Giving the Child Confidence to "Know and Love the World"1
by Liz Braun
(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.34, No.1)
Enmeshed in a latticework of brown and cream, caught in a tangle of unbelievably long necks and longer legs, we were unheeded in the school bus as the giraffe limbed and lollopped around us...
Taking a break from preparation for the Easter 1999 Conference for Steiner Teachers in East Africa, a group of teachers, including visitors from abroad and also some children, had crossed Mbagathi River which forms a natural boundary between the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi and the Nairobi National Park. We found ourselves in the midst of the largest herd of giraffe I had ever witnessed, more than twenty of these mighty beasts in playful mood. These were Masai giraffe, every patch a golden-brown starburst, with 'feminine eyes' reflecting back our own startled wonder. An hour easily could have passed, till the light, like honey spreading over the plains, reminded us that evening was approaching and the sun would soon set. A last glance before returning to school at the movements of the giraffe now in the distance, like water flowing in slow motion; the distance let us see how fast their long-legged gait really was, how much of the hard-baked soil of the African plains was consumed be each effortless step of the giraffe ('the one who walks swiftly').
One of the workshops in the Easter Conference was about writing our own stories. 'Stories: Seeking, Creating, Telling', was its title on the programme. Small groups each chose another character from the plains to join with the giraffe; and so we began to look forward to hearing the stories of 'The Giraffe and the Warthog', 'The Giraffe and the Butterfly', 'The Giraffe and the Zebra'. My group, two teachers from the Nairobi School, one from Kampala in Uganda and one from Hoima, Uganda, decided to tell the story of 'The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree'.
Our workshop leader explained to us how, in the nature story, the characteristics and qualities of the animal or plant in focus can be brought out by another—the acacia by the giraffe, for example, and how the mysterious facts of the natural world breathe a life of their own when they can reveal themselves in the clothing of conversation and drama. Twelve groups filled the room with busy noise as the normally mute giraffe spoke with warthog, butterfly and tree in many different accents, trying to understand each other's secrets. The rest of the week brought daily dramatic presentation of nature stories which just would not stand still. Here is ours.
The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree
Once upon a time, long, long ago, a lone acacia tree stood on the African plains. All around was as dry as could be; no rain had fallen for months and months. The grass was shrivelled and brown. There were no green leaves on the trees or bushes. No water gathered into a welcome pond for the animals.
Indeed, all the animals had left the acacia tree in search of food and water. The fat zebra, the slender gazelle, the warthog, the wildebeest, all had wandered away and left the acacia tree quite alone.
Suddenly, the acacia tree noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. It watched uneasily as a giraffe appeared and swiftly came up to the acacia.
"Hello," said the giraffe to the acacia. "Where are all the animals who used to shelter under your far-spreading branches?"
"Oh, they have all gone away in search of food and water and left me alone," said the acacia sadly. "It is so quiet without my friends, I only hear the wind as it rustles up the dust and stirs the dry grass."
"I, too, am hungry, so hungry," said the giraffe, eyeing the acacia's topmost branches longingly.
"Oh," squealed the acacia, "don't eat me!" And in her terror, she pushed out sharp white thorns along her branches.
"No, no, I wouldn't hurt you;" said the giraffe, "—only, just a small mouthful?"
The acacia began to tremble and the hungry but kind giraffe spoke again: "I am so lonely, too," he said. "You who are the home to so many animals, won't you just be my friend?"
The acacia tree in her great compassion put out many small green leaves. "Here, my friend: something small for you to eat, but don't take too much!"
The giraffe gratefully ate some of the acacia's new leaves and the two became the best of friends as they are to this day. And ever since then, the acacia tree bears small green leaves in the heat of the dry season when all else is bare.
After qualifying as a trained Steiner teacher, Liz Braun taught for some time at the Rudolf Steiner School of South Devon. At present she combines raising a sizeable family, administrative responsibilities and part-time teaching at the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi.
Footnote 1: From the last verse of A.C. Harwood's The Sun is in my Heart.