A huge thank you to everyone who helped us make this project what it is, and mostly to all the enthusiastic children who participated, their teachers, and all of you who came to see this little exhibition. I hope you liked it!
“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”
– D. H. Lawrence.
Since the beginning of September, I’ve been officially storytelling in two very different primary schools in Paris, and despite the first moments of black despair for my little voice (sometimes, the louder you scream, the more they respect you, but I don’t like to rise my voice, so let’s change the rules of the game!), the children and I both enjoy ourselves telling the adventures of greek gods and heroes.
Sometimes, their remarks can be truly thought-provoking.
Speaking about the myth of Prometheus, who robbed Athena’s fire and a sparkle of her divine intelligence too, trying in that way to help poor humanity, left naked and defenseless by his not-so-smart brother Epimetheus – not to tell about Pandora! – one of the children asked : “But why did the gods enable humanity to reproduce itself, if men were so weak and fragile?” – “Does the woman make the man stronger?” – “Why man has to suffer in life”
It is not easy to answer to children, looking at you with demanding and curious eyes. Not easy, too, because they don’t like the idea of man being vulnerable, exposed to illness and suffering.
“Because even if humanity is naked and fragile and must struggle and suffer in life, to live is still a beautiful gift, and we have to do it the best we can, with our intelligence, warmth, hope, respect and generosity. Isn’t it great to achieve so much, starting with so little?”
Their eyes began to sparkle, as if the Pleiads were dancing in them : “Can we become gods, then?”
Let’s ask to Orpheus, Achilleus, Odysseus, Heraklès, let’s their voice travel through time to lull our hopes, soot our longing and make us shiver and laugh. Man and Life, challenge accepted!
Yes, a year ago, we got on a plane that took us far far away, on an amazing journey. I can’t believe how fast time has gone. So, today is the perfect day to announce the creation of an exhibition about this trip around the world and all the myths and tales we heard along the way. It will be shown at the end of September in my hometown in France, and kids from the local school will come see it. I’ll have some time with them to chat about the trip and everything else, I’m so happy!
So, here’s the poster, I hope you’ll like it (even though it’s in French!).
Do you remember the legend of the potato from the Bolivian stories we’ve heard in La Paz? Yes, this one:
The Sapallas were a peaceful and prosperous people who were invaded by the belligerent Karis, enslaved and reduced to misery. Choque, a young descendant from the last Sapalla cacique refused to acknowledge this state of things and cried out for help from the father of the gods, Pachacamac. He heard young Choque’s petition and showed him some seeds from a plant unknown to men of that time, telling him to plant it and eat its roots, but never touch the sprouts, flowers or leaves, as they were poisonous. The Sapallas did as they were told, but the Karis found the new plantations, confiscated them and ate everything the plants produced, except for the roots. As a consequence, they became ill and debilitated, prompting the former slaves to rebel against them and expel them from their land. The new plant was then considered as a divine gift, and called papa (potato).
Well, it seems like the maoris have one too, to explain the origin of one of their most basic ingredient: the kumara (a kind of sweet potato). This important ingredient is no ordinary food. It is said that the god Rongo-Maui went to heaven to see his brother Wahnui, guardian of the kumara. Rongo-Maui stole the divine food from his brother, hid it in his clothes and came back to earth to his wife, Pani. Very soon after, Pani got pregnant, and one day, she gave birth to Kumara. That’s how the sweet potato, so important for the Pacific people, was given to men on earth.
Hey, when you think of it, this story reminds us a lot of how Prometheus stole the fire, so important for mankind, from the gods, no?
Here are the stories we’ve listened to as told by the students of the Alliance Francaise in La Paz, Bolivia. They told their tales and legends in French, so what you can read here is my translation of what they said, trying to stick to the way they actually wrote the stories. Thus, don’t get offended by the strange syntax or way of speaking that you may notice: I found that important to keep it that way, so that you can see how these teenagers remembered the stories and decided to tell them.
At Lydia’s, by Rafaela, Alejandra, Daniela and Valeska
Lydia was the daughter of two farmers, and was very spoilt. However, she never saw how much her parents were doing for her. She was going to the most expensive boarding school of Bolivia, she enjoyed her easy life, and had absolutely no sense of reality. When she finished her studies, she was really concerned about her reputation. She came back to her parents’, and learned to live in the real world. She went working in the country with them, and finally valued everything they did for her.
