Lesson Thirteen: Village Building
Provide books with photographs that will show students what rural houses look like: Brill and Targ's Guatemala, Galvin's The Ancient Maya, Jenness and Kroeber's A Life of Their Own: An Indian Family in Latin America, McKissack's The Maya, Morris's Living Maya, and Rhoads' The Corn Grows Ripe, with its famous illustrations by Jean Charlot. Becom and Aberg's Maya Color: The Painted Villages of Mesoamerica, will give ideas not only about color and decorative elements but objects for the village. Since student responsibility is crucial here, the gathering of materials and the decisions about what may be needed to gather are part of the procedure of this lesson.
Looking again at the quilt/shawl made in the last lesson, ask whether anyone has seen fields laid out in stripes or patterns from an airplane or even from a hill. The Maya thought of the universe as a field or as a house, and so we will make both. Teams of students will construct a village and its environment; each student will help make a house and also participate in creating a backdrop, either through painting or collage. In doing this work, they must apply what they have already learned, such as an awareness of the five directions. When the village is constructed, it will be recorded appropriately in each student's screenfold.
On this first day, to provide for the health of the village, a number of tasks are essential. Only if there is time may students spend time recording ideas that they garner from the books provided; particular care should be given to the architecture of the houses and their roofs and encourage sketching as preparation for building. But first students must be grouped into Key Witness Teams so that they can begin research for their Expert Testimony Projects which they will present for Lesson Sixteen and the Fiesta.
A key witness offers testimony or information, usually in an official hearing or court of law, that is critical to the issue being discussed; the term suggests personal involvement, someone who was there. Expert testimony, on the other hand, is usually presented by specialists. I have combined these somewhat contradictory roles to help students understand that research is a combination of information gathered and assessed (the expert testimony part) through prior knowledge and through one's own beliefs and ideas (the key witness part). These beliefs and ideas can be changed in the process. In the teams set up for this unit, therefore, each team member should be able to present, as though from her or his own direct experience, at least one piece of information that is crucial to the project or topic and explain why that is so. The full report of the team should have the force of intimate knowledge that key witnesses offer added to the informed, educated view that the students now have as experts on the subject.
Here are the questions for the teams: What is it that archeologists do? How was Tenochtitlan (Ten-och-tee-tlahn) founded and what was it like? What was it like to be an Aztec child? How would you teach someone to translate Maya math into our system? How would you explain El Dia de los Muertos to someone who had never heard of it? Just how nutritious was the pre-Cortes diet? Note that these questions cover Aztec as well as Maya topics. The books listed in the Student Bibliography will provide information. Of special help for some topics are the issues of the magazines Faces and Calliope and the handbook from The Mexican Museum listed at the beginning of this unit under Materials for Classroom Use. Some research may need to be done during school time, depending upon availability of resources. Once the students understand the key terms, key witness and expert testimony, you will need to discuss objectives and devise, with them, a rubric for assessment
Corn must also be planted so that the village will have enough to eat (and so that it will have the 5-10 days required for germination before Lesson Fifteen). It is best to use a container that is deep enough so that the plant will be able to grow for a few weeks; half-gallon milk or orange juice containers will do. An aquarium is good for at least some seeds because if they are placed close enough to the sides students can see roots and even the disintegrating kernel. A large real clay pot would be good for the teacher's crop since the roots will have more room and the excess water that is trapped by plastic will evaporate through the clay. Best source for seeds is a bunch of decorative corn, preferably with the deep red or black ears familiar to the Maya. Students from kindergarten up love to predict the number of kernels in a row, the number of rows, and the total number on each ear. Older students can discuss the number of people who could be fed if each kernel germinates and produces even three ears.
Meanwhile the two or three students whose names are drawn out of a hat (or a gourd) can chip off the kernels from several differently colored ears. The other students can get busy making holes in the bottoms of their containers, covering them with colored paper to hide the 20th century printing and advertising, marking them with name or initials, spreading out plenty of newspaper, and using small yogurt cups to fill them almost to the top with potting soil. Plastic spoons are useful for smoothing the soil on top. Every student should then plant at least six kernels of different colors, pressing them a little more than one inch into the soil and two inches apart. Set in a good light on trays and warn students not to water carefully and not to excess.
Once all the planting materials have been cleaned up, time must be spent organizing the students so that they will help to gather the supplies needed to inspire the creation of a 3-D village. To begin, ask them to visualize what they will need and make lists. Augment these lists together and see who might be able to contribute; some materials will be free. A weekend might be a good time in which to round everything up. (The teacher may want to provide some backup supplies.)
