Tikulu

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By far, the most popular contemporary children’s books in Mauritius are the Tikulu Series. These books feature the adventures of a young (presumably Creole) Mauritian boy, Tikulu, and his friends. Tikulu is an intelligent, adventurous, and curious character who continually finds himself in a variety of new situations.

The Tikulu books are unique in many ways. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, they are some of the few books that are written by Mauritians, about Mauritians, and for Mauritians. In fact Mauritius itself and the neighboring islands of Rodrigues and Reunion play integral parts in the plots of these tales. The reader does not need to be intimately familiar with the setting to follow along, but knowing the island does add to the experience of reading the stories.

It is important that children are able to see a connection to their own culture, as well as the cultures of others, in these kinds of works because it helps to create a meaningful connection to literature and reading. Without the sense of involvement, children may neglect to see the importance or usefulness of creating literature or having a literate society.

Another factor is that the artwork is by far the most consistent and sophisticated of the children’s books I have seen so far. The entire series is based around the work of the illustrator, Henry Koombes, with different authors working to create the many storylines. Unlike many of the other books here which use pictures simply as a literal translation of the text, the drawings work to enhance or explain the stories. This creates a more engaging and enriching experience for the reader.

As far as the multicultural issue goes, the Tikulu series is fairly representative, but not without fault. While the characters in the books do seem to represent the many different cultures present here in Mauritius, the stories do nothing to add to the understanding of these cultures or their roles in Mauritian society. In other words, the series is not doing any harm to the multicultural framework here, but it also is not working to promote progress in a positive direction.

Two other strikes against the book are language and gender. Female characters are almost absent from the series, the exception being Konker, a young female friend of Tikulu’s and a secondary character who makes an occasional appearance. Other females do appear from time to time but only as objects of affection, silent spouses, or legendary witches. The treatment is not malicious, but it is an obvious deficiency.

Also, the series is produced in English and French, which completely neglects the majority language of the island, Kreol. It also fails to recognize many of the other native languages such as Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Chinese dialects. The argument is that English and French are the languages of instruction here so they would be the best mediums for publishing. This issue is a point of contention for many educators and advocates of promoting the Kreol language. 102_3014

The version shown here is in French. The books have been created in French and translated into English. The translations are quite literal with meaning being changed only if entirely necessary for understanding. In addition to the fact that the stories are translated into English, the western reader must also consider that the style of English spoken here is slightly different, particularly from American English. The language is a bit circuitous and there is a roundabout way of speaking that can sometimes seem to include many complex ideas in one or 2 sentences. (I will find and example for my next blog) This should not intimidate the reader, however, any more so than American English should a British reader or vice versa.

Of the books I have seen so far, this series would have the best hopes of transitioning to the American market. Most certainly an American publisher or distributor would try to make changes to the language style and perhaps clarify some points here and there, but it wouldn’t be too revolutionary.  It would certainly be an entertaining way to introduce American children to some very simple aspects of Mauritian life.

Jon’s Blogs

Just want to let you know that my husband, Jon, has a couple blogs of his own about our life here and about his research work.  I will provide links in the side menu.

Jon’s personal blog:  http://jondangerson.wordpress.com/

Round Robin: The Cornell Blog of Ornithology (to which Jon is a contributor):  http://redesign.birds.cornell.edu/

A Quick Cultural Note

There is certainly no shortage of Festivals and Holidays here in Maruitius.  Since I arrived almost 5 weeks ago, I have seen 4 nationally recognized holidays come and go:  Eid-al-Fitr, Divali, All Saints Day, and Arrival of Indentured Servants.

As I live in a coastal town, I see most of these days celebrated by family beach outings.  Yesterday, a day clebrating the arrival of indentured servants (predominantly from Asia), was especially vibrant in my neighborhood.  All day families celebrated by spending the day (or weekend for many) in tents and elaborate temporary settlements lining the beach.  Several nearby Indian organizations  had set up large tents selling goods, playing music, and enjoying the rainy but seaside.

Jon and I  stopped at the Hare Krishna tent for some snacks and to watch the dancing after taking a walk on the crowded shore.  The sandy beach was lined with incense, flowers, and fruits as well as throngs of swimmers and a few elaborate sand castles.

The next holiday is Christmas, one with which I am quite familiar.  I hope Jon and I will be able to celebrate it in a tent on a beach as well.

A possible change of plans?

