Telling Stories Through Objects Portable Collections Program

Portable Collections Program
Telling Stories
Through Objects
Table of Contents
Checklist: What’s in the Case? –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1
Information for the Teacher: –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 3
How to Handle and Look At Museum Objects
Introduction: Every Object Has a Story to Tell
Information About the Objects in the Case
Activities to Do with Your Students: –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 10
1 Introductory Activity: Word Play
2 What Can Objects Tell Me?
3 Make a Story Journal
4 Show and Tell
5 Reassemble a Story
6 Playing with Proverbs
7 Additional Activities and Curricular Connections
Resources and Reference Materials: –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 22
Vocabulary Words
Connections with New York State Learning Standards
Corresponding Field Trips
Bibliography and Web Resources
Appendix: Stories About the Objects in the Case ––––––––––––––––––––– 26
What’s in the Case?
Clay lamp
Blue Willow plate
Ink stone and
calligraphy brush
Shadow puppet
Kiwi figure
Bark painting
Conqueror mask
Figure of Osiris
Game board goldweight
Puff adder goldweight
Birds in a tree goldweight
What’s in the Case?
Chicken head goldweight
Porcupine goldweight
Rama and Sita: A Tale from Ancient Java by David Weitzman
The Illustrated Book of Fairy Tales by Neil Philip
The Illustrated Book of Myths by Neil Philip
Keys to Imagination DVD, by Story Watchers Club
How to Handle Museum Objects
How to Look at Museum Objects
Learning to handle objects from the Museum’s
permanent collection with respect can be part of
your students’ educational experience of the case.
Please share these guidelines with your class, and
make sure your students follow them in handling
objects in the case:
Objects have the power to fascinate people with their
mere physical presence. Holding an object in their
hands forms a tangible link between your students,
the artist who made it, and the artist’s homeland.
This sense of physical connection makes it easier for
students to think concretely about the ideas and
concepts you introduce to them in your lessons.
• Students may handle the objects carefully under
your supervision.
• Hold objects with two hands. Hold them by the
solid part of the body or by the strongest area
rather than by rims, edges or protruding parts.
• Paint, feathers, fur and fibers are especially
fragile and should be touched as little as possible.
Remember that rubbing and finger oils can be
• Do not shake the objects or the plexiglass cases
they are housed in.
• Temperature differences, direct sunlight, and
water can be very harmful to certain objects.
Please keep the objects away from radiators and
open windows, and keep them secure.
Objects also have the power to tell us about their
origins and purpose, provided we are willing to look
at them in detail and think about what those details
mean. Encourage your students to examine an
object carefully, touch it gently and look at its
design and decoration. Have them describe its
shape, size, and color. Ask them questions about
what they see, and what that might tell them. For
• How was the object made? What tools did the
artist need?
• What materials did the artist use? Where might
he or she have gotten those materials?
• How is the object decorated? What might the
decorations mean?
• What does the object tell you about the person
or people who made it?
Introduction: Every Object Has a Story to Tell
To the teacher
The objects included in this Portable Collections case
can support your reading, writing, and language arts
curriculum. They have been carefully selected and
paired with stories (included in the Appendix, page
26) that relate to them or to the people who made
them. By sharing these objects and their stories with
your class, you can inspire your students to think
deeper, read more, discuss things enthusiastically, and
write substantively about what they have learned. The
objects and stories in this case also present a good
opportunity for helping your students cultivate their
abilities to observe and describe objects and to tell
and listen to stories.
A story can be understood for purposes of this case
in the broadest terms, as an account of people and
events. Stories may be personal and informal or public
and literary. They may be brief or epic. They may
relate fact, fiction, or some combination. They may
be written down or told aloud. They may be presented in a book or magazine, a play, a movie, a website,
or a television or radio program. Making the connection between objects and stories is a potent way to
begin recognizing how stories are all around us.
How do objects “tell” stories? How can
you “tell stories through objects”?
Some objects almost literally “tell” stories. The
shadow puppet and conqueror mask in the case are
two examples of objects made to be storytelling
props. When wielded by a puppeteer or worn by an
actor, these objects seem to come to life and stories
flow through them naturally.
Many objects—the kinds we often see in art, religious,
or civic settings but also everywhere around us—
represent characters in stories or depict stories. In
the case, the statue of Osiris represents a god who
appears in Egyptian myths (page 1); the kachina
represents a spirit being who appears in stories and
ritual dances (page 1), and the kiwi represents a bird
whose special characteristics are explained by a traditional tale (page 1). The Blue Willow plate depicts
some of the settings and characters in a story inspired
by the fashion for Chinese goods in the late 18th
Stories also often incorporate otherwise ordinary
objects as accessories or agents of the action. Usually,
if they are in the story, these objects are helping the
storyteller to set the scene or move the action
forward. Simple, functional objects like the ink stone
and brush, the spindle, or the saltcellar in the case
may play a role, even a pivotal role in a story. Here
the actual object in front of us is not the one in the
story. It may not even look like the one in the story.
But the relationship between the object and the story
can enrich them both: Looking at the saltcellar can
remind us of the importance of salt in the folktale
“The Necessity of Salt” (page 31); hearing the story
of “The Dreaming Prince” (page 33) can make us
look at the calligraphy tools in a different way.
The mola, the bark painting, and all but one of the
goldweights in the case do not have any particular
stories (or, in the case of the goldweights, proverbs)
associated with them, even though they look like
they might. They suggest how students can approach
objects whose stories they do not know either
because the objects are unfamiliar (and maybe also
because they look old, valuable, or prestigious) or
because the students are not part of the cultures in
which they were made and where their stories are
widely known. With these objects, students can take
clues from what they observe about the objects and
use their imaginations to conjure up stories that fit!
Objects also tell other kinds of story—stories of the
people who made them, the culture in which they
were made, the way in which they were used, the
materials and techniques that went into making
them, and their history as objects. To find and understand these non-fiction stories can lead your students
to do research into different cultures, biography,
technology, and history. Hints to these kinds of story
are contained in the Information About Objects
Introduction: Every Object Has a Story to Tell (continued)
section following this Introduction and opportunities
for students to research can be found throughout the
The arts of telling and listening
to stories
People are always telling stories. When their parent or
caretaker asks your students what they did at school
today, how do they answer? That one simple question
may lead a student to tell any number of stories.
“You’ll never guess what happened on the playground today!” “I was on the way home from school
when…” “Today my best friend did the funniest
thing!” We all know, however, that even a fascinating
story gains interest when it is well told.
In the course of using this case, you may want to
work with your students on different techniques to
make their storytelling more exciting. The DVD in the
case provides examples of story telling for children.
Show them how varying their tone of voice can add
nuance to their stories. Urge them to practice
speaking softly to indicate secrecy, or loudly to
indicate excitement. Their timbre can also help them
differentiate between characters. They may represent
a masculine or gruff-voiced character by speaking
very low, or a feminine or shrill character by speaking
warmly or higher. They can have fun repeating the
same sentence with different expression—sad, loving,
angry, regal, military, and so on.
Students can also help create excitement and suspense by varying the pace at which they tell their
tales. A dramatic pause can keep their audience on
the edge of its seat. Gestures and simple sound effects
may also be used to their advantage when telling
stories, but remind your students that they should
not overdo it on these features—their words are what
will keep the story moving along.
were happening right in front of their listeners. To do
this, they may need to read a story several times and
recreate the story as an unfolding experience in their
minds. That experience creates mental landmarks
from which the story in their own words will spin out.
Tell your students not to worry about the words coming together just so—just start at the beginning, get
yourself through the middle, and come to the end.
Everyone’s words and style of storytelling will be
unique to him or her alone. Your students do not
need to imitate any other storyteller. If they have
confidence that their stories are good, they have only
to tell it in their own way and their audience will listen
with rapt attention.
Listening to stories is also a skill you can help your
students cultivate. Explain to them that just as telling
a story is not a recitation from memory but an active
experience, listening to a story is a participatory rather
than a passive act. When you read or tell a story to
them, ask them to build a theater in their minds and
to transform the words they hear into scenes, characters, and unfolding events. Stop at moments and ask
them to elaborate on the story. What do they see
that’s not in the story? What are the characters
wearing? Have them describe the scenery. What do
they think the characters feel about each other? What
do they think could happen next and how might the
story end?
Objects and stories have a natural affinity. Both involve
imagination, detail, character, event. They are mutually enlivening. Hitched together, as they are in this
case, they can heighten students’ interest in each and
serve to increase their abilities to observe, to imagine,
to read, to write, to shape a part of the world. ❑
Words in boldface have been included in the Vocabulary
Words section on page 23.
It is also important for your students to keep in mind
that telling a story they have written or read does not
mean they have to recite it from memory. In telling
the story, they want it to seem fresh, as though it
Information About the Objects in the Case
For most (but not all) of the objects in the case, we have
included a corresponding story in the Appendix at the
end of this guide, as indicated below. All the stories have
been adapted for this guide
CLAY LAMP (Object No.41.76.5)
Small, portable lamps made
of terracotta clay were
common in ancient Roman
homes. Since they were massproduced from molds, they
were numerous and fairly
cheap. They were also easy to
use. The wick stuck out of a
hole in the spout and, when lit, burned by drawing
the oil (usually olive oil) from inside the lamp. These
lamps were so popular that they spread far and wide,
and were used not only in Rome but also in distant
Roman provinces. See the Greek myth of Cupid and
Psyche, page 28.
