The Classroom Package: Reading Fun

An Unusual Time for Play
The following is taken from 'The Culture Connection  Newsletter' which was written by Paul Hurteau when he lived and taught in the Amazon Rain Forest.

Last week, I received some very sad news from students in my fourth grade class.  Their classmate, Filomena, was absent because her three year old brother died the night before.  I did not know the boy since he was too young to go to school and his family lived outside the village center.  But since I knew his sister, my student, I decided that I would attend the wake which would be held that night in the village hall.

Later in the day, my high school students told me about the Quichua casket closing ceremony, which would occur in the afternoon before the wake.  I had witnessed this ceremony once - on the very first day I arrived in Limoncocha.  On that day, as a teacher was giving me a tour of the village, we stopped in at the village hall.  Many people were gathered around a large table in the center of the hall.  The body of an old man who had died the day before lay on the table, wrapped in a cloth sack.  Candles burned all around the body and, in one corner of the building, several men were building a wooden casket.  When the casket was finished, they put it on the table next to the man.  Shortly after, a community leader said a few words and some people began to cry and chant.  Then the wife and the daughter of the dead man took a bag filled with clothes that belonged to the man when he was alive.  They lay the clothes, one piece at a time, inside the casket.  When the bottom of the casket was covered with a layer of clothes, a few men lifted the body and placed it  in the casket on top of the clothes.  Then, the women put another layer of clothes over the body.  When they placed the last article of clothing over the body, they could no longer contain their strong emotions, and the broke into sobs and wailing.  Then,  a few men came forward and nailed the lid on the coffin - and the ceremony ended.

That was several months ago.  This time, since I had to teach my classes, I couldn't attend the casket closing ceremony of Filomena's brother.  But in the evening, as it was getting dark, I walked into the village to attend the wake.  I met some people as I was walking and they told me that it was customary to bring some food or useful items for the bereaved family.  So, before going to the village hall, I stopped at a shop and bought a kilo of sugar, two packages of candles, a few cans of tunafish and a bottle of cooking oil.

When I entered the hall, the casket lay closed on a table in the center of the building.  About thirty or more candles were burning on top of and around the casket.  People sat on benches and chairs or stood around the table, with the family of the boy sitting in a line on one side.  I greeted the family, shaking all of their hands - and saying hello to Filomena - then gave them my gifts.  Filomena's parents thanked me for the food and candles and put them on the table with the other gifts they had received.

Shortly afterwards, a man named Mario, who was also a member of my English class for adults, led everyone in a few prayers.   Then, the church musicians played music and led everyone in a few songs.  The words of the prayers and the songs were in Quichua, of course, so I was very surprised when, after the music, Mario spoke to me - with everyone listening - in English.  But, I was even more surprised by what I thought I heard him say, "Paul, the ceremony is finished, we would like to ask you if you would stay to play with the children and teach them some American games."  Mario was a very good English student, but I thought that he must have made a mistake.  To me, playing at a wake didn't seem to fit.  So, a bit confused, I walked over and asked him about his request.

He explained to me that it was a Quichua custom for children to stay up all night after a wake. To keep the children cheerful and awake, and safe from evil forces aroused by death, it became customary for them to play games until the next dawn.  Mario knew that I often played basketball and other games with the children.  He figured I could help keep the children awake.  So, even though we were at a wake, and at first it didn't seem to me to be a time for playing, I agreed to his request - and, in a way, I felt honored.

Soon the hall became festive with play.  I joined in on several traditional games and taught the children, including Filomena, how to play Simon Says, Spoons and Red Rover.  We played until morning - and then we went to school.

The end.




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