Ok. My whole project is based on the hypothesis that the body of Mauritian Children’s Literature is much richer and broader than it would appear from an American perspective. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that there are actually significantly FEWER titles than I had originally thought. What to do…

I don’t have an exact number right now, but it looks like the entire collection (excluding textbooks); and this is French, English, Creole, everything; may be less than 150. Possibly much less.

I’m hoping to get the chance to examine the collection first hand so that I can gauge how I will be able to proceed. In the meantime, I’m weighing my options for what direction I should be going in from here. There are many different angles I could take on the matter, but I need to be sure that it is something I am qualified and capable of carrying out. Also, the research design was for the original project and I worked on that for months. To come and see the whole project completed in 2 months seems a bit anticlimactic, but at least I know it will be done.

One point of interest that I have found while working on this project is the almost complete lack of Mauritian representation in popular media. Outside of politics, commercials, the news, and the pervasive sega music, it is very rare to see or hear about Mauritians in the public sphere. This is mostly apparent to me in the literature. The number of titles written by Mauritians, for Mauritians, is few compared to societies that have followed the tradition of proliferation in their postcolonial existances. It is a curious thing.

One of the students that I interviewed poignantly states:

“You see what the problem is, we have all these books and intellectuals and they only talk about American, English, French, writers. Sometimes some from Africa. But what about the writers from India and China? What about Salman Rushdie? There is only a glimpse of everything else.

“We were a colony and we still think in terms of colony. Colonization is still going on. Words have power. Writers and philosophers have always shaped our mentality. But we see everything through English and French writers and philosophers.”

I hope to be able to explore this issue in further detail.

Interviews

I had an interesting round of interviews on Tuesday.  I met with a group of students as a group and a few individuals as well.  They had a lot to say and expressed the fact that they were grateful that someone wanted to hear it.

I don’t want to give out too many details from the interviews until I have permission because I did not mention the blog to the students and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize their sense of confidentiality.  Anyhow, the important thing is that my interviews were very fruitful and revealing of the nature of literacy learning here.

It’s a very complicated situation, mainly owing to the language issue, but also to socio-political remnants of Mauritius’ colonizers.  Issues of art, philosophy, and literature are completely tangled up in ideas of race, religion, language and identity.   One thing I will say is that dispite the wide variety of opinions in the group, when I asked “Is there a character in a book that you felt a strong connection to?” and “Do you every see yourselves in books?” the overwhelming response was “No.”

More on this later…

Some New Events

Well, I’ve been very busy for the past week but unfortunately, I didn’t actually get much done.  Most of my time has been consumed by waiting for other people and handling some moving, banking, and immigration problems.  I’m having a real problem adjusting to the pace of things here, too.  In general, I’m pretty high strung, punctual, and somewhat anal retentive.  None of these qualities are suited for life here.

On the plus side, I did have a few great experiences yesterday.  First, I gave a presentation on “Multiculturalism in Education” to a class at the University of Mauritius.  There were far more responsive than I had thought they’d be and it was interesting to hear what they had to say about the topic.  I am hoping to meet with a group of them next week for some interviews.

After that (and like a million bus rides) I went to an “International Hearing on the Harm Done in Schools by Suppression of the Mother Tongue” where a panel of experts heard testimony from witnesses about the damage being done to children by prohibiting them from using Mauritian Creole as the primary language of education.  The witnesses presented varied forms of evidence from legal documents to personal accounts.

Neary 90% of Mauritians speak Creole as their first language, but education is only provided in English and/or French.  This creates a host of issues beyond just that of language learning.  Some of the social issues include the supression of creativity, feelings of inferiority, stigmatized lower classes, and an enormous children who are frequently struggling, embarassed, and let down by their schools.  Additionaly, this system has had a severe effect on the scientific, mathematic, and technology disciplines.  Imagine being in primary school and learning mathematics for the first time in a foreign language or taking an algebra class where the teacher only speak German and Romanian.

The hearings will continue today and tomorrow with a judgment to be made on Saturday.  I will try to keep you updated, but no guarantees due to the weird Internet situation.

…And Why It Was Not

I met with Dr. Nasseem Aumeerally from the English Department at the University of Mauritius and in addition to being very helpful, she was very interesting and intelligent.  Dr. Aumeerally provided many contacts that may prove to be quite useful and insight into the culture of higher education here in Mauritius.

I’m really glad to have made this contact and I look forward to meeting again.  On Oct. I will give a presentation to her class on Multiculturalism during a lecture on multicult. in education.  I’m excited to have an opportunity to look at the workings of the University classroom and to meet some students.  I’m hoping to arrange a focus group among her students for the purpose of looking at their personal experiences with language and literature when they were children.