DROP SPINDLE (Object No. 70.19)
The drop spindle is an ancient
tool for spinning fibers like
wool or cotton into a long,
continuous thread. Today most
yarn is spun by machines in
factories, but in some parts of
the world people still use hand
spindles like this 20th century
one. A spinner hand-twists one end of a handful of
fiber into a short length of thread, and wraps the
thread around the spindle shaft portion a few times
to secure it. Then the spinner “drops” the spindle
(lets go of it) and, holding it up by the thread, twirls
it. The weight of the whorl (knobby end) keeps it
spinning, which twists the fiber into thread. The
spinner feeds a new handful of fiber into the thread
as needed. See the German folktale of Frau Hulda,
page 30.
SALTCELLAR (Object No. 2006.17)
A saltcellar is a small dish used
to hold salt during a meal. For
thousands of years, people
have used salt to flavor and
preserve their food. Today it
is very common, but there
was a time when it was valued
as highly as gold! The saltcellar was an important vessel on the medieval or
Renaissance table. Since salt was so expensive at that
time, it was common to serve it in a fancy container.
People used a small spoon to scoop up some salt
and sprinkle it on their food. This version, from the
late 19th or early 20th century, would have graced
an elegant dinner table. See the Austrian folktale
“The Necessity of Salt,” page 31.
BLUE WILLOW PLATE (Object No. 2006.5.1)
Blue and white porcelain from
China was imported into
England during the late 1700s.
It was so popular that English
potters were inspired to create
an imitation Chinese style
called Chinoiserie. The famous
“Blue Willow” design that you
see here was invented by an English potter named
Thomas Taylor in 1780. There have been several
versions of this design, the most famous of which
tells the story of two faithful lovers (see pages 18–19).
Blue and white porcelain was popular not only in
England but in colonial America as well and it continues to be produced. This example probably dates
from 1918.
(Object No. 2006.21)
Calligraphy brushes, ink,
paper, and an ink stone (on
which the dried ink is mixed
with water) are known as "the
four treasures of the studio."
Chinese scholars have relied
on these as their principal
tools for writing or painting from ancient times to
Information About the Objects in the Case (continued)
the present day. They are one of China’s many
unique inventions, and countless writers and artists
have used them to create great works of literature
and art. See the story “The Dreaming Prince,” page 32.
SHADOW PUPPET (Object No. 75.16.2)
Indonesia (Java), 1970s
Puppet performance is a type
of theater common in many
Southeast Asian countries.
Each country or region has its
own traditions and a unique
style of puppets. In Indonesia,
these performances are put
on with shadow puppets
called wayang kulit. Many puppet performances tell
stories of Hindu or Islamic heroes and legends. They
may be performed for many different purposes, such
as to celebrate a wedding or observe the anniversary
of a funeral. Wayang plays captivate children and
adults alike, teaching them about their heritage and
affirming the moral and cultural values of
Indonesian society. Read the book Rama and Sita: A
Tale from Ancient Java provided in the case.
Wayang kulit are made from animal skins decorated
with gold leaf and paint. The dalang (puppeteer)
supports the puppet with a wooden rod attached to
the body, while two smaller rods attached to the
hands allow the puppets to express a wide range of
gestures and emotions. Plays are performed behind
a transparent screen backlit with small lamps. A
typical dalang might have between 100 and 300
shadow puppets in his set. The costumes, hairdos,
facial features, and colors of the puppets identify the
standard characters they represent, from princesses
and warriors to clowns and scheming courtiers, and
even the gods themselves. For example, this puppet
is a female figure whose gold face and body represent either dignity or youth. Her refined features
indicate that she is an aristocratic or morally good
character, but the story that goes with her is
unknown. She might be used to represent Sita, wife
of Prince Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, a very
long and very old Indian poem.
KIWI FIGURE (Object No. 2006.15)
The kiwi is a small, flightless
bird that lives in the forests,
grasslands, and swamps of
New Zealand. It is a beloved
national symbol of that country, whose residents commonly refer to themselves as kiwis.
The kiwi is also a prominent
character in the mythology of the Maori people
(native new Zealanders). According to many Maori
traditions, kiwis are the oldest members of the bird
family, so they are, in effect, our older siblings. Kiwis
are said to be very protective of humans, which is
why they patrol the forests each night. See the story
“How the Kiwi Lost Its Wings,” page 36.
BARK PAINTING (Object No. 65.52.4)
Australia, about 1964
The aboriginal peoples of
Arnhem Land (an area of
northern Australia) paint
pictures on bark cut from the
eucalyptus tree. Using paintbrushes made of human hair
or twigs with chewed ends,
the artist works in shades of
black, red, yellow, and white with paints made from
ground-up minerals. This painting was made by a
man from the Ingura tribe, and depicts a group of
men dancing next to the fish they have speared.
Any Ingura man may paint pictures of non-religious
activities such as hunting, fishing, or historical events.
The Ingura people hang these paintings inside their
homes and use them to educate young people about
hunting and fishing practices, ancient feats, and
traditional stories. The Ingura also create secret,
sacred paintings depicting the ancient spirits of their
creation story.
There is no specific story to go with this object.
Students can make up their own, or do research and
write a report on aboriginal people and their lives.
Information About the Objects in the Case (continued)
KACHINA (Object No. 79.29.193), Hopi,
Southwestern United States,1960s
The Hopi people of the
Southwest U.S. believe that
kachinas are the spirit beings
who led the first humans to
Earth. There are over 250 different Hopi kachinas, which
may represent supernatural
human figures, animals, plants,
insects, and even death itself. In order to honor these
spirits, Hopi men perform dances while wearing costumes and masks representing kachinas. The Hopi
believe that performing kachina dances will bring the
kachinas' goodwill and blessings (such as rain, healthy
crops, and fertility). During kachina ceremonies, some
of the dancers give kachina dolls (called tihu in Hopi)
to the children and women in the crowd. This doll
represents Hochani, a kachina spirit who performs in
the Mixed Kachina Dance. The dolls have two purposes: they teach children about the important features of kachina spirits, and they bring the blessings
of the spirits to the village. Kachina dolls are not toys.
They are meant to be treasured, and are hung on
the rafters of the owner's home, where they can be
seen every day. See the traditional Hopi tale, page 38.
MOLA (Object No. 96.13.1), Kuna Indian, Panama,
about 1995
A mola is an elaborate reverse
appliqué panel used to decorate the blouses of Kuna Indian
women in Panama. In the
reverse appliqué process, the
mola maker puts together several layers of fabric, and then
cuts through the top layer or
layers to expose the fabric underneath and create a
design. This mola has writing embroidered on it:
"Operación gato y ratón," which means "Operation
cat and mouse." The mola shows a cat stitching himself back together while a mouse looks on. Kuna
women make molas for themselves and for their families as a way to display their skill and creative abilities. They may wear molas, or make them for sale to
tourists and for export to other countries.
Contemporary molas feature scenes from the Bible or
Kuna mythology, as well as a wide range of natural
and abstract motifs, and elements drawn from everyday life and international popular culture.
CONQUEROR MASK (Object No. 84.34.445),
Guatemala, about 1960
The Quiche Indians of
Guatemala perform a masked
dance known as Tecun Uman
(or the Dance of the Conquest)
as a way to remember the
bravery of their ancestors during the Spanish Conquest of
1524. The dance is named for
the Quiche people's great warrior king, Tecun Uman,
and tells the story of his death at the hands of the
cruel Spanish general, Pedro de Alvarado. This mask
represents one of the Spanish soldiers who fought
with Alvarado, or perhaps Alvarado himself. Dance
of the Conquest masks like this one are usually made
by a morería, a business that rents dance masks and
costumes. In recent times, though, the Dance of the
Conquest has been performed less often because it
is quite costly and requires many costumes. See the
tale of Tecun Uman, page 40.
FIGURE OF OSIRIS (Object No. 39.7.24)
During the Late Period (from
672 B.C. to 343 B.C.), ancient
Egyptians mass-produced small
statues in the forms of popular gods and sacred animals.
They placed these statues in
temples as offerings, or worshipped them at home. As god
of the dead and the earth, Osiris was the most important and respected Egyptian god. Crossed over his
chest he holds the crook and flail, a pair of farm tools
that symbolize the duty of gods and kings to guide
and protect their people and punish when necessary.
The cobra on his crown (another symbol of royalty)
is the emblem of the sun god, a noble serpent that
protects the righteous and destroys evil. See the myth
of Osiris, page 27.
Information About the Objects in the Case (continued)
These miniature representations were made for a very
special purpose: to measure gold dust. The Asante
people used gold dust as their main form of money
from the 1400s until 1889 (when their British colonizers forbid its use). Each Asante businessman owned a
set of 70 or more goldweights of different sizes. The
goldweight acted as a standard unit of measurement,
helping people determine how much gold dust was
needed to buy an item or pay a debt.
Early Asante goldweights (those made from 1500
to 1700) were geometric in shape, while ones like
these, probably made in the 18th or 19th century,
were more often realistic forms of plants, animals,
everyday objects, and even humans. Many of these
figurative weights recalled Asante proverbs about
daily life.
ly and patiently for this opportunity) finally caught it.
The Asante people recall this story with the proverb,
“Although the snake does not fly, it has caught the
hornbill, whose home is in the sky.” This proverb
teaches optimism and patience.
BIRDS IN A TREE GOLDWEIGHT (Object No. 84.31.42)
This brass figure of a flock of
birds sitting in a tree recalls an
old Asante proverb: "Only
birds of the same species play
together on the same tree."
This proverb suggests that people should be aware of their
class and status in society, and
only keep company with people who are like them.
