Linda Williamson

Book Linda Williamson

When Linda left America and the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison more than fifty years ago, she had absolutely no idea of the ‘Scholar Gypsy’ (Matthew Arnold’s famous narrative poem) and the life of a Scottish Traveller wife.

Then through the portals of doctoral research and under the guidance of her ethnology tutors in the School of Scottish Studies, EU, Linda learned the values of traditional storytelling and ballad singing in the cultural foundation of Scotland’s only indigenous ethnic minority, the Travelling People. After two years of supervised fieldwork, she would fall in love with the Scottish Traveller Duncan Williamson from Argyll; not only his phenomenal repertoire of traditional stories coupled with an extraordinary knowledge of ancient ballads, but also the Traveller’s compassion, generosity of spirit and expertise living in harmony with the natural world.

Duncan and Linda married in 1977. Soon, the raising of two children under canvas in the traditional gelly became a living tale, unfolding in the transformation of Duncan’s colossal wonder tales, folklore, Jack tales, and animal fables into traditional publications of 12 collections for a worldwide audience.

It was a communal endowment — to meet and befriend masters of an oral tradition with roots of stories and songs stretching back millennia; musical and narrative artists who had nothing to do with formal education. It was a liberation of consciousness for Linda to be in direct contact with an indigenous people holding intergenerational knowledge; their stories underlying the spiritual harmony present in the universe.

Only after Duncan passed away in 2007 did the mantle of traditional storytelling become visible and accessible, posing a true challenge. How should a widow express in story a life experience not shared by other academics and practitioners in a culture far removed from academia and government; how to share the treasures of an orality that has been passed from tongue to ear since before the first king? It was this ancient in the word which enchanted and inspired Linda to gracefully use her own skills as a transcriber of the recordings she made at home, to see through the starry veil which hangs between orality and the written word.

The star lore of ancient Greece, India and native America now connects with the wonder tales of Duncan Williamson and the Travelling People in creative programmes celebrating the folk tale and its source in myth on an international platform.

Around her fireside today traditional storytelling spurs adaptation to the climate changes happening worldwide. Nothing in the world is more conducive to positive climate action than traditional stories: speaking animals, talking trees, enchantment, Jack tales, henwives, kings, tramps, fishermen, foresters, shepherds, selkies, broonies and fairies – all enhance and support the biodiversity of nature.

From time immemorial, Scottish Traveller tales have prioritized actions to protect, conserve and restore the balance between humans and the natural world; carrying collective knowledge and valuable insights, promising quality of life for our children’s children.


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