To start, it will be essential to have: sticks and straws--with scissors, glue, and painting supplies--to make houses; dirt to make mud to pack the interstices; sugar cubes for those houses made of blocks; straw, grass, crumpled-up brown paper, or shirt cardboard with brown paint to make roofs; gluing thatch onto shirt cardboard will make it easier to manage. Some of these materials can be collected by students: dirt and sticks. It may be wise to buy a bale of straw from a Blue Seal or Agway Feed and Grain store, even though you will only need one or two sections (flakes or books) of a bale; donate the rest to a gardener for mulch. Since straw is sometimes difficult to find, coarse hay will do. The price for either can be anywhere from $3 to $8; don't pay more. C. L. Adams in Woodbury (203 263-2151) is a reasonable and reliable source for farm supplies; with advance notice, they will deliver to many towns.
Then there are the appointments for the houses: pebbles to lay the three hearthstones of the fireplace and scrunched-up paper painted red/orange to create fires; loosely-woven cloth such as cotton dish-rags to make hammocks inside; straw (or even the paper-covered wire ties that come with various sizes of plastic kitchen bags) to weave into the mats that define space and have so many uses in a Maya house that does not have kitchen counters or many tables. terra-cotta clay for the family bowls, pots, vessels, and the essential metate, the stone upon which corn is ground; fine-cracked corn or "chick corn" from a Blue Seal or Agway Feed and Grain Store would be the right size to simulate the family's all-important food supply. Wisps of wool in different colors will be needed for the village weavers; the scale will be better if students untwist the yarn to get a single ply or even a portion of a ply.
For a backdrop for the village, students can use triptych-style project display boards and, again, painting supplies so that they can create mountains, the rising and setting sun, a starry night perhaps, and the milpa or fields of corn. They may wish wire, newspaper, and flour for paste, so that they can fashion trees, either real or-- remembering their Maya maps--symbolic.
Lessons Fourteen: Terracing the Village
The corn has been planted, village construction launched and recorded in the screenfolds, and independent research has begun. In the following lessons, the students may now enact some scenes from village life, including a fiesta. The first is a sample project for the ecology of the village, namely the terracing of the hillsides that the Guatemalan government has been urging. Terracing not only slows down erosion and the exhaustion of the soil, it can alleviate the crucial problem of water conservation.
To explain the traditional way of planting, the teacher can read "The Milpa," the short second chapter of The Corn Grows Ripe by Dorothy Rhoads and with superb--and famous--illustrations by Jean Charlot. For the new way, I would suggest the erosion experiment in Jenness and Kroeber's A Life of Their Own (102-104), complete with terracing diagrams. Suggest students read Diana Childress' article in Calliope about pollution even in Guatemala since it is important that they understand that this problem is everywhere. Finally, much as the village depends upon rain, it must have sun as well. Close the lesson by reading the Lizard and the Sun, published in a bilingual edition This folktale insists on the interrelationship between the sun and all creatures. Understanding the critical importance of the sun to the world and the need for balance between dark and light, the lizard hero will not give up searching until she has found out why the sun has disappeared.
Lesson Fifteen: As the Corn Grows
By now the corn should have germinated. Ask the students to imagine what will happen next to their corn plants. Read The Tortilla Factory, available both in English and in Spanish and written so that it could be set either in Mexico or America. Now ask each student to dig up one of their corn plants and poke the decayed kernels. (A box of kleenex will be useful for wiping fingers here.) The objective in this lesson is for students to observe the entire plant and then the images that the plant and its importance have inspired. That the corn deity was involved in all aspects of the life of the plant is explained by Figures 35-37, which you will now distribute. The head in Figures 35 and 36 is that of the god of corn or maize, whom they met in Figures 25 and 26 when they were making Maya maps. In Figure 35 (Miller and Taube, 99), we can see that the corn or maize god, Hun Hunahpu, is not simply like the corn plant--springing beautifully out of the earth--but is now depicted as the part of the plant that will be harvested and either eaten or sown. Figure 36 (135) depicts the terrible moment, before humans were created, when his head was cut off and hung on a cacao tree. Figure 37 (63) shows the Central Mexican maize god with ears of corn in his headdress.