This brass figure of a chicken
head recalls an old Asante
proverb: "You do not need a
big stick to break a cock's
head." This proverb is akin to
"Don't make a mountain out
of a molehill." It suggests that
small problems call for small
GAME BOARD GOLDWEIGHT (Object No. 66.36.1c)
This is a miniature brass representation of a game board
used for playing mancala, an
ancient counting game that is
still played by peoples in Africa,
Asia, the Middle East, and the
West Indies. Mancala is played
using a number of markers
(such as stones, shells, beans, or other small objects),
and a game board made of 12 cups. See the traditional African tale, The Game Board, page 34.
Asante goldweights were usually cast in brass, and
sometimes had to be adjusted after casting to make
them conform to existing standards. You can see in
this goldweight where lead fill has been added to a
few of the cups on the game board to make it heavier.
PUFF ADDER GOLDWEIGHT (Object No. 84.31.26)
This small brass figurine depicts
a puff adder snake attacking a
hornbill (toucan). According to
Asante legend, the hornbill
owed a large debt to the puff
adder but did not pay the
debt, believing that it could
always fly away if the snake
tried to catch it. However, one day the hornbill grew
careless and the snake (which had been waiting quiet-
PORCUPINE GOLDWEIGHT (Object No. 84.31.52)
The quills on this shiny brass porcupine recall an old
Asante proverb: "One should
never rub bottoms with a porcupine." This proverb suggests
that you should not get into a
fight with someone who can
hurt you more than you can
hurt them. Porcupines were
an especially popular form for
goldweights among the Asante because, with their
sharp quills and fierce defenses, porcupines were
seen as a symbol of the Asante nation.
You and your students can learn more about these
objects and others from around the world by visiting
our Collections Central Online database at
Introductory Activity: Word Play
All Grades
Related Objects: All
In this exercise, students have fun changing each other’s
perception of an object while practicing vocabulary.
Students will also begin to sense the relationship between
objects, words, and ideas. The word that is placed next
to an object may color or change how we perceive it. You
may find that several words can be applied to the same
object. Students will become more aware that objects
and words do not have one absolute meaning—instead,
their meanings can change depending on their context.
4 Give the class four to five minutes to find an object in
the classroom that they wish to associate with their
word. Explain that the words can but do not have to
identify or describe the object. Instead, they can relate
to some aspect of the object’s use, purpose, or meaning. For example, “shield” might be associated with
the window screen, which shields the room from sunlight. Encourage your students to make imaginative
connections between words and object, while remaining true to each.
5 Have each child explain to the class why he or she
chose that object to go with their word.
6 Repeat this exercise using the objects from the case.
• Word Play” form (see following page), cut up into
individual cards
• A variety of everyday objects from the classroom
• Objects in the case
7 Have students discuss how their ideas or understandings about the words and/or the objects changed
when the association changed.
What To Do:
• What word/object connection did you make?
• Why did you associate your word with that particular
• What other word could you use with that same
• Were you surprised at the objects other students chose
to go with their words? Why?
1 Cut apart the words on the “Word Play” form. There
should be enough words so that there is one per child.
If not, some students may receive the same word, or
you may add words of your own choosing.
2 Place the words into a container and pass it around.
Have each child take a word.
3 Ask each child to read his or her word aloud. Make
certain that each child understands the meaning of
the word.
Discussion Questions:
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
What Can Objects Tell Me?
3 Distribute the “What Can Objects Tell Me?” chart and
go over it with the students.
Grades 3–5
Related Objects: All
This activity encourages your students to learn about the
objects in the case through close observation. Ask them
to focus on the physical properties of each object, using
their senses to determine its color, smell, texture, and so
on. After your students examine the objects, you can
share more about them using information from this
guide, the resources listed at the back, and your own
• Objects from the case
• A copy of the “What Can Objects Tell Me?” observation chart for each student, OR a transparency of the
chart and an overhead projector, OR a large piece of
chart paper.
What To Do:
1 Depending on the age and interests of your students
and the amount of time you would like to spend, you
can do this activity using a handful of objects or every
object in the case.
2 Prior to the presentation of the activity, set the classroom up into stations (make sure there are enough
stations that you have only 3–4 students working at
each one). Place one or more objects and a magnifying lens on the table at each station.
4 Divide the children into groups and have each group
explore their object and fill in the boxes of the chart.
After a few minutes, have the groups rotate to a new
station. Repeat this step as many times as you like.
5 Have the students reconvene as a class to discuss their
findings. You may want to use the chart paper to make
notes about the students’ observations, and respond
by presenting some background information on the
Discussion Questions:
• What kinds of things can you learn about an object
just by looking at it closely?
• Based on the materials these objects are made of, what
can you say about the people who made them or
where they live?
• How are these objects similar to things you might see
in your everyday life? How are they different?
• What stories do you think these objects might tell or
refer to?
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
• Tell your students that they can learn a lot about a group of people by
examining the objects they make. Have each child choose one object from the
case and write a paragraph about it. Remind them to be sure to describe the
object and what it “told” them about the people who made or used it.
• Have your students examine objects in the Museum’s online collection
( and choose one that interests them. Students
may investigate their object to see if there is a particular story associated with it,
or they may write a short story about it themselves. Alternatively, they may write
a short factual report about their object, or share what they learn with the class
in an oral presentation.
What can
objects tell me?
What color or colors is
this object?
Describe its shape. What
figure does it seem to
What do you think its
story might be?
Look at each object closely. What kinds of things can we learn about an object just by
examining it closely? What do objects tell us about the people who made them? Use this
chart to record everything you discover.
What is its surface
texture like?
What can
objects tell me?
What color or colors is
this object?
Describe its shape. What
figure does it seem to
What do you think its
story might be?
Look at each object closely. What kinds of things can we learn about an object just by
examining it closely? What do objects tell us about the people who made them? Use this
chart to record everything you discover.
What is its surface
texture like?
What can
objects tell me?
What color or colors is
this object?
Describe its shape. What
figure does it seem to
What do you think its
story might be?
Look at each object closely. What kinds of things can we learn about an object just by
examining it closely? What do objects tell us about the people who made them? Use this
chart to record everything you discover.
What is its surface
texture like?
Make a Story Journal; Read Stories
All Grades
Related Objects: All objects; stories in Appendix
As you introduce your students to and interact with the
objects, you may wish to create a regular story time each
day, when students may read the stories silently on their
own, or hear you or their classmates tell them. The Story
Journal will give your students a place to record their
impressions of the stories they hear throughout this unit,
as well as a place to draw or write down stories of their
that inspired it. Repeat with a different story each
day, or have students themselves read the stories
to the class or silently to themselves.
• Have students make up and write down their own
story for an object.
• Use the Story Journal for other writing, drawing, and
research activities in conjunction with the case.
• Sheets of oak tag OR colored construction paper
(8.5“ x 11“), one per student
• Plain white paper (8.5“ x 11“) for interior pages
• String or yarn
• Hole punch
• Glue
What To Do:
You may wish to construct a book yourself as a model to
show the class how it is done.
1 Give each student one sheet of oak tag or construction paper, several sheets of plain white paper, and a
length of string.
2 Have students fold these sheets in half widthwise to
form a small book. The oak tag or construction paper
should be on the outside, forming the book’s cover.
3 Students should then punch two holes evenly spaced
out along the fold line.
4 Have students thread one end of their string through
each of the two holes, so that the string runs along
the inside of the book’s centerfold. They should tie
the two ends of the string together neatly to hold
their book together.
5 Students may decorate their book’s cover as they
6 You may incorporate the Story Journal into the class’s
daily activities in a number of ways. For example:
• Read aloud to the class one of the stories in the
Appendix. Then give your students time to write or
draw about it in their journals. They may wish to
write a short summary of the story’s plot, or record
their reaction to it (such as what they liked or didn’t
like about the story, and any questions they have).
They may also wish to draw a picture of a scene or
character from the story, or a picture of the object
Discussion Questions:
• Are all stories written down? Can you name some
examples of stories (from your own life or from cultures around the world) that aren’t traditionally written
• What are the pros or cons of writing a story down?
(Hint: Writing a story down may make it easier for
people to remember, or it may keep a story from
being lost. However, it may also keep people from
hearing the story repeated out loud, or from feeling
like they can experiment with a story and make it
their own.)
• What different kinds of stories and writing are there?
Talk about the meaning of words like tale, legend,
myth, report, and other terms used for different kinds
of writing (see Vocabulary).
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
Show and Tell
All Grades
Related Objects: All, DVD
Variation for Older Students:
Objects that remind us of the past can also prompt us to
re-tell tales of times, people, and events from the past.
For us, these objects may represent a cherished family
history. However, other people may look at the same
object and think of something completely different.
In this activity, your students will have the opportunity
to tell a story about an object from their own lives, and
how it conveys their personal history.
2 Each student should choose an unknown object from
the table (this activity works best if each student
chooses a different object, so that all objects are used).
Students should examine their object carefully, and
think of a story to go with it, without consulting the
object’s owner. Just from looking at the object, what
do they think it is about? Their stories should, of
course, be respectful since the objects are personal to
their classmates.
1 Have students place their objects on a table in the
• Objects brought from home, one per student
• Optional: Story Journal (see page 16) OR writing
paper and pencils
• Optional: DVD in case
What To Do:
1 Assign your students the task of bringing in an object
from home. They may choose anything they like, but
the object they choose should have some sort of personal story behind it, and it should be something they
are willing to share with others (and thus not be too
personal or precious). For example:
• A student who brought in a souvenir from far away
could tell a story about his or her vacation.
