hoe, but the commanders, our family ancestors, panicked so the army misunderstood which way to run. They didn’t go straight along the hoe like the farmer suggested, but turned left because the peak of the hoe was curved, pointing to the left. And so my ancestors were stuck in the wrong way down the road and lost the war.”
Our ancestors are our roots. When we know from where we emerged and the grounds that shaped us, it is difficult to stay lost for long, even through the times that we might feel adrift and disorientated in life. Stories about our origins can only enrich our understanding and our lives, even the painful, difficult tales, I think. The pain is itself something we can learn and grow from.
Do you know the origins of your ancestry? What stories can you recount about your ancestors?
In the coming weeks, I will suggest various ways in which you can uncover more about your own family history and share with you some experiences I’ve had in teaching a course for university students on this theme. Watch this space and come back soon!