Culture as Folk culture

Posted by: | February 3, 2009 | Comments Off on Culture as Folk culture

I really liked the readings this week, especially the first one regarding Mayan myths. I find that many myths and legends (not only restricted to Latin America) always have a message which is transmitted in the story, moral messages to be more precise, what in Spanish are referred to as “moraleja”. I came across many of these type of stories in a book called The Darien Gap: Travels in the Rainforest of Panama by Martin Mitchinson (it’s a great book if you’re interested in culture and folklore of indigenous people, it’s an easy read perfect for the long hours in the airport, just be careful not to miss your plane like I did). What I inferred from these stories is that the primary end is to teach some in that culture (most likely kids) how to deal with problems that you face in life. At the same time it’s a process of acculturation which bounds the person with the cultural traditions in his group.

The second reading was great. Honestly I will never cease to be amazed with the creativity of those whom come up with these stories. I’ve heard this type of folk tales many times and from different cultures (or ethnic groups) in the region. And again I believe that this story ties in with a particular aspect of Latin American culture: resistance. The many stories I’ve heard that resemble Argueda’s “The Poncho’s Dream” have always the same characteristics. First they have a character that is associated with a particular group, usually belonging to the same which is telling the story. Second, this character is oppressed and humiliated day and night by a more powerful figure, usually the “white men”. And finally, the character at the end always outsmarts his oppressor in some way, leaving him with some sense of pride. And there the story ends.

While reading Mitchinson’s book I came across a similar scenario. In his book Mitchinson and some Embera (indigenous group in Panama) were telling stories to each other. It was Mitchinson turn to tell a story so he decided to go for a joke (if you want to read the joke click here, Mitchinson replaced the word “Pakistani” with “white men” and “Indian” with “indian”).After finishing the joke every Embera in the room laughed and said “That is one smart indian” . This tells me that the audience feels compelled by listening to these stories that involve an oppressed character always outwitting their oppressor.


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