• A student with a baby shoe could tell the story of his
or her own birth, or of the day a younger brother or
sister came home from the hospital.
2 Play students the Keys to Imagination DVD in the case
and review the characteristics of good story telling
(see introduction).
3 Have students present their object and tell their story
before the rest of the class. Alternatively, they may
draw a picture of their object and write their story
down in their Story Journal.
3 Students may tell the stories they created to each
other in small groups, present them out loud before
the class, or record them in their Story Journals.
4 After students have told the stories they made up, they
should reclaim the objects they originally brought in.
They may write or tell their classmates the stories
they chose to go with their own objects.
5 Optional: Have students write down on separate
pieces of paper the two stories they created to go
with the unknown and familiar objects. Place the
objects from home around the classroom, and post
the two stories that were written about each object
(one by its owner, and the other by a classmate) next
to it. Have students go around the classroom and see
if they can tell which story was written by the owner.
Discussion Questions:
• What made you choose this object as the one you
wanted to share with the class?
• What story does your object have to tell?
• What do you think people can tell about you from
the object you brought in?
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
Reassemble a Story
Grades 3–5
Related Objects: Blue Willow plate
There are many ways to tell the same story, and the
same words can be used to tell a dozen different stories.
This activity will allow your students to take a story and
reconstruct it in their own way.
• Copies of the “Fragmented Story” form (see following
page), one per group
• Scissors
• Small bags or envelopes
• Paper
• Glue or tape
What To Do:
Preparation: Make several copies of the “Fragmented
Story” form. Cut each one into pieces with one sentence on each piece, keeping the pieces of each copy
together (perhaps in an envelope).
Show the class the Blue Willow plate, and ask them
to identify the image’s main characters and features.
Explain to the class that each group will reconstruct
the story shown in the plate by rearranging fragments of the story as it sees fit, and provide it with
an ending.
Divide the class into groups of three or four students.
Give each group one cut-up copy of the story.
Have members of the class each read aloud one of
the story fragments (in no particular order).
Have students arrange the cut-up sentences in their
preferred order. Then they should glue or tape their
arrangement on a piece of paper.
At the bottom of the paper, have them write a few
sentences to wrap up the story.
Have a representative from each group read their
reconstructed tale and added conclusion.
Share with your students the usual ending to the
Blue Willow story: The Official’s guards put Chang to
the sword, and Koong-se set fire to their house while
she is still inside. Thus the two lovers perish. The
gods, touched by their love, immortalized them as
two doves, eternally flying together in the sky. (Note
that this story is not a traditional Chinese story, but
was made up by the European ceramicist who invented the image during the fashion for things Chinese
during the 18th and 19th century. This fashion is
called Chinoiserie.)
10 Show the class the Blue Willow plate again, and ask
students what parts of the story are represented.
Does the plate show the story as a sequence?
11 Have students write about the Blue Willow story in
their Story Journals.
Discussion Questions:
• How did you decide to rearrange the fragments of the
story? Do you think they could have been arranged
another way that would have worked just as well?
• What do you think happens to Koong-se and Chang at
the end of the story? Is the ending you wrote happy or
• Look closely at the Blue Willow plate from the case.
Can you name some of the different elements of the
story that are represented on the plate?
• Do you think someone who looked at the plate would
know what it is about?
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
A Fragmented Story: The Blue Willow Story
There was once a rich and powerful court Official who
had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se.
The Official employed a secretary, Chang, who fell in
love with Koong-se.
The Official, Ta-jin, the guests, and all the servants had
drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away
without detection.
Koong-se's father saw her at the last minute and ordered
his soldiers to chase the lovers across the bridge.
This angered the Official, who regarded the secretary as
unworthy of his daughter.
The couple escaped, but Koong-se’s father had a plan.
Chang was banished, and the Official had a fence
constructed around his estate so that the lowly
secretary could never see Koong-se.
Koong-se had given Ta-jin’s jewels to Chang, and her
father swore that when he caught Chang, he would use
the jewels as an excuse to execute him.
Koong-se was lonely, and spent many days walking in
the gardens and along the water's edge.
One night the Official’s spies reported that a man was
hiding in a house by the river.
One day as she walked by the water’s edge, a small
shell made into a boat floated by her.
When the Official’s guards raided the house, they found
that Chang had jumped into the river to escape them.
It contained a poem and a bead which Koong-se had
given to Chang.
Koong-se thought that he had drowned.
Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.
Chang had managed to swim away through the raging
Soon after this, Koong-se was dismayed to learn that she
had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior and duke.
That night he brought a boat to the window and took
Koong-se away to safety.
When her father announced that her future husband
would soon arrive, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate
his betrothal, she was full of despair.
The couple settled on a distant island, and over the
years Chang became famous for his writings.
The night of the betrothal banquet, Chang borrowed
the robes of a servant and slipped into Koong-se’s room.
The Official heard about Chang’s success and sent his
guards to find the missing couple.
The two lovers embraced and vowed to run away
Playing with Proverbs
• Birds in a tree: "Only birds of the same species play
together on the same tree."
Grades 2–5
Related Objects: Goldweights
A proverb is a pithy statement expressing a truism about
everyday life. Four of the five Asante goldweights in the
case are symbols of common Asante proverbs. The goldweights’ connection to the proverbs is similar to the connection that other objects in the case have to the stories
in this teacher guide—the proverbs may be shorter than
the stories, but in each instance, one simple object can
bring to mind a particular statement and set of values.
In this activity, your students will have the chance to
explore the meaning of several proverbs, and try to write
a few themselves!
• Blackboard or chart paper
• Paper and pencils
What To Do:
1 Review with the class what a proverb is. Cite a few
examples to illustrate this literary form, and ask your
students to explain them. For example:
• An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
• A penny saved is a penny earned.
• No news is good news.
You and your students may also visit to learn about
proverbs and see more than 200 examples.
2 Pass around the small case containing the goldweights. Ask students to guess what each one depicts.
3 Write on the board or recite aloud one of the following Asante proverbs associated with the goldweights,
and see if the class can figure out which goldweight
represents that proverb:
• Puff adder: “Although the snake does not fly, it has
caught the hornbill, whose home is in the sky.”
• Chicken head: "You do not need a big stick to break
a chicken’s head."
• Porcupine: "One should never rub bottoms with a
4 After the class has matched the proverb to the goldweight that represents it, have them discuss that
proverb’s meaning (see Discussion Questions below).
Pages 9, 34–35 contain more information about
Asante goldweights and proverbs.
5 Repeat steps 3–4 for each of the four proverbs (or as
many times as you like).
6 Working individually or in groups, have students try to
write their own proverbs. Remind them that their goal
is to express a universal truth about everyday life, but
to do so as succinctly as possible. This may be more
difficult than it sounds, so encourage them to be creative and to keep trying!
7 Have students add their proverbs to their Story
Discussion Questions:
• What does this proverb mean?
• How does it apply to everyday life?
• Do any of the Asante proverbs remind you of similar
proverbs in American culture or any of the other cultures to which your students may belong? (Hint: The
Asante birds in a tree proverb is remarkably similar to
the more familiar “Birds of a feather flock together.”)
• What was the hardest part of trying to write your
own proverb?
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
Divide the class into teams of 3–4 students each, and have each team brainstorm
and write down as many proverbs as it can think of. Turn this exercise into a game
by setting a time limit (perhaps 5–10 minutes) and creating a point system. For
example, you might award one point for each proverb that a team comes up with,
and two points for each proverb it thinks of that no other team has written down.
(Additional bonus points could be awarded for coming up with proverbs from
other cultures and/or languages.) The team with the most points wins!
Additional Activities and
Curricular Connections
Arts and Literacy Extension: Perform a story
Grades 2–5
Geography Extension: Mapping objects
All Grades
As the shadow puppet in this case demonstrates, there
is more than one way to tell a story. Working in groups
of four or five students, have children choose a story
from this guide, from one of the books in the case, or
from another source of their choosing. The students
should dramatize that story to perform for the class.
They may create puppets or masks to represent their
characters. Students may ad-lib their performances, or
older children may write a script for the action. Give
them time to rehearse their plays, and ask each group
to perform its play at the front of the classroom. If you
wish to invest more time and preparation, you might
have students create scenery, props, or costumes to
accompany their performances, and invite parents or
other classrooms to watch their performances.
Copy the information pages and cut out images of the
objects in the case. Share information about these
objects with your students. Look at the places each
object comes from on a world map, and have students
tape each image to the country or region it comes
from. Older students may do library or Internet research
to find out more about the types of stories that are
traditionally told in each of those countries.
See page 23 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
Literacy Extension:
What do you think is going on?
All Grades
For most of the objects in the case, we have included a
corresponding story about that object or the people
who made it in the Appendix at the end of this teacher
guide. But two of the objects, the mola and the bark
painting, do not have stories about them. Challenge
your students to pick one of these objects and create a
tale of their own about it. Ask them to examine their
object carefully before they begin writing, and base
their story on what they see. What is going on in the
picture? Who are the characters in their story? What are
they doing? What will happen to them? Encourage
your students to think up creative plots and vivid
characters, but remind them to be true to the objects
they are writing about, too. Students may write or draw
their stories in their Story Journals, or tell them aloud
before the rest of the class.
Vocabulary Words
related to the native peoples of Australia.
like myths, legends originated in the past and often
feature supernatural characters; unlike myths, legends generally do not have a religious cast.
a report or record of an event or a description of a
a story, often about gods and goddesses, told in the
distant past and preserved through oral tradition,
that tries to explain origins or the reasons for the
way things are.
a box or coffin.
