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!)
Come and discover the many creatures who wander around in the Argentinian forest…
He is the owner of sun but is a little shaggy and dark. He usually stalks houses and causes problems like opening gates of stockyards, braiding horses’ tails or putting out fires. He is also famous for his talent as lady’s man. The Pombero is the spirit who protects the birds. He looks over the forest and if he sees children hunting them, he takes them away and let them far away from their home. He usually kidnaps them during siesta hour, although he can also kidnap them at night, when they walk behind the fireflies. He does not make a sound when he walks. For this reason, in some places, he gets the name of Py-ragüé, Downy Feet. He can imitate the singing of the birds, and also, according to some stories, become a trunk or a water plant, or even become invisible. He likes fresh eggs and honey from the forest. He chews black tobacco and usually sleeps in the subdued stoves. Certain versions say that people who celebrate agreements with him may benefit from his help. To invoke him, you have to go to the forest and repeat his name three times in the evening; but the legend says that this is not advisable, because those who have seen him have remained mute or crazy. If one speaks about him at night, it has to be done softly, trying not to offend him, and it is a good idea to leave some tobacco for him to chew next to the house. To repel him, you have to put a clove of garlic in every corner of the house.
The Curupí or Curupiré (rough skin)
He is a small man with his ears on top of his head, his feet backwards, ad his skin as scaly leather. He is always represented naked. As his feet are facing backwards, he moves very awkwardly, and he can’t swim: because of this, people make fun of him. His principal feature is his virile member which turns around his waist. He uses it to get women pregnant from a distance: he usually waits for solitary girls wandering in the forest. It is said that cutting his phallus makes him inoffensive.
Mothers usually scare their daughters with this story so that they don’t go alone in the forest. Meeting the Curupí is dangerous for them: if the Curupí gets them, they would end up pregnant, and even if they manage to escape his attempts, they would lose their mind due to his obscenity. This kind of phallic myth is a symbol of the multiplication and the continuation of the species. With this story, Guarani justify the birth of children of unwedded mothers, or try to scare girls from having sexual intercourses outside of marriage.
He is a fair-haired and muscular dwarf, who walks around the world with a big hat of straw and a golden cane, to kidnap children. He takes them to the forest, play with them and then leave them there wrapped in lianas. During siesta times, he hisses to attract curious children, boys and girls. The legend says that if a mortal manages to steal his golden cane, he would acquire his power to attract children and young girls.
This myth seems to take its origin in the habit of kidnapping children and women as plunder of war between tribes. Parents use this story to scare their children so that they don’t end up disappearing.
The Teyú Cuaré
The legend says that at the bottom of the hill today called Victoria, in the park of the same name, was living in the maelstrom of the river the Teyú Cuaré, a giant animal half lizard, half dragon, which would sink the boats that were sailing on the Parana River. This was meant to explain the movements of the water when it would hit the cliffs of sandy stone by the river, as much as the shipwrecks or other navigation accidents.
He is described as half human, half animal: he has the body of a tiger with a short tail, and human head, feet and hands. He was a man magically turned into the fiercest animal, and he uses his new abilities to take revenge from his enemies or to get to women. He cannot copulate with a female tiger or he will never become a man again. He always goes hunting at night. He is a very strong and dangerous creature, but it is possible to defeat him by cutting his head. You can escape him by climbing up a palm tree, the only one the Yaguareté-Abá cannot climb.
The Cainguá people of the Alto Parana think that if a tiger is sitting next to a grave, the soul of the dead person has been reincarnated into the animal and this belief has been passed on the Guarani tribes.
The legend of the Yerba Mate
In ancient times, Guarani used to leave the elders behind so that they would not be a burden to these nomadic people. When the Spanish arrived, The Guarani were the most widespread indigenous people in South America, and were in the process of settling. This implied an important change in their habits (hunting, harvest…), and also in the way they were treating the eldest. It is probable that the legend of the Yerba Mate explains this period.
An elder person was left behind by his tribe, and while he was complaining about his misfortune, he saw two beautiful maidens coming towards him. They were the sun and the moon personified. Suddenly, an enormous tiger (yaguareté) jumped from the bush in order to attack the two girls. The old man used to be a warrior, so he took his long and heavy cane and attacked the beast, defeating it after a fierce struggle. The Sun (Cuarají) and the Moon (Yasi), grateful, gave him a small plant that would grow into the tree of the yerba mate (caá mate). They taught him how to dry its leaves by placing them on the fire, to grind them and to prepare the potion which is, for the Guarani people, the mother of all teas thanks to its vigorous qualities. When the old man shared his gift with his people, he was received with honors back into his community.
