The Unexpected Gift—Prisca Wild's LegacyThe letters and stories that Prisca and Valentin Wild sent us while they were living in Ecuador in the late 1980's, made a lasting and vivid impression upon us. At that time, Prisca and Valentin wrote that they already felt a part of the Undiscovered Worlds Press. Below is a piece we wrote about Prisca and Valentin in the UWP newsletter in September 1989:
The Wilds of Ecuador have come to Undiscovered Worlds. That can be taken in different ways, all of them valid. The Wilds are Prisca and Valentin Wild, who live in a remote region in Ecuador that does not even appear on our atlas: Quevedo/Los Rios. Prisca says that it takes a full month for mail to reach their isolated area. The pair collaborate in fascinating letters and have now submitted an article, Silent Voices Concealed in Reality, for the magazine, as well as several children's stories. In their last communication, they say they are already a part of our publishing enterprise—and welcome aboard, Valentin and Prisca. We look forward to their continued participation in Undiscovered Worlds. One of the surprises from them was a drawing containing such vital animated little "creatures" who so charmed us, that we wrote hoping for more. We have done a computer scan to share this in a small way with you, but you must realize that full justice cannot be done, nor of course the photos by which they introduce themselves and show their "first home" in Ecuador.
In September 1989, Prisca and Valentin sent us a little home-made book called, The Unexpected Gift. We were utterly charmed by this little book, and we have treasured and kept it safe over the years. Now at last we are pleased to be able to put it online. We hope, that later, we will be able to put more of Prisca's writings on our website—her legacy, as a writer and artist to us all.
Prisca and Valentin were always coming up with good ideas as to how we could develop Undiscovered Worlds Press. One intriguing idea was to produce little Hummingbird Story Cards, each containing a story that would make the reader feel good. Here below is the little book Prisca and Valentin sent us to demonstrate their idea:
This is a little story about a young boy who felt humiliated because he was an Indio, but later on discovered his ancient heritage and his rightful place in the community of mankind, comes to you from:
The Unexpected GiftIn a small town in the mountainous Andean region of Ecuador, which is called the Sierra, you will find a modest little church with whitewashed walls. It has no elaborate wood-carvings and no gilded altar-pieces like the great cathedrals in the capital, yet it has a beautiful old organ.
There it was where Padre Anselmo used to exercise with his children's choir the hymns and the liturgy for the Sunday service, accompanying them on the instrument. He chose his young singers from the town's schoolchildren as well as from those living in the small neighbouring villages where he sometimes went to say Mass or to baptize a newborn baby.
Padre Anselmo came from Italy and had arrived in Ecuador as a young priest. The order to which he belonged had established schools all over the country. Many years ago, when the town was barely more than a village, there were just a few children with Padre Anselmo as their only teacher. But the town had grown bigger and needed a larger school. New teachers came, as well as younger priests. They were full of modern ideas and they thought Padre Anselmo rather old-fashioned and treated him with condescension. He still used to wear his faded soutane with its frayed hems, and the ideas the others talked about so frequently held no attraction for him. As he grew older, he retired more and more, devoting his time to his love of music, which he had in common with many other Italians.
Towards one of his choir-boys Padre Anselmo was directing his special attention. His name was Joaquin and he came from a tiny village high up in the mountains. Like in most parts of the countryside, people there still observed the old traditions of their Indian heritage, and when Joaquin for the first time went upstairs to the gallery, where the choir gathered for its exercises, the children from town giggled and watched him curiously. He blushed, suddenly feeling ashamed because he looked different from the others. He was wearing a 'poncho' and wide trousers like the people in his village, and his long black hair was braided into a pigtail hanging down his back.
Padre Anselmo, however, gave the boy a welcoming smile and reminded the children that their own ancestors had been Indios too, though they themselves were accustomed to the ways of life in town, having their hair cut short and wearing ordinary clothes. Joaquin felt grateful, and between him and Padre Anselmo ties of a quiet understanding started to grow.