An imitation Chinese style fashionable in Europe
particularly in the 18th century.
a staff used by a shepherd to hook the legs of sheep
to guide, assist, and control them.
to make a picture of something in words, images,
movement, or another medium.
a record that someone writes every day about what
he or she did or thought that day.
china made from extremely smooth and fine white
a pithy statement expressing a truism about everyday life.
a written document or oral presentation describing
events or summarizing reading or research.
to create or be an image of something; also to symbolize or typify something.
to come out of.
a weighted stick that is used to spin fiber into yarn
or thread
writing that comes from the imagination and is not
necessarily based on fact.
a farmer’s staff with attached beaters used to strike
grain to knock the edible kernel free from the husk
that surrounds it.
a sculptured metal object that is placed on one side
of a scale to act as the counterweight to a certain
amount of gold dust, which would be placed on the
other side of the scale.
ink stone:
a flat stone used by Asian brush work artists to
grind sticks of dried ink into powder form and add
water to make liquid ink.
a diary, but often with more extended and reflective
statements about one’s daily events and thoughts
a written or oral account of an event or course of
events that may be real or fictional
tale (folk tale; fairytale):
a short, simple narrative like a story but with more
emphasis on events, sometimes magical events,
than on the personalities of the characters.
the distinctive quality of a voice or sound; a tone
the pitch of a voice; the quality of a voice.
a bit of cloth or cord that extends from a pool of
flammable liquid such as olive oil, usually in the
body of a lamp, to a spout were it burns the oil
slowly and provides light.
Correlations with New York State Learning Standards
The activities included in this guide meet the following New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators for elementary students (K–5):
New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators (Elementary Level)
Standard Area Standard #
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Students will
Visual Arts
Experiment and create art works, in a variety of
mediums (drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics,
printmaking, video, and computer graphics),
based on a range of individual and collective
Visual Arts
Develop their own ideas and images through the
exploration and creation of art works based on
themes, symbols, and events
Visual Arts
Reveal through their own art work understanding
of how art mediums and techniques influence
their creative decisions
Visual Arts
Explain their reflections about the meanings,
purposes, and sources of works of art; describe
their responses to the works and the reasons for
those responses
Visual Arts
Explain the visual and other sensory qualities
(surfaces, colors, textures, shape, sizes, volumes)
found in a wide variety of art works
Visual Arts
Look at and discuss a variety of art works and
artifacts from world cultures to discover some
important ideas, issues, and events of those
Visual Arts
Create art works that show the influence of a
particular culture
Listening &
Gather and interpret information from children's
reference books, magazines, textbooks, electronic
bulletin boards, audio and media presentations,
oral interviews, and from such forms as charts,
graphs, maps, and diagrams
Listening &
Ask specific questions to clarify and extend
Speaking &
Present information clearly in a variety of oral and
written forms such as summaries, paraphrases,
brief reports, stories, posters, and charts
• • • • • • •
Speaking &
Select a focus, organization, and point of view for
oral and written presentations
Speaking &
Use details, examples, anecdotes, or personal
experiences to explain or clarify information
• • • • • • •
Speaking &
Observe basic writing conventions, such as correct
spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, as well
as sentence and paragraph structures appropriate
to written forms
Listening &
Read aloud accurately and fluently, using phonics
and context cues to determine pronunciation
and meaning
• • • • •
• • •
• •
• •
• • •
• • • • •
• • • •
• • • • • •
• •
Correlations with New York State Learning Standards
The activities included in this guide meet the following New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators for elementary students (K–5):
New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators (Elementary Level)
Standard Area Standard #
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Students will
Speaking &
Create their own stories, poems, and songs using
the elements of the literature they have read and
appropriate vocabulary
• •
Speaking &
Observe the conventions of grammar and usage,
spelling, and punctuation
• • •
• •
Speaking &
Listen attentively and recognize when it is
appropriate for them to speak
Speaking &
Take turns speaking and respond to others’ ideas
in conversations on familiar topics
• • • • •
Speaking &
Recognize the kind of interaction appropriate for
different circumstances, such as story hour, group
discussions, and one-on-one conversations
Social Studies
Study about different world cultures and
civilizations focusing on their accomplishments,
contributions, values, beliefs, and traditions
• •
• • •
Social Studies
Understand the roles and contributions of
individuals and groups to social, political,
economic, cultural, scientific, technological, and
religious practices and activities
Social Studies
Explore the lifestyles, beliefs, traditions, rules and
laws, and social/cultural needs and wants of
people during different periods in history and in
different parts of the world
• •
Social Studies
Study about how people live, work, and utilize
natural resources
Social Studies
Locate places within the local community, State,
and nation; locate the Earth's continents in
relation to each other and to principal parallels
and meridians.
Science, &
Access needed information from printed media,
electronic data bases, and community resources
• • • • • • •
• • • • •
• • • • •
Corresponding Field Trips
Bibliography and Web Resources
The following museums and organizations have
exhibits or programs that feature stories and storytelling around the world, or objects and cultures discussed in this guide. Check with each for details.
The following books and websites may help you to
enrich your experience with the objects in the case:
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street, Manhattan
(212) 769-5100
Brooklyn Museum
Aliki. The Gods And Goddesses of Olympus
(Trophy Picture Books). New York, New York:
Harper Trophy Books, 1997.
Badoe, Adwoa. The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse
Stories. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books,
Conrad, Pam. Blue Willow. New York, New York:
Philomel Books, 1999.
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
(718) 783-6500
Demi. Liang and the Magic Paintbrush.
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Sagebrush, 1999.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
(212) 535-7710
DK Publishing. Ancient Egypt (DK Eyewitness
Books). New York, New York: DK Publishing,
New Victory Theater
Hofmeyr, Dianne. The Star-Bearer: A Creation
Myth From Ancient Egypt. New York, New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
c/o The New 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10036-7299
(646) 223-3020
Russell, William F. Classic Myths to Read Aloud:
The Great Stories of Greek and Roman
Mythology, Specially Arranged for Children Five
and Up. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1992.
Brooklyn Public Library
Central Library
Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 230-2100
Spence, Peggy. The Day of the Ogre Kachinas
(Council for Indian Education). Boulder,
Colorado: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1994.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum also offers programs
on a variety of cultural topics. For a listing of programs currently available, please see our website at, or contact the Scheduling
Assistant at 718-735-4400, extension 118.
Sullivan, Robert. Weaving Earth and Sky: Myths
and Legends of Aotearoa. New Zealand: Random
House New Zealand Ltd., 2002.
Trezise, Percy. The Peopling of Australia (Stories
of the Dreamtime—Tales of the Aboriginal
People). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Gareth Stevens
Publishers, 1988.
Goldweights as Proverbs:
This site features images of many West African goldweights and a discussion of the meaning of their
related proverbs.
Little Horus:
Designed and developed for kids by the Egyptian
government, this website contains many links to
Egyptian history and contemporary culture.
Stories About the Objects in the Case
The stories that follow are related to the objects in the
case. Reading them and discussing how they relate to
the objects is an activity in itself (see Activity 3-Make a
Story Journal). You can read them to your students or
have students read the stories to themselves or to each
other, depending on their age. If you choose to have
your students read them, we have included pronunciation
for some of the less familiar names.
Not every object in the case has a corresponding story
in this section of the teacher guide. The shadow puppet’s
story is represented by the book Rama and Sita: A Tale
from Ancient Java by David Weitzman, which is included
in the case. The puff adder, birds in a tree, chicken head,
and porcupine goldweights have corresponding proverbs
rather than stories (see Proverb Power activity on page
20). Finally, the mola (below) and the bark painting in
the case have no corresponding stories at all, but we
encourage you and your students to write stories about
them yourselves (see Literacy Extension on page 21).
The Myth of Osiris
An Ancient Egyptian myth
Osiris (O-sire-us), the king of Egypt, was kind and just.
He taught his people how to plow the earth and how
to honor the gods, and he gave them laws to live by.
He was beloved by all his people and by Isis (Eye-sis),
his queen. But his brother, Set, was jealous of Osiris and
plotted against him to take over the throne. Queen Isis
was constantly on her guard when Set was around, as
she never felt safe from his scheming. But Osiris loved
his brother and did not believe himself to be in danger.
One day Osiris held a big banquet for his court. This
was the moment Set had waited for. Together with his
accomplices, he set his plan in motion. At the banquet,
Set began to describe a wonderful casket that he had
been given, and soon the other guests asked for him to
have it brought in so they could see it. The casket was
indeed beautiful, made of the finest wood, and gilded
and painted with beautiful designs. Set promised to
give it as a gift to whoever fit into it exactly. One by
one, each of the guests tried the casket on for size, but
just as Set had planned, Osiris was the only one who fit
into it. The moment the king climbed inside, Set’s
accomplices quickly nailed the lid shut and whisked the
casket out of the palace! They threw it into the Nile
River, where the current carried it away.
Queen Isis was overcome with grief, and went out to
look for her husband. She searched all over the
kingdom and beyond without finding a trace of the
casket containing his body. She wandered for a long
time, weeping and searching for the casket, and
eventually came into the land of Byblos (Be-blos).
Here the people spoke about a wonderful tree that
suddenly had started to grow on the riverbank. After
hearing about the magical properties of this tree, Isis
believed that her husband’s casket must have floated
ashore and gotten stuck in the tree, which then grew
tall and strong under his divine influence. But the king
of Byblos had cut down the tree and used it to make a
pillar in his palace.
