What Is a Cultural Narrative?

Cultural narratives are stories that help a community structure and assign meaning to its history and existence. Cultural narratives include creation stories, which tell a story about the community’s origins, and fables, which help teach moral values and ethical behavior. Cultural narratives help a community reinforce societal norms, preserve its history and strengthen its identity through shared knowledge and experience.

Storytelling is deeply rooted in human nature. Every documented society has told stories about its origins. One example of a creation story is the story of Adam and Eve. Many ethnic groups, including the Ekoi of Southern Nigeria, have similar stories about the first man and woman placed on Earth by a god. These stories are told not only through oral and written texts, but also in paintings, sculpture, dance and music.

Another example of a cultural narrative is the fable, which serves to teach a lesson about proper behavior. For example, in “The Tortoise and the Hare” from “Aesop’s Fables,” the slow but determined tortoise wins a race against the fast and arrogant hare. The moral of the story is that raw talent is not enough to succeed and that someone who is persevering can win against a stronger opponent. These cultural narratives tell children what the community values, such as determination, while also defining taboos and vices, such as arrogance.