Stories found in the Teyú Cuaré Park, near San Ignacio, Misiones, Argentina.
Well, I don’t have much to say about this last week… I am here mainly to let you know I’m going to take some time to deal with all the stories and material we’ve collected so far, so that I can finally share some of it with you. It will be online shortly!
I’ll be back soon, with some great myths and legends to tell!
First of all, I’d like to thank mrs. Stephanie Anish who let us come meet with the students of her school, and all the teachers who received us.
Monday, November 12th, we went to Richmond Road primary school, Posomby, Auckland. We were supposed to meet with two classes from the French section of the school, but thanks to Mrs. Vesna Nikolic-Ivanovic, the teacher I got in contact with, we were able to share our stories with young Maoris and Samoans too. Indeed, the school is made of 4 sections: Kiwi, Maori, Samoan and French (the last three are bilingual). It was truly a beautiful day, sharing beautiful tales among other things.
So, at 9:15am, first session with the seniors (aged 8 to 10) of the French section, to whom we told the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Almost all of them knew the story, and they reacted very well to it: they were asking a lot of questions about it, trying to understand its meaning. Then, they started eagerly to draw their own stories. In this classroom, we listened to Perseus’ adventures (Well, Percy Jackson’s … I think we’ll have to watch that movie one day, as they all tell it to us), the tale of the three little piglets … In the end, their stories reminded us of the ones we hear back in France. However, a group told us the local story of Maui, which explains how the north island was born.
The next session took place in Vesna’s class, with younger children (aged 6/7). They were somewhat shyer, and knew less about mythology, but they appreciated the story of how Midas got donkey ears. It is a funny myth, and it made them laugh! The children would have chosen Apollo over Marsyas, of course, and most of them told us they couldn’t have kept the king’s secret either! As we only had an hour with them, unfortunately, we couldn’t listen to every group. Nonetheless, we heard the tales of Snow-White and Cinderella, another about a golden fish, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
Thanks to Vesna, who managed to organize everything for us in 15 minutes, we met a few students from the Maori section after lunchtime, for 45 minutes. It was brief, but really interesting and heart-warming, mostly because of the way the children listened carefully to our story, and were really excited about telling their own. So, I took of my shoes (they all walk barefoot inside – and outside), told them Orpheus’ tragic tale, and as we didn’t have much time, decided not to make them draw. Instead, they asked if they could reenact their myth and story to make them come to life. And we can say they did it well! The first one made us laugh by playing again Orpheus going down to the underworld and coming back, to lose Eurydice at the last moment. Then we watched and listened to an horror story (apparently real), and two maori myths. After this, the children insisted on doing a haka for us. I was really touched, even though I’m sure they just wanted to scare us! And let’s say it, it kind of worked. It is impressive, even danced by 9-year-olds.
[Interlude : Janyce did all the storytelling in the Maori and Samoan classes, while I shot a little video, or grabbed the drawings. Well, it was really impressive to see her surrounded by ten or fifteen children, all ears, mouth open, fascinated by the story. I was, too. Janyce managed to modulate her voice according to the drama, or put her own little touch to the story, adding funny or moving details to give more strength to imagination. She’s been a really good storyteller, and improved a lot from the beginning of this adventure around the world. You live, you learn!]
We had to go quickly afterwards, to be able to meet with the little Samoans before the school day ended. We were welcomed by a traditional song, and here again, the children listened to us with attention. Well, whatever we say, kids really enjoy listening to stories, that’s for sure (and that makes me happy)! However, it was harder for them to find a tale they wanted to tell. They knew some stories, but not well enough to tell them (they were really young, starting to learn how to read). But they had read a few Samoan myths, and with the help of their teacher, each group found a story and started illustrating it. This we discovered the stories of Lomi ma Lami, or of Sina and Tinilau. After the session, we talked a bit with the teacher, who told us she found the experience useful. I was really glad to hear her say that this made her realize that telling the story helps memorizing it: she will not only make them read, but also recite the stories they study, to remember the characters, the plot, and basically, what happens.
I am really sorry it took us so long to make that report, but it is really hard to get access to a computer in NZ and Australia, and Internet access is expensive here. But here it is!
Soon, you’ll get news a bit more often, once we get to Asia!