La Kantuta, by Annelise, Lilian, and Anvi
The Inca who ruled at the time was the most cruel and violent of all the ones who ruled the empire. Every winter, the Inca visited the sanctuary of Copacawana. One year, he took his daughter there. She was known in the whole empire for her beauty and her virtue. The young woman, who came along on this journey for the first time, saw a handsome young man sitting by the lake. Although he was low born, she immediately fell in love with him. His name was Kento, and he also immediately fell in love with her. As long as the girl was in Copacawana, they lived their love in secret, hiding it from the Inca.
One day, a messenger came giving news that they had to come back at once. The princess, hearing this, went at night to see Kento: they had to find a way to stay together. Unfortunately, she fell into a pit full of spiky bushes which stabbed her to death. With the morning dew, tiny green leaves grew on the bushes, lit up by the first rays of sun. When they discovered her body, she was lying surrounded by an unknown plant with beautiful flowers, that was called Kentu-uta pankara (“Kento’s flower house”). These flowers are green as the fields, yellow as the first sunrays, and red as the princess’s blood. Kento never got over the death of the one he loved, and this flower still exists today: it is called Kantuta. It is the national flower of Bolivia, and its flag bears the same colors.
The Fox and the Condor, by Denise, Julia, Grecia and Paula.
One day, in the forest, a fox met a Condor. He said to him: “You think you’re better, because you can fly?”
The Condor flew down and said: “Well, dear Fox, if you think you’re better than me, let’s make a bet.”
The Fox, intrigued, asked: “What kind of bet?”
The Condor, in a superior tone, answered: “We will go at the top of this mountain, and we will stay there all night, and the one who will win will eat the other one.”
The Fox, a bit scared, said: “All right, let’s go.”
Thus they went to the top of the mountain, and sat down. Later, the Fox asked the Condor: “Condor, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.”
A few hours later, the Condor asked the Fox: “Fox, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.” But his voice was weaker than before.
All night long, they asked this question to each other, and every time, the Fox’s voice sounded weaker. After a while, the Condor asked: “Fox, are you still alive?” And the Fox did not reply. The Condor asked the question many times, but the Fox did not answer anymore. At dawn, the Condor had won his bet. So he ate the Fox. Since that day, foxes are scared of condors for one day, one of them ate one of theirs.
Jaen Road, by Arnold, Fabiana, Alfonso, and Mariana
The legend says that at the time of the colonization, the ones who were hanged went on the street until they got to Murillo Square, where they walked in circle. At that time, people living near this street heard coach noises and saw ghosts. Later, they built a green cross to scare the deads’ spirits.
The Black Cat and the Devil, by Diana, Mariana, Natalia, Diana, Maria Paula and Ariel
Witches from Bolivia say that it is good to have a black cat at home. So that he wouldn’t get inside, the cat said to the Devil: “You cannot enter in my house.” And the Devil said: “Oh, please!” So the cat said to the Devil that if he wanted to get in, he had count the hairs on his tail, and tell how many there were. And when the Devil started counting, the cat kept moving his tail.
The Devil’s bridge (Diablada)
We are going to tell a little tale about a bridge called the Devil’s bridge. This bridge is near a city called Potosi. Potosi is a city in the south of Bolivia, and it is very rich because of its world famous silver mines in the mountain, the “Cerro Rico de Potosi”.
One day, a man wanted to go back home, but he couldn’t, because the bridge had collapsed. The man stay angry for hours, and he screamed and he cried, and then the Devil finally heard him. So he offered him to rebuild the bridge in exchange for his soul. The Devil started to build the bridge until only one brick was missing: an angel had sat down on the last brick so that the Devil could not take it, and the man was saved and did not have to give up his soul.
Potosi’s Bridge, by Angel, Hugo and Edwards (another take at the Devil’s bridge)
Once upon a time, there was a boy who was a miner. One day like another, he decided to go to the Cerro Rico to work, but found himself in a dangerous and hazardous situation. He got lost and could not find his way, when he met the Devil, “El Tio”. He thought he would die, but h thought about his family and found the way to the mine where he found a big pile of gold. Then he lived happy with his family.
The legend of the potato, or Wiracocha, by Pablo, Maria Cristina, Bruno and Adriana
In the Altiplano, there was a rich city that had been invaded for 15 years. A young man called Choque climbed up a mountain and met a white condor, called Wiracocha. He gave grains to Choque, which his people had to eat. They were potato roots. The invaders ate the poisoned fruit and Choque’s people vanquished them.
(To understand the story better, you can read a more complete version here > Click!)