Isis made her way to the palace and convinced the
queen of Byblos to give her the pillar made from the
wonderful tree. She instantly chopped it into pieces,
and sure enough, she found the golden casket inside!
Isis opened the casket and embraced her dead
husband, weeping over his body. He looked as if he
were only sleeping. With her husband’s casket in tow,
Isis sailed back up the Nile to Egypt. After a long
journey, she brought the casket ashore and hid it in the
marshlands, believing that it would be safe there.
But that one day Set and his men were out hunting
nearby. When Set happened upon the casket, he
recognized it, and flew into a rage. He broke into the
casket and tore Osiris’ body into many pieces, which he
spread out all over the land of Egypt, thinking that Isis
would never be able to find all of them.
When Isis saw the empty casket, her cry of anguish
shook heaven and earth. She called out to her sister
Nephtys (Nef-tiss), who came to console her, and once
more she went on her way to look for her husband’s
body. For many long, sorrowful years Isis and Nephtys
patiently searched the land together. One by one, they
found all the pieces of Osiris’ body. When at last all the
parts had been assembled, Isis made Osiris into the first
mummy. She then used her powerful magic to breathe
new life into Osiris. Her husband remained alive long
enough for her to conceive a son, Horus, but he had
been dead too long to remain in the land of the living.
Instead he became king of the Land of the Dead.
Isis’ and Osiris’ son, Horus, grew into a man as strong
and wise as his father. He fought against his uncle Set
to win back his father’s throne and become the king of
Cupid and Psyche
An ancient Greek and Roman myth
Once upon a time there lived a maiden named Psyche
(Sigh-key), who was so beautiful that people said she
was even prettier than Venus, goddess of love. Men
traveled great distances to court her. When Venus heard
about her mortal rival, she grew jealous, and asked her
son, Cupid, to make sure that no man would ever love
her. But on his way to deal with Psyche, Cupid
accidentally pricked his finger on the tip of one of his
magical arrows, and fell in love with her himself. Even
so, Cupid followed his mother's orders, using his
powers to make sure that no man would look upon
Psyche with love.
Psyche’s parents were surprised to find that their
daughter suddenly no longer had any suitors. They
consulted the Oracle of Apollo to find out what was the
matter. The Oracle revealed that their daughter had
angered the gods in some way, and must be sacrificed
to a monster to appease them. The wrath of the gods
was quite a fearsome threat, so while Psyche’s parents
were sorrowful, they knew they must obey the Oracle.
They took their daughter to the top of a nearby
mountain and left her there to await her fate.
Soon Zephyr, the god of the winds, came along and
carried Psyche along to a beautiful palace. The palace
was empty, but Psyche heard a voice tell her to enjoy
the house and the grounds around it. Invisible servants
brought her food and wine, drew her a bath, and
granted her every request. At night, when it grew dark,
Psyche went bed, where she was startled to find herself
joined by a lover. He introduced himself as her new
husband, but refused to tell Psyche who he was. He
said that she must never look upon him. He was gentle
and loving toward her, but he was gone by morning.
Psyche lived like this for some time. Though she often
requested to see her husband in the light, he always
refused, playfully covering her face with a soft blanket.
Finally, one night Psyche kept an oil lamp near the bed,
and when she knew her husband was asleep, she lit the
wick. Lying next to her was the god Cupid, and what
she had taken for a soft blanket was his wings!
In her shock, Psyche spilled a drop of hot oil from the
lamp, which landed on her husband’s shoulder. Cupid
awoke instantly. He was so angry with Psyche for
breaking his command to not look upon him that he
fled, abandoning her. Psyche chased after him, but
since she could not fly she was soon left behind.
Desolate without her husband, Psyche searched for him
all over, but she was unable to find Cupid on her own.
Eventually Psyche went to Venus, his mother, and
begged for her help. Venus was still angry at the lovely
mortal girl, and decided to punish her. She refused to
help unless Psyche performed three impossible labors to
show her devotion to Cupid. Psyche agreed, and set
about her tasks.
First Venus showed her a huge storehouse full of grain,
and asked Psyche to sort the grains by their type.
Despairing, Psyche pleaded to the other gods for aid.
An army of ants appeared and picked up the grains one
by one, placing them in neat piles of barley, oats, and
Next Venus directed Psyche to gather wool from some
wild and dangerous sheep. Psyche cleverly waited in a
briar patch by the riverside where the sheep came to
drink. As the sheep passed by, the briars pulled out
small tufts of wool. After they left, Psyche gathered a
handful of wool from the briars.
Venus was not happy to find that the girl had
performed her tasks so well, so she made the final task
even more difficult. She told Psyche to go to Proserpine
(Pros-er-peen), wife of Hades, god of the underworld,
and ask for a little of her beauty. Psyche undertook the
perilous trip to the underworld and met the queen of
the dead, who gave her a box but commanded her not
to open it. Psyche traveled out of hell again, but on her
way back to Venus, she began to think that she had
worked so hard for so long that she deserved some
reward. She decided to open the box and take a little
of the beauty out for herself. However, when she
opened the box she found that what lay inside was a
deathly sleep. Psyche collapsed.
Cupid and Psyche (continued)
By this time Cupid had recovered from his small burn.
He was sorry he had argued with his wife and left her
in such a brutish manner. He went out searching for
Psyche, and discovered her lying on the ground as if
dead. He went to her, brushed away the sleep from her
body, and embraced her again.
Together Cupid and Psyche brought the box to Venus
on Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Cupid
addressed the other gods and pleaded for their help.
After hearing the tale of Cupid’s love and Psyche’s
devotion, the gods agreed to make Psyche one of their
own. She was given a cup of ambrosia to drink, which
made her immortal, and butterfly wings so that she
might fly alongside her husband.
Frau Hulda (or, The Tale of a Spindle)
A German folktale
There once was a woman who lived with her lazy
daughter and her kind and beautiful stepdaughter. The
stepdaughter was treated harshly and made to do all
the work about the house. She never had any time to
herself. When the housework was done, she was
expected to sit by the well outside the cottage and spin
wool into thread. But despite her aching bones and her
bossy stepmother’s demands, the girl never
One day she had been spinning wool for so long that
her hand formed blisters and started to bleed. The
spindle was stained with blood. She dipped the spindle
into the well to clean it, but she lost her grip and the
spindle dropped into the water. The girl went to her
stepmother and explained what had happened, but the
stepmother yelled at her and beat her, telling her she
had better get the spindle out of the well again. The
poor stepdaughter was at a loss, so she took a deep
breath and jumped into the well. But instead of falling
into the water, she found herself in a strange and
wonderful land!
She looked around for her spindle, but did not see it, so
she began to walk around searching for it. After a little
while she came to a bread oven. The bread cried out to
her, “Let me out, let me out, I shall burn!” The
stepdaughter kindly took the bread out of the oven.
Soon she came to an apple tree. “Shake me, shake
me!” cried the tree “My apples are ripe! Shake me!”
The stepdaughter shook the tree and gathered up all
the apples into a neat pile.
she opened it, a shower of gold pieces fell upon the girl
and stuck to her. “That is your reward for your hard
work!” said Frau Hulda, handing the girl the long-lost
spindle that she had dropped in the well. All of a sudden,
the girl found herself back home! She heard the cockerel
crow, “Cock a doodle-doo, your golden child has come
back to you!” Thanks to the small fortune in gold that
she carried, her stepmother and stepsister welcomed
her home with open arms. She told them everything
that had happened to her.
The stepmother was eager for her own daughter to be
blessed in the same way, so the two of them worked
out a plan. The lazy daughter took the spindle to the
well. She pricked her finger on a thorn, stained the
spindle with blood, and dropped it down the well.
When she jumped into the water, she found herself
next to the bread oven. But she would not listen to the
bread's pleas for help. “I will only get my hands dirty!”
she said. She passed by the apple tree, too, and again
refused to help it. “I won't shake you—an apple might
fall on my head!” the lazy girl exclaimed.
When she reached Frau Hulda's cottage, the daughter
immediately offered her services and the old woman
took her on. For the first day, she forced herself to do
the housework. The second day she did very little work,
and the third day she did none. Soon she refused to
even leave her bed. Frau Hulda gave the lazy child her
notice and led her to the door. As it opened, ashes
rained down on the lazy daughter. Back in her mother's
village, the daughter heard the cockerel crow, “Cock a
doodle-doo, your foolish child has come back to you!”
The ashes never came off.
She then came to a small cottage occupied by an old
woman. The woman introduced herself as Frau Hulda,
and asked if the girl would do her housework in
exchange for food and lodgings. The stepdaughter
agreed. She worked hard for Frau Hulda, and shook her
feather bed every day until the feathers flew. She stayed
with Frau Hulda for many days until she was overcome
by a great tiredness and realized that she was
homesick. When Frau Hulda learned that she wanted to
leave, she took the girl to a door in the cottage. When
The Necessity of Salt
An Austrian folktale
Once upon a time, there was a king who had three
daughters. Because they were good and beautiful, he
loved them all sincerely, and they loved him in return.
The king was very happy, but he was also uneasy because
he did not know which one he should appoint as queen.
As his birthday approached, the king summoned his
daughters and said to them, "My dear children, I love
all three of you very much, and for a long time have
not known which one of you I should name as heir to
my throne. But I have decided I shall make queen the
one among you who brings to me a birthday present
that is the most necessary in human life. Go and make
your plans accordingly."
