SB is from Costa Rica. We have been friends for some time, and whenever she cuts avocado I notice she says a little limerick to herself. I asked her what she was saying. She told me: “Agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón.”
It’s a riddle (adivinaza), and the answer is aguacate, which means “avocado” in Spanish. The phrase literally translates to ” Water runs down my house, it is a punch to my heart.” It is not really apparent what this has to do with avocados, but the solution to the riddle is found in the wordplay. Agua + cate each have meaning on their own in Spanish, but also form the word aguacate.
S explains, “Riddles like these are used to teach kids various fruits in Spanish.” It clearly works, because S remembers this riddle all these years later and still associates it with avocados whenever she has one. I asked her why she thinks there are riddles to learn simple things like fruit, and she explained that aguacate is actually a pretty difficult word for kids to say. This little rhyme, which breaks down the word, helps teach how to say it.
S told me another one of her favorites:
Tiene ojos y no ve,
posee corona y no es rey,
tiene escamas sin ser pez,
¿qué rara cosa ha de ser?
It has eyes and doesn’t see,
It has a crown and isn’t a king,
It has scales but is not a fish,
What rare thing could it be?
The answer is piña, a pineapple.
Throughout my time collecting folklore, I’ve noticed there are a lot of rhymes and riddles in various cultures that are meant to teach kids simple things like manners or words. These riddles stimulate creative thinking at a young age. Riddles are not always obvious and you have to connect the puns or wordplay to come up with the right answer. Folklore is a prominent part of children’s development. I believe a majority of what children learn in their early ages is through folklore; before they can read, kids pick up what people are talking about around them. Learning culture is just as important as learning to read and write, and folklore teaches this.