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Introduction to Activity: The book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is not culturally related to the Yoruba culture or African-American History. It is relevant to the lesson unit, because the story presents the concept of a spirit embodied within a tree. Yoruba culture, and other agrarian based societies that depend on the earth for their survival, feel objects sculpted out of wood contain the essence of a human spirit (Life Force). They view the tree as a metaphor for the tree of life, representing the lineage of one's ancestors. The Giving Tree provides the literary connection to this understanding of a human spirit being contained in an inanimate object. This concept is not normally embraced within the urban societies of Western thinking individuals. In Lesson Three, "Nigerian Art; Kindred Spirits", the participants will also learn how the Yoruba people define their concept of art, and how wood is one of the primary media used to create art works even in these contemporary times.
Footnote: The "Tree of Life" is a symbol that exists in nearly every culture. With its branches reaching into the sky and its roots deep in the earth, the tree appears to unite the heavens, the earth and the underworld. Scientific information makes us aware that in the "human/plant cycles of life" the green leaves or needles of the tree provide oxygen into the atmosphere that humans breathe. The trees in return utilize the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans and use it in photosynthesis to promote plant growth.
Again as a symbol, the tree, in the study of genealogy, represents the ancestors of the family: grand parents, great grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This symbol, with its deep roots (family background), provides a strong foundation for values, ideas, and beliefs of the family, symbolized by the trunk of the tree. The branches of the tree are all the members of the family that have recently died or whom are living and are reaching out to life.
In many African cultures, including the Yoruba, the tree contains a "Life Force" or spirit that is alive and representational of ones ancestoral spirit guides. Many beaded objects in the Yoruba culture are carved out of wood. They are thought to contain the spirit of their ancestors that continue to communicate with them even when they are no longer living.)
Student outcomes from reading the book: