We asked the students at Austin Montessori School at Great Northern Blvd. if they understood the subject of slave traders in Madagascar in the 1800’s. Even though the children were part of a lower elementary classroom (1st-3rd grade) they immediately began a discussion of freedom, human rights and equality. I have been a TAP employee and teacher for nearly 6 years, but this surprised even me. We had a rich discussion about the implications of treating another human being with respect before we all agreed to embark on the next leg of our journey.
In January 2011 the students, teachers, parents and I began to adapt a folk tale from Madagascar called “Rakoto and the Drongo Bird“. It is the story of a boy named Rakoto who befriends a small black bird who loves to mimic everything. Some believe that the Drongo Bird is an evil spirit, not like the butterflies and wildflowers who are considered the ancestors and therefore good spirits. One day a merchant and his wife come to town and tell a story of bearded men who are stealing people from other villages. No one quite believes the merchant’s story except Rakoto. When he discovers a boat coming toward the village he frantically warns the boys to come with him. They refuse at first, but they, Rakoto’s sisters and an old woman and man escape before the men torch the village while the rest of the people are working in the rice fields. They think they are safe until the baby sister cries. The men come running until suddenly the baby cry comes from a different direction, then another direction.
Rakoto suddenly realizes that it is the Drongo Bird who is imitating the baby and drawing the slave traders farther away from where they are hiding. The Drongo is celebrated as a good spirit and is credited for saving the village.
We adapted the book and transformed it into a stage play complete with new, original songs, choreography, puppetry and shadow puppetry. We just completed four performances at the end of April by transforming the classroom into a Madagascar village complete with bamboo huts and jungle backdrop. The performances were standing room only and very successful! I was proud to be a part of TAP’s second collaboration with Austin Montessori School.
Still the most important day for me was the first day when we discussed why this story was so important to tell!