First class

I taught the first class in the Old Testament Narrative course today, to third year students. We are still very tired, we did not allow enough jet-lag recovery time into our schedule, nor did we remember clearly enough how tiring it is to live and work somewhere where you are like a new born in your understanding of how things work – well not quite, wash places with a water scoop we had encountered in Congo, so some things are not quite new!3359sm.jpg

However, perhaps because Narrative is a really good choice for intercultural teaching, the class seemed to go well despite my tiredness and headache, and the huge gap in culture and my ignorance of Karen life, thought and ways. It also went well despite our rather different English accents and their having to work in a foreign tongue!

I hope they learned some ideas about narrative:

  • narration implies a narrator
  • narrative is more than chronicle
    • it links the facts or events it describes
    • and so gives them meaning
  • narrative is widespread in the Bible – which contains little “instruction manual” material but lots of stories!

We also talked about stories, they told me several Karen stories. (One of which the Rabbit [Hare?] and the Tortoise I had already met! Some stories are surprisingly international.)

Another was told with an interesting variation, the famous (at least in Baptist circles) story of the Golden Book the telling went (allowing for simplification and memory lapse due to tiredness) like this:

A father once had three sons, Karen the oldest, Burmese and English (the youngest brother). One day he gave each son a book. To Karen he gave a golden book, to Burmese a leather book, and I can’t [That is the teller could not.] remember what the book he gave to the youngest son was made from. The youngest son stole the golden book, and the Karen who was left with the other book ignored it and it was walked on by chickens. The Karen to this day use writing that looks like chicken scratches, but one day the youngest brother will return the stolen Golden Book.

The version I had heard before was much like this from Keyes, Charles F. The Golden Peninsula: Culture and Adaptation in Mainland Southeast Asia. University of HawaiiPress, 1995, 52.

In a related myth, Y’wa is said to have given books to his various children, sometimes said to number seven, who are the ancestors of the major ethnic groups in the world known to the Karen. This gift of a book was, of course, the gift of literacy. The Karen, however, are negligent with the book given to them and it is eaten by animals or, in some versions, consumed in the fires built by the Karen in the course of tilling their fields. Y’wa offers the Karen the consolation that at some future date, “foreign brothers” will bring the gift of literacy—in the form of a golden book—back to them.

Interesting differences! I wonder what readers of this blog make of them!!?

[Quotation thanks to Google Books, the library here is not rich enough for that sort of research!]

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3 responses to “First class

  1. what interesting work….I don’t know where you are/who the Karen are, but God bless!

  2. Hi, the Karen are a people who live between Thailand and Burma/Myanmar.

    They have lived peacefully with the Thai monarchy and governments for many many years, but have been in conflict with the Burmese government for much of the last 60 years.

    There are many many thousands of refugees from this conflict living in Thailand. Some have UN papers, though many are without any papers since the UNHCR is still processing people who arrived in 2005. All are unable to work or to study in Thai schools and Universities. KKBBSC offers them an educational program like that of the BTh in India.

    Many Karen are Christian or Buddhist, following missionary activities among them that began in the early 1800s.

  3. Karen are from Karen State in Burma, one of the larger ethnic minorities. They called their state, Kawthoolei. (KKBBSC, Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College, I believe)
    A lot of the Karen are also animist.
    Check out the following websites regarding the Karen.
    KHRG.org (Karen Human Rights Group)
    TBBC.org (Thai Burma Border consortium)
    yoeskimo, you should try and visit the Karen refugees!

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