At last year’s Lytton River Festival

Ancient Indigenous story inspires new play at Lytton River Festival

"The Boy Who Was Abandoned" is a modern retelling of a traditional N'lakap'axum tale.

Jeff Gaye

An ancient story from the N’lakap’amux Nation will come to life on Sunday, September 4 at the Lytton River Festival, part of a celebratory weekend that includes First Nations displays, live performances, a street dance, a farmers’ market and much, much more. This year Savage Production Society (also known as “Savage Society”) will present The Boy Who Was Abandoned, a contemporary, collaborative dramatization of a traditional tale.

“Savage Society is mandated to tell Aboriginal stories, sourcing myth, tradition, and the contemporary Aboriginal experience,” says Kevin Loring, the organization’s artistic director. “We’ve been engaged in a community project where we have been researching traditional stories of the N’lakap’amux people, and have been working in the community, holding seminars and workshops and sharing exercises to explore those old stories and pick some that we think would make good plays.”

The Boy Who Was Abandoned tells of a child who is so ill-behaved, his family cannot tolerate him. They blind him by sealing his eyes with pitch, and leave him tied to a birch tree in the forest.

The boy manages to free himself, and though his eyes are still sealed shut, he learns all about the forest with the help of the animals who live there. They teach him to hunt and fish, and as he learns to provide for himself the pitch falls from his eyes and he can see.

He returns to the village and finds that the Creator has punished the community for abandoning him. With food scarce, the people have left the village, leaving behind a woman they thought was too old and useless to help them find food.

The boy and the old woman provide food for each other, and collect enough to feed the whole community. When the people return they discover that the boy and the woman, whom they had abandoned as burdensome, turn out to be their saviours.

“It’s a parable about how you can’t throw people away just because you find them inconvenient,” Loring says. “You will need them.”

Last year the company created and staged The Battle of the Birds, a traditional creation story that tells how the bald eagle got its white head. Loring says that play is about domestic violence and power.

The moral lessons of the stories are an important part of the tradition, and anyone who wants to tell them must first understand these lessons, Loring says. “There are protocols to oral tradition and oral storytelling. You’ve got to say where you heard the story first, and where the story comes from.

“We went through a whole process where we had workshops with the traditional storytellers who could tell the story in the N’lakap’amux’cn language, and so we have our endorsement from the ‘big guns’ of the culture.”

Savage Society will create the play from scratch, using the story itself as the source. Six professional Aboriginal actors form the core of the group, but Loring says the doors to the creative process are wide open. As with The Battle of the Birds last year, the company welcomes everybody to participate in the process or witness how the play and its songs are created.

“Last year we had 30 or 40 people depending on the day, and in the end we narrowed it down to who was committed to the project to actually be in it,” Loring says. “The whole purpose of this project is not so much the product we create, but the show we end up doing. It’s about the process of how we build the show together as a community and collaborate with the artists.”

The Lytton River Festival is a celebration of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, the historic lifeblood of the region around Lytton. September 2 and 3 are filled with three dozen attractions and events, starting with a traditional Lytton hand-drum welcome and culminating in a family-friendly street dance Saturday night. Live bands, fire dancers, a climbing wall, and chicken-poop “bingo” are some of the fun activities on the schedule.

Sunday, September 4 is the only scheduled performance of The Boy Who Was Abandoned.

“Just the one day,” Loring says. “That’s how we did it last year as well, but we had some interest and ended up bringing it down to Vancouver and presenting it at the Talking Stick Festival.”

The company is open to presenting this year’s play again, depending on scheduling.

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