Socialization and Early Childhood “Literacy”

In the Andes and Amazonia children are generally not told what to do or how to do something. Instead, from a very early age, children participate alongside adults in household chores, at first emulating adult behavior and later contributing to the household.
Indigenous homes and classrooms often have child-sized agricultural tools, tiny looms, tiny cookware, and musical instruments for children to develop dexterity in farming, weaving, preparing food, and music making. Children learn mathematics, science and literacy of environmental signs by playing and working in vegetable gardens. They learn counting and market economics by selling produce or small animals in the market with their parents. They learn about ritual by participating in household events and community festivals. Their learning is experiential through and through.

Similarly, children learn about local myths and histories first by listening to stories and later by telling stories themselves with all the nuances of literary expression, metaphor and symbolism.

Pan flutes found throughout the Andes are known as sikuris, antaras or zampoñas. These reed instruments come in sets of gendered pairs. The arca (female, larger pipe) and the ira (male, smaller pipe) complement each other, playing in hocket, to create a complete pentatonic melody.

Ocarinas are vessel flutes made of ceramic. These musical instruments found in the archeological record and used by contemporary Andean musicians are believed to date back 12,000 years. Children delight in making bird sounds with ocarinas and composing simple melodies inspired by the sounds of nature.

Donated by Norman Whitten 2015
Around the world, playthings mediate children’s socialization, cultural awareness, and facilitate their cultural fluency. Bits of miscellaneous fabric and thread hold together this muñeca de trapo (rag doll) made for a child to play with. This aya uma rag doll represents one of the most powerful festival characters in the Northern Andes. He is the spirit-head trickster who provokes chaos and alternatively imposes order.
With one face looking forward into the past and another looking backward into the future, with his hands on his hips he stands defiant. A child endeared to this toy might ponder the significance of the “horns” on its head, ask about the meaning of the two faces, contemplate the notion of an inverse relation between time and space, or offer their own creative interpretations of the symbols on the mask… Every stitch invites cultural insight and an intimate attachment tied to a child’s evolving sense of cariño (affection) for their culture and ability to “read” and appreciate its significance.

On temporary loan–private collection Michelle Wibbelsman 2015

Through toys, creative play, and participation in daily life children both learn about and reflect their understanding of cultural and ethnic diversity along with the nuances of linguistic variation, local costumes, regional aesthetic preferences, occupations, traditions, music, and behaviors that characterize each community. From infancy, children are introduced to a culture of respect, which extends not only to people but to beings in other realms of existence including deities, ancestors, the animated Andean and Amazonian landscape and nature.