The Pongo’s Dream

I really liked this folktale in particular, so this week I am going to focus on it.

The Pongo’s Dream is an interesting and sad story that can be used to understand the oppression of Quechua people at the hands of non-Indigenous wealthy landowners.

While the majority of the story focuses on the sad life of the pongo, taking pity on him, it ends in a revengeful way that caught me off guard. After extensive descriptions of the dehumanizing circumstances the pongo was subject to, his dream is what inspired him to speak out and inform, maybe even caution, the lord of possible repercussions to his actions. I could be wrong, but as far as I know, dreams are prophetic in nature for the Quechua people (as well as many other Latin American indigenous groups). Therefore, it is possible that this story is meant to be a hopeful symbol of the justice that will one day be achieved for the Quechua people.

That being said though, one might also not interpret the conclusion of the dream to be symbolic for a hopeful symbol. It might be interpreted as revenge or karma, which are in themselves more of an allusion to omnipotent powers such as a god or “universe”. It is possible that the dream is symbolic of a lack of faith in humanity altogether. The idea that people can not be trusted to treat each other humanely and only higher power is capable of that. Also, another interesting part of this story is that the other pongos did not help the small man when he was being mistreated. This might be an allusion to a lack of solidarity that might have existed between Indigenous peoples in Peru?

Further, considering the role of folktales in many Indigenous cultures: to teach lessons and maintain valuable knowledge throughout generations, I am curious as to what the purpose of this folktale is. Is it to warn future generations of Quechua people about the injustices they will experience in their lives? Is it to inspire hope in people who are suffering at the hands of others? Is it a cautionary tale for those treating others inhumanely?

Overall, this story was super interesting to read!!

Discussion question: What do you guys think the ending of the dream means?

What came first? The person or the culture?

Popular culture, in short, is a way of life or culture that is created and enjoyed by ordinary people. For example, this includes common dances, religions, and foods within a particular region. What is clear from the readings and viewings in the course so far is that just as culture is shaped by individuals, individuals are also shaped by culture.

While some popular culture is logically shaped by the needs of people directly (e.g. maize is a staple ingredient in modern Mexican cuisine, as it is a native cereal grain to Mexico), there is a large portion of it that is created “accidentally” or as a result of uncontrollable external factors (e.g. Samba originates from a mix of West African and Brazilian folk dances). As in, while some part of popular culture is created as a result of individuals shaping their lifestyles according to their needs, some of it is created by accident, which in turn changes individual lifestyles.

While both are equally valuable, it is interesting to think about how, in the context of Latin America, some parts of popular culture, that heavily influence the political and social climates of every country, were never intended to exist by the Conquistadores, yet exist today. For example, the Candomblé religion was created from a mix of Yoruban religion from West Africa and Roman Catholicism.

As explored by Jon in his video, popular culture is both a way of life comprised of traditions and norms, as well as a product of these same things. This is what makes culture such an interesting concept: the idea that humans create a culture through popular beliefs and behaviors, but can also be shaped by them, even when they are not aware of their changes.

On a different note, it is interesting how popular culture is often given value or classified by those considered to be elite. For example, contemporary graffiti, an art form that was once exclusively criminalized and looked down upon by society, became celebrated as a form of popular art by prestigious art museums and critics in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While large quantities of “ordinary people” were using graffiti to express themselves for a very long time, it was not identified as a piece of “popular culture”, until those defining these terms, mostly prestigious academics and critics, decided to acknowledge it as an important expression of daily “ordinary” life. Which in a way, was defined solely by what those elite individuals considered to be “unordinary”, not the other way around.

Discussion question: What do you guys think? Is popular culture defined by us or do we define it? Both? Neither? 

Black Orpheus

During one of the tutorials I attended last year as part of LAST 100 (taught by John), I asked the following question:

While of course, Latin American countries are and were incredibly cruel to their black citizens, why did the treatment of Afro-Latinos in Latin America historically differ from the treatment of African-Americans in the United States? Why did it seem that assimilation between Afro-Latinos and non-African Latinos was always more accepted than mixing between African-Americans and non-African Americans in the U.S?

If I remember correctly, John responded by saying that firstly, he did not know, and secondly, that perhaps the treatment of African Americans in the  U.S. should be analyzed as a cruel anomaly, and not a standard. I agreed. Further, the class discussed that maybe systemic racism in Latin America did not turn out like the United States due to widespread rejections of Spanish influence that occurred during the first quarter of the 19th century. A byproduct of this revolutionary era was the mixing between races and ethnic groups, which then resulted in the creation of many different castas or “lineages” (e.g. Mestizo is a Spanish word used to describe someone with both Spanish and Indigenous lineage).

When watching the first part of Black Orpheus, I noticed that despite this film taking place in the late 1950s, people of all races were mixing and interacting. While this film alone can not be used as a trusted historical source, the reality of Black Brazilians depicted at the beginning of this film is infinitely better than that of those depicted of Black Americans in the late 1950s. Despite the film mostly starring Afro-Latino protagonists, it appears that no racism is evident between the characters.

Further, it seems like Afro-Latino culture is being celebrated. After a brief Google search, I discovered the version of the Greek legend featured in this film has influences from Candomblé folklore tales. For example, Orpheus descending to the underworld. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion developed during the early 19th century (around the same time of the Latin American independence revolutions) that is a mix of Yoruban religion from West Africa and Roman Catholicism. However, that being said the Greek influence in this movie is heavier than the Afro-Brazilian one. This speaks to a struggle between the dominant influences of European culture and less-dominant Afro-Brazilian culture in Brazil.

As a discussion question for this post, I will pose the question I asked John last year: Why did the treatment of Afro-Latinos in Latin America historically differ from the treatment of African-Americans/Canadians in the United States/Canada?

About Me

Hi there!

My name is Magalee and I am in my third year of Kinesiology. This is my second time taking a Latin American Studies class with John and I am super stoked to be here! I am excited to learn more about Latin American history and culture through an academic perspective, as I have mostly learnt about it through a personal lens as I come from an Argentinian background.

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