Today I will be continuing our Peruvian adventures with María Rostworowski’s book of stories, titled La muerte del sol y otros cuentos del antiguo Perú (The Death of the Sun and Other Stories from Ancient Peru). The book is written in Spanish and consists of 6 short stories, each between 3 and 6 pages of text in length. It is worth noting that María Rostworowski (1915-2016) was a notable Peruvian historian whose work focused largely on pre-Spanish Peru and the Incan Empire. This children’s book is one of several which she wrote. Illustrated by Peruvian artist Beatriz Chung, this lovely edition includes illustrations that are bright, lighthearted and filled with people, animals and elements of the natural world. Both the text and illustrations give life to natural beings.
I am excited to share this book not only because of its historical content, but also because of its geographical breadth. Many times our children’s books overly simplify depictions of a country or people, yet this book captures some of Peru’s vast ecological diversity by spanning the desert coast, Amazonian jungle, highland Andes, and so on.
Throughout her career as an ethnohistorian, Rostworowski came across stories belonging to various cultures of Peru, and here she shares a few of them with us in the form of a children’s book. These stories and myths illuminate important figures and beings related to the natural world, offering entry points for discussing connections between the natural world and cultural beliefs, as well as for teaching about geography and climate change. The two stories I’ll share with you both take place on the Peruvian coast.
The first story I’ll discuss is called El río enamorado de la mar (The River in Love with the Sea), which comes from Piura, a city on Peru’s northern coast. The story tells how the Piura River and the sea came together, beginning as river falls in love with the sea and seeks something to give to the sea. A small bird gives the river the idea of flooding a nearby huaca when it rains, sending it to the sea. Quick historical aside: A huaca has been a spiritually significant place dating back to the times of the Inca. It is often a place with a spring or strong spiritual energy. In colonial Peru, the Spanish often placed churches atop huacas as a way to convert the Inca people to Catholicism. All of the significant churches in the historical city center of Cusco were built atop huacas. What I love about this story is how Rostworowski emphasizes the connection between the mountains and the coast, which are two closely linked water systems. As she comments in a complementary note, the farmlands of the high jungle and the coast could not exist without the rain and snow of the Andean mountains. This short cultural story can open up much bigger, scientific-focused conversations that examine interconnected ecosystems. It even offers an opportunity to discuss climate change, given that the mountain snows and glaciers are critical to supporting the crops of lower altitudes.
The second story I’ll share with you is called Guamancantac, el dios del guano (Guamancantac, the God of Guano), tells the story of Manic, who lives in the town of Huancacho, near Trujillo, also on the coast of Peru, and Efquen, from the town of Moche, in the interior. In the story, Manic frequently travels from his coastal town to inland Moche so that he can trade fish for the corn, sweet potatoes, and beans grown by Efquen. After the trade, Efquen buries his newly acquired fish with his corn so that the fish remains will nourish his crops. One day, when Manic goes to Moche, Efquen explains to him that there weren’t enough fish to nourish his crops, and that he will need many more in order to maintain his plants. Unable to supply enough fish but wanting to help is friend, Manic goes on a journey to collect fertilizer from another source: bird guano from the islands off the coast. In order to do so, he must please Guamancantac, the god of guano, by giving him an offering. I like the story because it touches on the trading relations in Peru, which have been an important aspect of the different cultural groups of Peru since before the arrival of the Spaniards. Historian John Murra wrote extensively about what he termed the Andean “Vertical Economy,” in which people of different ecological climates at distinct altitude levels trade with one another in order to supplement their food diets and sustain cultural practices. For example, coca leaves, which are used for chewing in the altitude, making tea and for paying respect to other individuals and beings, was grown in the high jungle and traded with people from the highlands for potatoes. This story also touches on the importance of giving thanks and acknowledging the different entities that protect products necessary for life (the god of guano in this case). In addition to teaching about trading networks and spiritual practices, this story provides the opportunity to talk about farming, natural fertilizing and composting.
If you like this book, you can also check out Rostworowski’s other book of children’s stories, titled Cuentos de los Andes, illustrated by María Zileri.
Because the stories I highlighted in some way relate to the interrelations of natural ecosystems, I’d like to share some sources with you relating to natural fertilizers and climate change.
- Here is a great video that teaches about the value of composting and the effects of landfills. It does so in the context of school compost programs. If you show this in class, it will be necessary to explain how some cities have composting centers, while others do not and require that it be done at home on a smaller scale. Also in this video, they recommend composting meat, bones, milk products and fish, which may not be the best idea for small-scale composting. Here is an article with composting activities you could teach in the classroom. Finally, this article has a great list of what you should and should not put in your compost at home.
- BBC posted a video about Peru’s current guano industry
- I also wanted to share with you NASA’s Climate Kids website, which answers questions about what climate change is and how food relates to it.
- Here is a lesson plan about climate change’s effect on agriculture.
Also, you might consider pairing this book of stories with other fables and tales from around the world. Our En la clase blogger, Katrina, has written about this topic in her curriculum guide to Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, and has included an extensive bibliography of folk tales and fables from which you might be inspired. You can check out the complete guide for more details.
Images modified from: La muerte del sol y otros cuentos del antiguo Perú