The old king's birthday arrived, and the two oldest
daughters brought him presents that were very necessary, but at the same time extremely expensive. However,
the youngest daughter brought him nothing more than
a little pile of salt in a decorated container. When the
king saw her simple present, he became very angry! In
his rage, he drove his daughter out of the castle, forbidding her ever to darken his door again.
far and wide praised the excellence of the meal. Finally
the king's favorite dish arrived. Quickly taking a spoon,
he tasted it. "This has not been salted!" he cried out
angrily. "Have the cook brought before me!"
A footman quickly ran to get the cook, who entered
the hall undaunted. Dressed in peasant garb, none of
her family or friends recognized her.
"Why did you forget to salt my favorite dish, you careless
girl?" shouted the king.
The cook answered, "You drove away your youngest
daughter because she thought that salt was so necessary. Perhaps you can now see that your child was not
so wrong."
When the king heard these words he recognized his
daughter instantly, and begged for her forgiveness. He
bid her to be seated at his side, and accepted her once
again as his dear child and the future queen. Thus the
wedding became doubly joyful, and the king lived
happily with his children for many years thereafter.
With deep sorrow the young princess went out into the
world, comforted only by her faith in her own good
sense. After walking a long while she came to an inn.
There she asked the innkeeper for a job, and found work
as an apprentice cook. The princess worked long and
hard to perfect her dishes, and soon exceeded even the
innkeeper in the art of cooking.
News spread far and wide of the excellent cook in this
inn, and everyone who came this way stopped to be
served a roast or something even tastier. Eventually even
the king in his castle heard of this cook's excellent
reputation, and he hired her sight unseen to cook for
his court.
Now it came to pass that the oldest princess was getting
married, and the famous cook was assigned to prepare
the wedding feast with no expenses spared. On the day
of the wedding, she sent out one elegant dish after
another, loading up the tables until they almost cracked.
Everything was deliciously prepared, and guests from
The Dreaming Prince
Story By Leon Waller, 1995
Long ago in ancient China, there was a pair of twin
brothers who did not get along. They did not like each
other in the least. Their father was a powerful king, and
it was up to him which of the two would become king
when he passed away.
The first twin was almost certain that he would be ruler
someday, but he was not absolutely sure. This
uncertainty troubled him and made him brood.
Whenever he could he would cause trouble for the
second twin, and point out to their father what he saw
as his brother’s unsuitable qualities for becoming king.
The second twin was not particularly concerned with
the future. He did not even think about his father's
eventual death and passing. He seldom saw his father,
the king, who was always busy, and he avoided his
troublesome brother as much as possible. The second
twin kept to himself for the most part. He daydreamed,
thought, and saw things that no one else seemed to
see or understand. For that reason, he was called “the
dreaming prince.”
There were times when the dreaming prince would
have the most amazing idea or fantastic vision, and
would be so eager to speak of it to someone that he
would take the chance of mentioning it to his brooding
brother. And it is this mistake that takes us to the heart
of this tale.
Days later, the dreaming prince had another scary yet
wonderful dream, and again he took the chance of
mentioning it to his brooding brother. "I have dreamt
of the most curious creature,” he said. “It seemed to be
both a lion and a dog, and had the most fearsomely
sharp teeth. I woke and found it sitting in the middle of
my room carving a hollow in the surface of a stone
with its teeth.”
"Amazing!" said the brooding prince. "And did you see
or dream anything more?"
"Yes," said the dreaming prince, encouraged by his
brother's unusual interest. "Just the night before, I saw
or dreamt about a beautiful bird. It had gold and silver
feathers and its wings burned when it flew. It was there
for just a moment, and then it was gone."
"You lie, you lie, you lie!" shouted the brooding prince,
and ran off to inform their father of how foolish his
brother was. After hearing another of his brother’s silly
dreams, he thought, how could their father ever make
the dreaming prince a king?
Deeply hurt by this betrayal of trust, that night the
dreaming prince went to bed in tears, feeling very
much alone. He had begun to believe that no one liked
him, not even his father. In the course of the night he
woke from his shallow, fitful sleeping four times.
One morning after having a scary yet wonderful dream
the dreaming prince mentioned it to his brooding
brother. Said the dreaming prince, "I dreamt of a small
and wonderful creature. I was asleep when I saw a
mouse-like creature enter my room through an open
window. It flew three circles around my room and
around my head, and then returned to the window
again and hung from the sill upside down like a bat.
Then it began to weep for reasons I cannot say. The
tears fell and were as black as ink."
The first time he woke, he noticed the bat had returned
and that its black tears were pooling on the windowsill.
The second time he woke, he noticed the lion-dog in
the middle of the room with an object in its mouth,
which it left on the floor before disappearing. The third
time he woke, the burning bird had returned with a
burning stick. He should have feared the fire, but it did
not seem to matter. The bird flew off, leaving the
flaming stick behind.
"You lie, you lie, you lie!" shouted the brooding prince,
and ran off to inform their father of how foolish his
brother was. After hearing another of his brother’s silly
dreams, he thought, how could their father ever make
the dreaming prince a king?
Now he slept until the edge of morning. Then he woke
to the sound a great weight dragging itself around the
room. He opened his eyes and saw a dragon wrapped
around his bed. He looked into the violet burning eyes
of the dragon for a long time. The dragon gave him
The Dreaming Prince (continued)
several of its flat scales before unfolding its leathery
wings and disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
As the daylight streamed into his room, the
dreaming prince suddenly found himself with several
sheets of the purest white paper in his lap. On the
windowsill he found a tablet of dried black ink and a
brush with a tapering, flame-like end. There was an ink
stone on the floor. All of these tools he arranged
together. When he mixed water with the tablet of ink
on the surface of the ink stone, he heard tiny voices
calling out to him from the puddle of black liquid. They
said, “We are six and six magicians in this ink, here to
serve you and help you. Whatever you write or paint
with us will be wonderful, exceeding even your wildest
Encouraged, the dreaming prince opened his heart,
and wrote and painted about the many things he cared
for. He filled page after page with his visions. When he
had finished, he took this work to his father. At first the
busy king could not find a moment to look at the sheaf
of papers, but when he did, he lingered over it for a
long time. When he was done reading, he smiled at his
son. “After me, you shall be king,” he said.
“I have no desire to rule,” said the dreaming prince.
“My only wish, Father, has been to do something that
would someday, somehow, make you smile.” And with
this his father smiled, a bright smile, for a second time.
The Game Board
A traditional African tale
Once a man in the town of Nebri carved a beautiful
gebeta game board for his son. He made it from the
wood of an olive tree. When he was finished he showed
his son how to play games upon it. The boy was very
glad to have such a beautiful thing, and in the morning
when he went out with the cattle to the valley where
they grazed he took his gebeta board along.
Everywhere he went he carried his board under his arm.
One morning while he followed the cattle, he came
upon a group of wandering Somalis with their camels,
gathered around a small fire in a dry riverbed.
"Where in this country of yours can a man get wood?"
the Somalis asked.
"Why, here is wood," the boy said. And he gave them
the fine gebeta board, which they put into the fire. As
it went up in flames, the boy began to cry: "Oh, now
where is my fine gebeta board that my father has
carved for me?"
"Do not make such a racket," the Somalis said, and they
gave him a fine new knife in place of the game board.
The boy took the knife and went away with his cattle.
As he wandered, he came to a place where a shepherd
was digging a well in the sand of the riverbed so that
his goats could drink.
The boy gave him the spear, and the hunters went out
and killed the lion. But during the hunt, the shaft of the
spear was splintered.
"See what you've done with my spear!" the boy cried.
"Don't carry on so," the hunters said. "Here is a horse
for you in place of your spear."
The hunters gave the boy a horse with fine leather
trappings, and he started back toward the village. On
the way he came to a place where a group of workmen
were repairing the road. As they worked they caused a
landslide, and the earth and rocks came down the
mountain with a great roar. The horse became
frightened and ran away.
"Where is my horse?" the boy cried. "You have made
him run away!"
“There is no need to shout,” the workmen said. “We’ll
give you this ax instead.”
The boy and his cattle continued on toward the village.
As he passed by a forest, he met a woodcutter.
“I lost my ax in the forest,” the woodcutter said. “Lend
me yours so that I may get some wood.”
"The ground is hard," the shepherd said. "Lend me your
knife to dig with."
The boy loaned the woodcutter his ax, but the
woodcutter chopped with it and broke it.
The boy gave the man the knife, but the man dug with
it so vigorously that the blade broke in two.
The boy cried out in frustration, and the woodcutter
said, "Never mind, here is a limb of a tree."
"Ah, what has become of my knife?" the boy wailed.
The boy took the limb upon his back and gathered up
his cattle once more. As he came near the village, he
passed by a woman who said, "Where did you find the
wood? I need it for my fire."
"Quiet yourself," the man said. "Take this spear in its
place." And he gave the boy a beautiful spear trimmed
with silver and copper.
The boy went away with his cattle and his spear. He
met a party of hunters. When they saw him, one of
them said, "Lend me your spear, so that we may kill the
lion we are trailing."
The boy gave it to her, and she put it in the fire. As it
went up in flames he said, "Now where is my wood?"
The Game Board (continued)
"Here," the woman said. "Here is a fine wooden gebeta
The boy took the gebeta board under his arm and went
home with the cattle. As he entered the house, his
father smiled and said, "What is better than a gebeta
game board to keep a small boy out of trouble?"
How the Kiwi Lost Its Wings
A traditional Maori tale
A note on Maori (Maah-au-ree) pronunciation: You and
your students can hear Maori phrases spoken on various
websites. Just enter “Maori pronunciation” in your browser
and select a site with sound. When two vowels are together,
each is pronounced separately but blended quickly. “Wh” is
pronounced like “f” in some places and in others like “wh”
in “whale.”
