Your students are probably familiar with the Disney movie Moana, but do they know that the film was inspired by a Polynesian myth?
Stories about Māui and other myths, fables, and folklore were told thousands of years ago, but are still relevant today. They teach students about cultures from around the world and also how to tell great stories of their own. Whether your class is full of aspiring lawyers, activists, reporters, or politicians, your students will need to develop strong storytelling skills to excel.
This week, we celebrate Claire and Katelyn from the United States and Eva from Russia. These three students recently participated in the PenPal Schools Fables, Folktales, and Mythology project with students from other countries, like Spain. They learned about how these stories from around the world are told with symbolism or personification. Likewise, they discussed why these stories were told, whether it was to pass the time, teach morals, or explain the unknown.
The PenPals had very different opinions on why fabulists used animals instead of humans in their stories. Claire thought it was because animals have different personality traits.
“The fox is often used as a sly, mysterious character because they scavenge off others. And larger animals like the bear or the lion are seen as higher class animals, or kings that look down on others.”
On the other hand, Eva thought fabulists used animals so as not to anger those in power.
“I think fabulists use animals as characters because fables often derided kings or the state power. They use animals instead of humans so they don’t get put in jail.”
Eva makes an interesting point. For example, the moral of “The Dog and His Reflection” is that you may lose what you have by grasping for more. It can certainly be interpreted as a hidden criticism of power hungry leaders!
The Dog and His Reflection
Once upon a time, a Dog carried a bone in his mouth. On his way home, the Dog had to cross a bridge. As the Dog crossed the bridge, the Dog looked down and saw his own reflection in the water.
The Dog thought the reflection was another dog with another bone! The Dog decided that he would also like to have the other dog’s bone.
The Dog made a snap at the reflection in the water to grab the other bone. As the Dog opened his mouth, the bone fell out, dropped into the water, and was never seen again!
After reading several myths, the PenPals began to understand the role they played in ancient culture. Katelyn recognized that myths were used to explain the unknown.
“I think people use mythology to explain the world around them or to tell a false story about their old old old ancestors and tell what they think their ancestors were like even if they didn't know if it's true or not.”
Eva thought that myths were told to share theories, but to also entertain.
“Even in ancient times, people needed to somehow share experience, news and impressions easily and quickly. Mythology helps to enliven the grey routine, just like the nice films that I like to watch.”
Moana is a very nice film indeed, but it was inspired by ancient Polynesian myths. Myths are a reflection of ancient cultures, but in Moana’s case, the myth about Māui has become a part of popular culture.
Māui the Trickster
Māui of a Thousand Tricks was an ugly but clever half-god. His body was covered in beautiful tattoos.
If Māui didn't like the ways things were, he would change them. One thing that Māui did not like was the sun!
Every day, Māui watched people wake up early in the morning because of the sun. The people would hurry to work, or plant, or cook, in the few hours between sunrise and sunset. There was never enough time in the day! The pesky sun moved too fast!
Māui decided to change things. Māui grabbed a rope and his grandmother's magic jawbone. Māui threw the rope and caught the sun. He jumped into the sky and beat the sun-god with the magic jawbone.
The golden sun-god decided to move across the sky more slowly.
These three PenPals got to read a lot of stories throughout the project, but more importantly, they learned how and why enduring stories are constructed. We can’t wait to see what new stories these students will tell as they continue their PenPal journeys!
Want to introduce your students to stories from around the world and contribute to our collective storytelling voice? Enroll your class in Fables, Folktales, and Mythology!
Read more from students who have participated in Fables, Folktales, and Mythology:
PBL Example: Students share fables, folktales, and myths