London-based author Doris Harper-Wills was born in Guyana, South America, and has had a long and award-winning career as a storyteller. In this collection, she has now published many of the Amerindian stories and songs she has performed, along with suggestions for how they can work in a classroom or workshop setting. A useful glossary, maps, exercises, and short quizzes are included, along with sheet music for the traditional melodies she has enhanced with lyrics.
For the uninitiated, “Amerindian” refers to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is easy to see the appeal of these regional traditional tales that address the populating of the world (Legend of Okonorote), the creation of geographical features (Legend of the Lake, Legend of Ole Kaie) and other subjects, as well as the way children can participate through dancing, chanting, and singing. As in folktales from all cultures, there are magical animals, heroic acts, and sometimes danger and death. Harper-Wills doesn’t shy away from the violence sometimes present in native life. For example, in Legend of Mychoppa, the hero falls in love with the Vulture Maiden who saves him after a bloody battle between the warring Arawak and Carib tribes. This should not discourage classroom use, though; violent episodes are handled appropriately and, most importantly, are part of many traditional tales across cultures.
While the stories will appeal to children middle-grade down to pre-school age, in or out of a classroom setting, the vocabulary does necessitate adult involvement. Words like “ruminate,” “despondency,” and “progenitors” could be understood in the context of a performance or with an adult reading with a child, but might present obstacles for a child attempting to read alone. However, this collection is intended for classroom use, and completely serves its purpose.
Indeed, this compendium of Amerindian legends and songs would be a welcome addition to the library of any educator with an interest in folktales of the Caribbean and Guyana.
Also available as an ebook.