Unit 5: The Americas
Reflect on the cultural values and universal lessons found in the myths selected for this unit. Choose one of the options below and write a short essay.
Do either Option A or Option B. Do not do both.
Option A: Short Essay Topics
Choose one of the topics below to write a short essay exploring one or more of the myths from Unit 5. Be sure to begin the essay with cultural background and include at least two significant direct quotes from the reading.
Myths illustrate how specific cultures viewed the purpose of humankind in relationship to their deities. Select a myth from Unit 5 that focuses on the creation or civilization of humans. Identify and describe the culture of this myth, keeping in mind that Native American cultures are not all alike. Summarize the myth briefly and then explain what it reveals about how its respective culture viewed this relationship between humans and the divine. For what reason was humankind created? What function was humankind supposed to serve? Finally, how does this myth elucidate how we view the relationship between humankind and the divine today?
Myths of the Americas frequently depict the dependence of humankind on the animal world. Select a myth from Unit 5 that features human–animal relations. Identify the cultural origins of this myth, keeping in mind that Native American cultures are not all alike. Tell where the people were generally located, how they lived, and what they valued. Next, briefly summarize the myth explain how it depicts this symbiotic relationship. How do humans need animals to not only survive, but thrive? What does this myth teach us about our dependence on animals in the modern world? What lessons could we – should we – learn from this myth?
Myths reveal the geographical surroundings and environmental challenges of their respective cultures. Select a myth from Unit 5 and explain what it illustrates about the everyday realities of its people. Identify and describe the culture and location. What obstacles did they encounter? What needs were their most pressing priorities? Summarize the myth and interpret how it attempts to account for and explain these concerns. Finally, consider how we use stories to account for natural phenomena today. Provide an example or two from modern life.
Option B: Selected Quotes
Instead of writing an essay about a single myth and selecting quotes from the reading, you will write about two (2) of the quotes below.
For each, identify the origins of the myth, including the location and culture of the people who believed it. Briefly summarize the myth from which the quotation has been taken. Then introduce the quotation by describing the scene and identifying the speaker(s) if dialogue is quoted. Tell what led up to this moment and explain why it is important. Be sure to include parenthetical documentation; you may use the citations that are provided. Finally, address the questions thoughtfully and in complete sentences.
Remember, you need to choose two of the following:
• “Let us teach you how to lead a better life… Let us teach you how to build houses, make clothes, and raise cattle and crops. Right now you live like wild animals. Let us teach you how to live like human beings. Our father, the Sun, has taught us and has sent us here to teach you” (“The Children of the Sun” 475). Explain what this quotation says about the cultural values of the Inca people and how they viewed their own civilization compared with others.
• “‘Oh, come now!’ Tezcatlipoca said. ‘You act like a man who is afraid of his own shadow! Dip the tip of your finger into the bowl and taste the wine. Surely you can have no fear of just a lick! How foolish you are being!’” (“Quetzalcoatl” 495). Explain the universal lesson regarding human weakness and temptation that this quotation illustrates.
• “The Creators were no longer pleased. ‘Have we created creatures who are better than we intended? Are they too perfect?’ they asked each other. ‘Have we made them so knowledgeable and wise that they will be gods like ourselves?’” (“The Creation” 483). Explain what this quote from the Maya creation myth reveals about their culture’s relationship with their gods.
• “First People realized that they needed the gifts of all four leaders. They decided to be ruled by a council of wise people rather than by a single chief” (“The Emergence” 501). Explain how this quotation from the Navajo creation myth reflects the cultural value of respect for elders.
• “Oh, Father! If you only knew how miserable I am, you would put your kayak into the water, paddle to this dreadful land, and rescue me from this terrible people! My tent does not shelter me; my bed does not comfort me; and my food does not nourish me! Oh, how I want to go home to my own people!” (“Sedna” 639). Explain what this quotation says about the decision–making pattern of its speaker, Sedna. Why does she make the decisions she does? What does this reflect about Inuit culture?