The following is an educational unit designed to supplement the existing curriculum for beginning and intermediate level Spanish courses. It is also easily adapted for use in an American History course as a parallel to a unit studying Puerto Rican history. The unit is being developed for use on the secondary level; however, much of the material included can be used with students of any level to introduce them to Puerto Rico.
The unit is divided into three major parts: the first is an overview of the study of folklore; the second is a look at some Puerto Rican myths and legends with exercises and ideas for the teaching of this material as part of a course; the third and final part of the unit is based on activities which directly involve the student. It is here that several practical applications of the material studied are explored.
For the beginning level language student, the unit provides an introduction to the study of mythology with examples and exercises in English. When studying a foreign language, there is so much more to explore that the mere grammatical construction of the language. It is widely understood that the purpose of a foreign language is both to communicate in the target language and to understand the people of the target country—their traditions and customs. The folk literature of a country can tell so much about the country’s people, customs, and traditions.
Folk literature was first transmitted orally from generation to generation and later captured in writing. Folk literature explores many varied phenomena which run the gamut from natural occurrences such as weather conditions to religious beliefs. This literature can furnish people with a doctrine by which they run their daily lives, and also an explanation of almost every event which affects their lives.
Early folktales and legends dealt with origins of life and with different natural phenomena which early man was unable to explain logically such as fire, flood, thunder, and lightening. An excellent source containing several myths in English is
Fables and Folktales
by Albert R. Kitzhaber and Stoddard Malarkey. This text contains fables, parables, proverbs and myths of Greek, Norse, and African origins along with many folktales. This source is included to provide both teacher and student with an introduction to the terminology and imagery often seen in and used during the study of mythology.
For the most part, this unit concentrates on Puerto Rican mythology and folklore. It is to be used in conjunction with the current curriculum for first year Spanish students who are required to be familiar with Puerto Rico as a part of their introductory language study. Most Puerto Rican folktales are based on religious beliefs. Why does one study folk literature as a means of getting to know Puerto Rican culture? The answer is twofold. First of all, it affords the opportunity to understand family life, and secondly, it helps explain why so much of the traditions from the island are retained in this country. This unit will help students relate folktales to their lives, and in turn use these tales to understand some distinctly unique ideas, ideals, and philosophies.