Featuring: Wajuppa Tossa
Protector of Stories, Guardian of Storytellers, Encourager for Good
Wajuppa Tossa did as much as she could to bring joy throughout Southeast Asia through storytelling. Yet, her enthusiasm stretched beyond and soon her name was known around the globe. Not because she wanted center stage. She organized at least six festivals in Thailand, supported three festivals in Korea, preserved stories from the Lao people – and this is just the beginning. When I heard of her passing, it was through the StoryTELL listserv with a touching ode from Margaret Read MacDonald. Then I saw much shared through Facebook–of people after people–influenced by Wajuppa Tossa.
And I wish I could do her justice. I never met her and was unfamiliar to an embarrassing degree – though working on that – as late as though it may be. I still wished to honor Dr. Wajuppa Tossa in some way. First, I ordered her book “Lao Folktales” that was also written with Kongdeuane Nettavong and edited by Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald. The beginning focused on the tensions of the Thai and the Lao people. The government insisted on the Thai language. Sadly, some people feared the consequence of speaking their own language or even having in their possession Lao texts written on palm leafs so they burned many of the stories that had been passed on from one generation to another. Wajuppa Tossa took it upon her to preserve these stories along with many others. Part of this included organizing or supporting storytelling festivals.
She worked at the Mahasarakham University in Thailand for 40 years since 1978 and then “retired” and worked full-time as a storyteller. Dr. Wajuppa Tossa thought first of the children in being proud to speak their native tongue and to know their stories. What she wished for the Lao people she truly wished for all people and all cultures. She believed in telling stories with your heart.
She was nervous to even call herself a storyteller until working with Margaret Read MacDonald. Once she had that confidence instilled, she reached out to others to call themselves “storytellers.”
When the Asian Congress of Storytellers was being formed, Margaret recommended Wajuppa to the organizers, such as Sheila Wee, to make the dream a reality. She reminded people “school is for kids.” While many policies and procedures are faced by teachers, the most important thing to remember is that the kids–the students–come first. Wajuppa always involved her students, which could be a struggle to make the logistics work, but somehow it worked out. To the delight of all.
In all this, Wajuppa had a sense of humor. She wished to laugh and have joy. She sang often, danced, and worked hard – many times alone – on the various projects. The festivals made the difference of launching the modern storytelling movement in Asia.
Dr. Prasong Saihong became a huge part of being there for Wajuppa Tossa. He was a student of hers and then became trained and turned around and shared that training for others. Yet, people have been impacted by Wajuppa. Feel free to share your stories.
Wajuppa Tossa said she wanted people to remember the stories, not her. But many will remember both her stories and who she is as an amazing human being. It’s not too late to know her.
Some video that I found featuring Wajuppa Tossa gives a hint to her ever-smiling and engaging manner:
Over two hours of memories and honoring upon her passing can be viewed here–
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I appreciate Wajuppa Tossa for her heart and determination to bring understanding to the art of storytelling, culture, and language. And she did. That legacy will continue to impact generations to come.
Wajuppa still has a story. You have a story. We all have stories.