USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘indigenous’
Legends
Narrative

The Nuns and the Indigenous People

Informant is a sophomore at USC majoring in Computer Science. He attended Catholic school from Kindergarten to 8th grade. This is a story that he heard during this time.

“This is a story that I heard from a priest when I went to Catholic school in elementary school. So two of the most faithful nuns were sent from the Vatican to a foreign country to spread the word of God, and when they arrive, they got lost. These nuns had brought nothing but their Bibles and the clothes on their backs, and had no food and water. They couldn’t find the village that they were looking to convert, so they wandered around lost and hungry for three days. Finally they ran into an indigenous person, who asked them why they are there. They said that they were there to spread the word of God to the villagers, to which the person said that he would help lead them to the village. So, they started walking to the village, which was multiple days away, and as they’re walking, the indigenous person showed them plants that they could eat and the plants that were poisonous. After the first day of travelling, they take a rest. The next day, the person tells them that they are only one day away, but that they must trek through wetlands in which there are no edible plants. And, um, the nuns say to gather all the food in the area, to which the indigenous person responds that if people before had taken everything, then they wouldn’t be alive today. They all argue over taking some or all of the food, and the nuns decide to go with their plan. One of the nuns reaches to a bush to grab a berry, when suddenly lightning comes down and strikes the bush, killing all the food on it. At this point, the nuns realize that the indigenous person was being more Christian than they were. Basically, the point of the story is that by coming to the indigenous land, the nuns had brought Christianity to these people without even trying.”

Do you remember how you and your classmates reacted to the story?

“Well I had to hear it basically every year, so I got real tired of it by the end. Plus, it seems super unbelievable, but apparently it’s a true story and a miracle. Either way, it’s something that they told a lot in my Catholic school.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

“This is a story that is supposedly true, but is within a religious context so its validity is questionable at best. It is very interesting in that it shows Catholicism in the context of indigenous conversion, although it is very watered down in that it omits much of the violence that went into the conversion of indigenous populations. However, this story is very much geared towards believers of the Catholic faith, as it would be most believable if the audience believed in the miracles of God.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Proverbs

“Malicia Indigina”-Indigenous ways of knowing

There was a proverb often repeated to me growing up by my grandfather. Whenever I had a problem I could not figure out, my grandfather would say just use your “Malicia Indigina” which literally means “ indigenous ways of knowing” and would follow it up with “Si no las sabes, las inventa” which mean “if you don’t know how to do something, invent a new way of doing it.” Or “if you don’t know, then innovate or improvise” which to me always sounded like “go fake an answer”, but he would explain that is was in our blood (Chibcha/Muisca indigenous heritage). Allegedly, they were a very intelligent people and could always figure out a solution to any problem if they just thought hard enough about it even if it was not the common answer, it would work nevertheless. The Chibchas/Muiscas were renowned for their skills because they were one of the very few indigenous tribes in Colombia to survive the arrival of the conquistadores and Spanish settlers. They were famous for getting rid of the conquistadores by giving them a map of “El Dorado” that they knew to be an area infested with jaguars and anacondas. It was a very effective ploy until they made the son of one of the chief to go with them to insure a safe return but instead the Chief sent a group of skilled hunters and killed all the conquistadores the first night with poison from frogs while they slept. After disposing the bodies, the Chibchas brought back the chief’s son and they were left alone for a long time. This story was told to me by my grandfather who was told by his father who was told by his grandfather who was a chief. The Chibchas are currently making a comeback after decades where their verbal language was outlawed punishable by physical violence (caning, whipping etc.). Now there are local schools where Chibcha is now taught as a language and children do not have to hide their heritage. Chibcha is considered the language but the tribe is the “Muiscas” but over time most of the members referred to themselves as simply “Chipchas”.

Analysis: This is considered a personal proverb that does not apply to those who lack indigenous genetic makeup. It seemed as a way to empower a group of people that were extremely marginalized and almost wiped out. However, being 1/16 Chibcha meant I could never receive simple empathy when struggling with a difficult problem, I was expected to somehow tap into my biological hidden powers and magically produce an awesome answer to every single difficulty that crossed my path. I always found this kind of annoying but perhaps contributed to sharpening my creative abilities.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Monkey in Silk Proverb

“Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.”

Trans: A monkey in silk is a monkey no less

This proverb is one frequently mentioned by my mother and in Lima, in general. The interesting thing is that it is used to convey a slightly different (somewhat racist) message than its English equivalent. In the English proverb, the meaning is that a person’s worth is determined by who they are inside, not by what they’re wearing. In their words, appearances can be deceiving. In the Peruvian sense, however, this proverb is used to denigrate the “new money” class, the rapidly growing middle and upper middle class composed of indigenous people. Since these people are frequently self-starters who come from poor backgrounds and have no social graces or taste, they are ridiculed by the European class with sayings like these that denote that in spite of their new wealth and position, these “cholos” are still the same illiterate farmers (and should be treated as such).

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