The intimate connection between Hun Hunahpu and human beings is told in People of Corn, which you will now read. There is some acceptable poetic license in this book concerning the Grandmother of Light (see Mary's notes). More important is that when students hear the story, they do not confuse the maize god, Hun Hunahpu, seen in their figures, with Plumed Serpent and Heart of Sky who finally use corn to create human beings. Tell them, for the Maya, the corn that not only sustains life but is the stuff of human life is sufficiently sacred to need its own god. Hun Hunahpu is thus not only the god of corn but "the ancestor of people" (Miller and Taube, 69). We will meet him again in Lesson Nineteen. Remember to record this work in screenfolds.
Lesson Sixteen: Expert Testimony as Reciprocal Teaching
Testimony by the teams concerning the various questions listed above.
Lesson Seventeen: The Chocolate Caliente Fiesta
Families can be invited or another class. The whole class can be involved as the students divide into committees that 1) send out invitations, 2) go shopping for supplies, which must include a trip to a local Mexican grocery and figuring out how much to buy , 3) set up the room for the party, including any additional decorations, 4) make the chocolate (there may need to be a trial cook-off for this before the big day!), and 5) plan the entertainment, which should involve explaining the map quilt, village, and the screenfolds that are still work in progress, as well as working up The Lizard and the Sun for an acted presentation, in English and Spanish, with a dress rehearsal. For music, a wonderful CD complete with conch shells, clay whistles, log drums, and turtle shells is Sirius Coyote: in the Land of the Nahuatl, (860) 945-0056.
Recipe for Chocolate Caliente Mexicano: Mexican style sweet chocolate comes in thick "coins" or bars. One box of Ibarra Chocolate (18.6 oz.) should be enough because it is very dense. You will need cinnamon sticks, salt, and probably milk, although real Chocolate Caliente is made with water. The chocolate can be found at a Latin American Market like Chico's on Truman off Boulevard in New Haven.
Melt one coin (3.1 oz) for each cup of boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and drop in several cinnamon sticks. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture boils up. If you need to add sugar and milk, do so after the first boiling. Remove from heat and then let the mixture boil two more times so that the chocolate can cook; otherwise it is heavy on the stomach. The third time let it foam and remove from heat. Using a special Mexican eggbeater or molinillo, beat it until it is really foamy. The custom is to drink it through the foam. It is easier to beat up small quantities, so do not try to make too much at once. Mexicans use a special pot that it like a pitcher with a full skirt and a waist. Chico will also carry the pitcher and the molinillo.
Lesson Eighteen: Day of the Dead
The festival, on November 2, can be organized and work delegated by the appropriate Key Witness Team or by the entire class. Invite families and any bilingual classes.
Lesson Nineteen: Popul Vuh or The Council Book
The teacher's guide to the video tells us that "Around the year 1550, not long after the Spanish conquest of the Maya in what is now Guatemala, an anonymous Maya noble of the once-powerful Quiche state...committed to writing their legendary history of the creation of the world." He did so because the new Spanish lords forbade them from practicing their religion or telling the stories that had always guided them. The manuscript was lost that he bravely wrote in European script and then hid, but the surviving copies and translations have preserved the myths and the ethical and spiritual themes of the pre-conquest Maya culture with energy and a kind of matter-of-fact humor.
The video takes about 50 minutes, and you may want to show it initially in installments, asking the students to take notes on familiar images, characters, and ideas. Review the content by having students ask each other questions about it. There are at least three themes that the students will sense fairly quickly, although they may need help articulating them, and they may--legitimately--want to comment on all sorts of other things first: the fact that corn is sacred and connected to human life; that life is filled with tests, some of which you fail; but that it is also possible to be a survivor if you are resourceful enough and a trickster like each of the Hero Twins. They are pictured in Figure 38 (Miller and Taube, 175) taken from a famous cave painting in Guatemala.
Students will be able to remember other tricksters they have met in literature, and it will be important to review the tricks that the Twins pull off. Some of these can be recorded in the screenfolds. This is also a good time for the students to write about what happens when you fail (or when they themselves have failed), referring back to the story to see what happens when characters fail there. The film is rich enough to warrant watching at least one more time.
Lesson 20: Closing the Screenfold
Since Mesoamerica used 20 as a base for counting, it is fitting to end here. Students should spend their last class or two working in their screenfolds, preserving those parts of the unit that they most wish to carry away with them. They may then choose to depict their trek home, with or without baggage, or they may decide upon another destination.