Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Maasai 'go to work'

I'm teaching my favorite 'project' this week. My students are each assigned an 'indigenous people' and then after quite a bit of research they write a rather intensive 'journal' in which they imagine themselves a teenager in said culture. The list includes Maori, Maasai, Ainu, Kayapo, Mongolian Herders, Ibo, Yanomami, get the picture.They have 8 topic choices (economy, religion, social life, education, etc...) and choose 5 on which to write. Writing in first person, and writing with a strong sense of cultural respect is a great excercise for 14 year old kids. It's a good project and while the writing is a bit informal, it is also creatvie and extensive. Plus, I like to teach it. I like to grade it. My students come back to me year after year and "remember" details about their aboriginal people. The outcomes are strong for this project. And, let's name it - this is ONE place where I really get to engage a topic with  cultural relevancy for my students. I'm VERY thoughtful about who is assigned which culture. Finally, I've found this a really strong way to teach how enormously flexible culture really is - I dismantle ideas of the static, unchanged, primitive people. I'm not interested in reinforcing notions of unchanging and "isolated" people. Don't even get me started on cannibalism! (As in, "Ms. Plum, can I study cannibals?")

One of the days I teach I always remember to wear the jewelry I bought in a Maasai village in Kenya. Guess who likes the necklace? I tell the story of paying $20 bucks at the 'gate' and of the singing and clapping as the Maasai women performed their "Maasai-ness" for the benefit of the travelers who pulled up in the jeep - for the benefit of their dollars, quite honestly. This IS authentic. This IS Maasai. This IS the Serengeti today in this place that is part of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve where wealthy white people enjoy safaris in Land Rovers with guides and platform tents with toilets. And yes, the men were out tending the cattle. The village was full of old men and women and children. And the...I could go on and on. I should pull out some pictures and post them too. Later, with student permission, I'll post some journal entries.
Cool stuff.....
*top pic is a self portrait that Blueberry and I took - weird angle, but there it is*


Waiting for Zufan! said...

I'd like to be in your class! What a great project.

Mindy and Baldwin said...

I remember when I saw my first Maasai talking on a cell phone- a young warrior in his full Maasai glory making a call to his mother! It was perfect.
We were once in the Amazon jungle basin staying with some indigenous Quechwa people and the young men had given themselves tattoos from the local plant that contains dye. They'd given themselves Nike swooshes! They had no idea how to pronounce 'Nike' or what it meant, but they knew it was cool and sophisticated. I love that juxtaposition.
Sorry for the blabbering. This got long. Don't get me started on seeing Cambodian monks on motorcycles! :)

cindy said...

Dang, I wish you’d been my teacher. Maybe you’ll have a distance learning course set-up by the time my babe turns 14.