In Waldorf education, teachers share cultural myths with students in third through sixth grade as part of the language arts and history curriculum. Not only do myths engage students with rich visual and contextual elements, but they also teach about culture and timeless human struggle.
To imagine these myths and then tie them to history, culture, social-emotional struggle, and modern-day issues, is to think abstractly and transform words into personal, internal meaning.
Myths represent the questions our children have about life and the problems and narratives we all confront over our lifetimes.
How did we get here?
Who are we?
How do we reconcile our separation from others?
From an educational skills perspective, these thematic and consistent stories help students understand the elements of storytelling writing. To imagine these myths and then tie them to history, culture, social, emotional struggle, and modern-day issues, is to think abstractly and transform words into personal, internal meaning.
At the Waldorf School of Philadelphia, we typically teach our fourth-grade students about Norse mythology, as many Waldorf schools do, but to move towards a less Euro-centric curriculum, we have also been known to teach myths of the Māori people of New Zealand. The Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several canoe voyages between 1320 and 1350.
Students learn about the Māori creation story and how the gods Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) had to be separated so that Light could enter into the world. They also learn the stories of Maui tikitiki, a Taranga who is a demi-god with hero and trickster qualities.
Here are versions of these stories adapted by our students in Mrs. Stevenson’s fourth grade.
The Creation by Rylee
The gods were getting tired of living in Te Po uriuri, the dark night. So they decided to try to push Papa and Rangi, Earth Mother and Sky Father, apart. First Te, the god of war, tried to push them apart but he could not. Then they all tried, except Tawhiri, the god of winds and storms. Finally, Tane, the god of the forests, tried and he grew like a kauri tree and pushed them apart.
Tawhiri was angry; he thought his brothers would take over so he made a big storm. Rongo, the god of cultivated foods, and Haumia, the god of wild foods, retreated underground. Tangaroa, the sea god, retreated to the depths of the sea with all the sea animals. And Tane retreated deep into the forests.
The winds went on and on. Finally, Tawhiri grew weary of making storms so he stopped. But sometimes he still remembers his anger, and then he makes great storms.
Rangi was so sad, he kept crying and crying. Soon his tears began to flood the earth. So the gods decided to turn Papa over. When they turned her over, she was still nursing her youngest child, so when the earth was turned over, he was underneath Papa. Papa made fires to keep him warm, so that makes volcanoes, and when he walks around, that makes earthquakes.
How Maui was Born by Julian
Maui mua, Maui roto, Maui taha, and Maui pae were walking with their mother Taranga. Now one night a strange boy came to her home. “Who are you?” asked Taranga. “I am your son, too,” he said. “Are you Maui roa?” “No1” “Are you Maui roto?” “No!” “Maui taha?” “No!” “Maui pae?” “No1” “Then who are you?” “I am Maui tikitiki a Taranga! You were by the sea when you gave birth to me. Immediately you wrapped me in hair from your topknot and flung me out to sea. The sea took care of me until a breeze blew me to shore. There Tama nui ti ke Rangi saved me. So here I stand as a human child.” Taranga cried out with joy, “You are the child of my old age! I thought you were lost, yet here you are.” She welcomed him to her home.
How Maui Found His Parents by Alexis
Maui transformed into a wood pigeon and flew down into the other world and landed on a branch. Right below him, he saw his parents. He used his beak and plucked a berry off the tree. He dropped it on his father’s forehead. His father thought it just fell off the tree on its own. Maui plucked two more berries and dropped one on his mother’s forehead and one on his father’s forehead. Then all of the people started to throw rocks at the tree. Maui dodged all the rocks but he let his father hit him. The rock hit Maui’s leg and he fell to the ground.
When his father learned his name was Maui tikitiki a Taranga, he said it was a warrior’s name. He went to make a blessing, but he made a mistake, and so he said one day Maui would have to die.
The Separation of Rangi and Papa by Hana
Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) were locked in an embrace. Some of their children were getting very upset about Te Po nui (the great Night). Te (the war god) wanted to kill them but Tawhiri (the god of winds and storms) liked Te Po
. The decision was made to push them apart. All of the gods tried, except Tawhiri, and finally Tane (the god of forests) put his shoulders on Papa and his feet on Rangi, and he grew like a kauri tree. When they were pushed far enough that the sun could come in, they were done.
Now Tawhiri was so mad that they had not listened to him, that he made storms, and storms, and storms. And all the creatures of the sea went deep under water to hide, and the food went into the earth, and the animals went deep into the forests. At last Tawhiri calmed down, and the children of the gods could live on the earth.
This blog article was first published in May 17, 2011, and was written with the help of Mrs. Susan Stevenson, the lead teacher of the Class of 2007 and 2015. The featured chalkboard image is by Susan Stevenson, illustrations by the Class of 2015.