Scottish champion of oral tradition celebrated through music and storytelling

The University of Edinburgh hosted a musical and literary event in celebration of the centenary of one of Scotland’s oral tradition champions.

The event, organised by the university’s School of Celtic and Scottish Studies, presented a celebration of its former teacher Hamish Henderson and his work on oral tradition and Scottish culture.

It was held at the Queen’s Hall on Friday evening, marking the 100th birthday of Henderson, who died in 2002.

Lori Watson, a lecturer in Scottish ethnology at the university, who was the main curator and organiser of this event, said:


“At his 100 year celebration, we’ve been singing a lot of his songs, and the traditional songs that he collected, exploring his poetry and the themes that are in there.”

She said: “Hamish Henderson was the second field worker, researcher, and teacher to be brought into the School of Scottish studies to shape our understanding of the Scottish culture in 1951, when it was founded.”

Storytelling accompanied the music to remind people of some of Henderson’s recorded tales.

Essie Stewart, a storyteller at the event, recited “The Ocean”. This was the first story that Henderson recorded.

Stewart said: “I’m trying to keep the storytelling tradition alive because it’s important to leave some kind of legacy for the generations to come; the oral tradition has to be kept alive.

“It’s important for the public to join in with such an event because there are people out there that didn’t know about Hamish Henderson and the legacy that he left behind.”

A large number of people attended this event, some with the aim of remembering Henderson, who was a magnet for musicians, singers, storytellers, and creative artists. Others had the intention of learning about his legacy.

Attendee Rona explained why she attended the event. She said: “I’m interested in Hamish Henderson, I’m a piper, so I’m interested in lots of Scottish culture types of things.”

Another attendee, Chilean Daniela Castillo, said: “I’m here to learn who Hamish Henderson is, and I hope to understand the Scottish culture, as it’s different to ours in South America.”

The goal of the event was to educate people on Scotland’s cultural figures to prevent losing them to widespread Americanisation and Anglicisation.

The School of Scottish Studies Archives at Edinburgh University will host another musical event to celebrate its seventieth birthday in 2021.