One day, the forest god Tanemahuta (Tah-neh-mah-hutah) was walking through the forest. He looked up at
his tree children reaching for the sky, and he noticed
that they were starting to grow sick from the bugs that
infested them. He talked to his brother, the bird god
Tanehokahoka (Tah-neh-haw-kah-haw-kah), who called
together all of his children, the birds of the air, to ask
them for help.
Tanemahuta spoke to them. "Something is eating my
children, the trees. I need one of you to come down
from the forest roof and live on the floor to eat the
bugs before they get to the leaves, so that my children
can be saved, and your home in the trees can be saved.
Who will come?"
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
Tanehokahoka turned to the tui (tu-ee). “Tui, will you
come down from the forest roof?"
Tui looked up at the trees and saw the sun filtering
through the leaves. Tui looked down at the forest floor
and saw the cold, dark earth and shuddered. "No,
Tanehokahoka, for it is too dark and I am afraid of the
Tanehokahoka turned to the pukeko (poo-keh-kaw).
"Pukeko, will you come down from the forest roof?"
Pukeko looked down at the forest floor and saw the cold,
damp earth and shuddered. "No, Tanehokahoka, for it is
too damp and I do not want to get my feet wet."
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
Tanehokahoka turned to the pipiwharauroa (pee-peephah-rahwah). "Pipiwharauroa, will you come down
from the forest roof?"
Pipiwharauroa looked up at the trees and saw the sun
filtering through the leaves. Pipiwharauroa looked
around and saw his family. "No, Tanehokahoka, for I am
busy at the moment building my nest."
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke. And great was the
sadness in the heart of Tanehokahoka, for he knew that
if one of his children did not come down from the
forest roof, not only would his brother lose his children
the trees, but the birds would have no home.
Tanehokahoka turned to the kiwi (key-wee). "Kiwi, will
you come down from the forest roof?"
Kiwi looked up at the trees and saw the sun filtering
through the leaves. He looked around and saw his
family. He looked at the cold damp earth. Looking
around once more, he turned to Tanehokahoka and
said, "I will."
Great was the joy in the hearts of Tanehokahoka and
Tanemahuta, for this little bird was giving them hope.
But Tanemahuta felt that he should warn kiwi of what
would happen. "E kiwi, do you realize that if you do
this, you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that
you can rip apart the logs on the ground? You will lose
your beautiful colored feathers. You will have to grow a
very long beak to dig for insects. Your wings will grow
short and weak, so that you will never be able to return
to the forest roof. You will never see the light of day
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
"So Kiwi, will you come down from the forest roof?"
How the Kiwi Lost Its Wings (continued)
Kiwi took one last look at the sun filtering through the
trees and said a silent goodbye. Kiwi took one last look at
the other birds, at their wings and their colored feathers,
and said a silent goodbye. Looking around once more,
he turned to Tanehokahoka and said, "I will."
Then Tanehokahoka turned to the other birds one by
one and said, "Tui, because you were too scared to
come down from the forest roof, from now on you will
wear two white feathers at your throat as the mark of a
“Pukeko, because you did not want to get your feet
wet, you will live forever in the swamp.
“Pipiwharauroa, because you were too busy building
your nest, from now on you will never build another
nest again, but instead lay your eggs in other birds
“But you, Kiwi, because of your great sacrifice, you
will become the most well known and most beloved
bird of them all."
How the Hopi Indians Reached Their World
A traditional Hopi tale
When the world was new, the ancient people and the
ancient creatures did not live on the top of the earth.
They lived under it. All was darkness, all was blackness,
above the earth as well as below it.
There were four worlds: this one on top of the Earth,
and below it three cave worlds, one below the other.
None of the cave worlds was large enough for all the
people and the creatures.
The people increased so fast in the lowest cave world
that they crowded it. They did not know where to turn
in the blackness. Whenever they moved, they jostled
one another. The people filled the place with their
complaints and disgust.
Some people said, "It is not good for us to live in this
"But how can it be made better?" one man asked.
"Let it be tried and seen!" answered another.
Two spirit beings known as the Two Brothers decided
to help the people. They pierced a hole in the roof of
the cave and planted a cane tree, which grew so tall
that it rose through the opening in the roof, and was so
strong that men could climb to its top.
Up this cane many people and spirit beings climbed to
the second cave world. When some of them had
climbed out, they feared that this cave also would be
too small, so they shook the cane tree and caused those
who were coming up it to fall back. Then they pulled
the cane tree out.
After a long time, the second cave became filled with
people and spirit beings, as the first had been. The
people complained and wrangled as they had in the
beginning. Again, a cane tree was placed under a vent
in the cave’s roof, and once more men and beings
entered the next cave world. But the same thing
happened in the third cave world. Although larger than
the others, it was just as dark as the first two.
The people longed for light and sought once again an
escape from darkness. They climbed to the fourth
world, which was this world, the Earth. But it too was
dark, for it was closed in by the sky, just as the cave
worlds had been closed in by their roofs. Men went
from their lodges and worked by the light of torches
and fires, which the Two Brothers gave them. The
world was damp and dark, and people did not know
what to do.
With the people were five spirit beings that had come
forth with them from the lower cave worlds: Spider,
Vulture, Swallow, Coyote, and Locust. The people and
these spirit beings consulted together, trying to think of
some way of making light. Spider was asked to try first.
She spun a mantle of pure white cotton. It gave some
light but not enough.
Then the people found and prepared a white deerskin,
which they made into a shield case and painted
turquoise. It shed such brilliant light that it lit the whole
world, and made the light from Spider’s cotton mantle
look faded. So the people sent the mantle to the east,
where it became the moon.
Down in the cave world Coyote had stolen a jar that
was very heavy. He was curious to see what it
contained. Now that light had taken the place of
darkness, he opened the jar. From it many shining
fragments and sparks flew out, singeing his face. That is
why the coyote has a black face to this day. The shining
fragments and sparks flew up to the sky and became
By these lights the people found that the world was
indeed very small and surrounded by waters, which
made it damp. The people appealed to Vulture for help.
He spread his wings and fanned the waters, which
flowed away to the east and to the west until
mountains began to appear.
How the Hopi Indians Reached Their World (continued)
Across the mountains the Two Brothers cut channels.
Water rushed through the channels, and wore their
courses deeper and deeper. Thus the great canyons and
valleys of the world were formed. The waters have kept
on flowing and flowing for ages. The world has grown
drier, and continues to grow drier and drier.
Only a small number of people were able to climb up
from their secret hiding places and emerge into the
Fourth World. Legends reveal the Grand Canyon is
where these people emerged. From there they began
their search for the homes the Two Brothers intended
for them. These few were the Hopi Indians that now
live on the Three Mesas of northeastern Arizona.
The Tale of Tecun Uman
A Quiche Indian tale
Long ago, deep in the highlands of what is now
Guatemala, the Quiche (key-chay) people ruled over a
small territory. Their ancestors had lived there for
hundreds of years, and they were the most powerful
people in the land until foreigners from a distant shore
invaded their kingdom.
At first the Quiche heard nothing but rumors about these
strangers, the Spaniards, who arrived on great ships and
were said to be pale. But even before the Quiche laid
eyes on the strangers, they fell victim to the Spaniards’
most unusual weapon: foreign diseases, which killed the
Quiche in great numbers. Bodies lay piled in the streets,
where they were eaten by dogs and vultures. Parents
died, and many children were left orphaned.
Alvarado. But the Spaniards were too powerful, and
after a long fight, Alvarado stabbed Tecun Uman in the
chest with his spear. The Spanish general admired his
dead foe’s strength and beauty so much that he called
all his soldiers to come and see this Indian. He told
them he had not seen another Indian so handsome and
regal in any other town they had conquered. And so
Alvarado said that the name of their battleground
would be Quetzaltenango (meaning “the place of the
quetzals”), in honor of the brave prince Tecun Uman.
Only after enduring four years of Spanish plagues did
the Quiche finally meet the Spaniards face to face. Led
by a conquistador (con-keys-tah-door; a conqueror)
named Pedro de Alvarado, an army of Spanish soldiers
marched into the highlands, ready to defeat the Quiche
once and for all.
The news of the Spaniards’ approach was brought by a
dwarf named Ajitz (Ah-jeetz), who was jester in the
palace of the Quiche prince. The prince, a gallant young
warrior named Tecun Uman (Tay-koon Ooo-ahn), knew
that the Spaniards were powerful, but he met their
threat with great bravado. “Ajitz, my friend,” he said, “I
do not fear evil or death, nor does torture make me
tremble. Tell my soldiers to make themselves ready! I
will face this insolent young Pedro Alvarado and send
him to the underworld.”
So many of the Quiche had died that their army was
full of young, inexperienced fighters, some no more
than children. Tecun Uman led them, wearing a crown
of rare jewels and metals. His body was covered with a
suit of beautiful feathers from the quetzal (kwet-zahl)
bird, which made him look like an eagle.
When the two armies met in battle, the Quiche fought
bravely. Wearing his suit of quetzal feathers, Tecun
Uman seemed to rise in flight as he attacked Pedro de
Beth Alberty
Chrisy Ledakis
Michelle Zatta
Nobue Hirabayashi
Whitney Thompson
Portable Collections Series Coordinator
Melissa Husby
Special Thanks
Leon Waller
The Teachers of the New York City Department of Education
Creation of this Portable Collections case is made possible
by a Learning Opportunities Grant from
the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
© 2006
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
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