One day when the exercises were finished, the priest kept his pupil for a brief talk.
"It seems you have got a talent for music," he said, "and such a talent is a gift from God. You should make good use of it. If you like I will help and instruct you."
Joaquin agreed joyfully. For a long time already he had dreamed of being admitted to touch the organ as Padre Anselmo did and to strike the keys, until waves of ringing harmonies were
filling the whole room. From now on he went each day after school to the little church, and Padre Anselmo taught him the language of music and the secrets of the black and white keys that could make the instrument produce the most wonderful chords.
But despite Joaquins efforts the priest became aware that the organ was not an adequate means to help the boy express what lay hidden inside of his nature. So one day he gave him a curiously shaped package, and when Joaquin opened it, he saw that it was a Pan-flute, the same kind of instrument the Indios had played from ancient times on. Like the organ it had several pipes of different length, assembled one beside the other. Padre Anselmo showed him how to set the instrument to his lips and how to control with his breathing the sound of the different notes. Soon the boy was able to play the melodies of the hymns, joined by the organ that painted a soft dark background contrasting with the clear, light voice of the flute.
To thank his teacher for the unexpected gift, Joaquin brought him a piece of handwoven fabric manufactured by his father, who had adorned it with beautiful traditional ornaments, as in many villages of this region people still knew the art of weaving and practised it with great skill. On market-days visitors would come from far away in order to buy colourful ribbons, patterned tapestry and ponchos made of soft, dyed wool.
Joaquin himself also learned how to weave, but he felt more drawn to the music, and when he grew up and his skills in playing the flute increased, people started to invite him to their
festivities. They would give him money, asking him to play the old songs they liked to hear again and again. He found friends who would accompany his tunes with rattle and drum, and he went to the villages and played on the markets. But when he came to the small town, he would never miss to call on Padre Anselmo.
By this time Joaquin had lost his shyness of displaying to everyone that he was an Indio. Proudly he wore his wide trousers and his poncho woven in colourful patterns as a sign of his tribe, and his long, shiny hair was braided and hanging down his back.
"The truth is that all of the land actually belongs to the Indios," he announced defiantly with strong self-assurance. "For a long time we have been despised and humiliated, but we will demand our rights, and the music I'm playing will make people respect our ancient traditions.
As Padre Anselmo watched him, his kind, crinkled face darkened with sorrow. "That's not enough, son," he said, frowning. "Demands have never brought any good for mankind. Though you can make people acknowledge your rights, you will not in the least impress Almighty God. It is He who owns the land, because He has created it as well as He has created the music. He grants it or takes it away by His own free will, without ever listening to your demands. But if you ask Him, He will give you all you need and maybe even something more valuable than your dreams and desires could imagine."
Like in olden days Joaquin had seated himself beside his teacher on the organ bench, but now he jumped to his feet. "That means I can do nothing but wait and be patient!" he flared up.
Padre Anselmo looked at him quietly before he went on. "There is something else you can do," he said. "Until today you have just repeated the songs you learned from others. Now the time has come to search for your own kind of music. In the nature of this land, where your ancestors once have lived, you will finds its source, and you must bring it to life again through your own being. Go and try, and if you ask Almighty God for His guidance, He might show you a way to fulfill your dreams."
When Joaquin left the small church he was silent and lost in thoughts. He followed Padre Anselmo's advice, and whenever he could he went up to the mountainous regions of the countryside with its quiet lakes surrounded and almost hidden by steep slopes and with its white peaks of snow-coloured volcanos. There he would stay for several days, listening to the wind singing in the treetops and sweeping across barren hills. At dawn he watched the sun rising in all its majesty, while the morning mists faded away, and by the voice of his flute he was seeking to follow the flight of the condor, soaring up into a vast, endless sky until it was lost from sight under distant clouds.
Later, when he returned to the noisy bustle of country fairs and festivals, he sometimes played
the tunes that were born from solitude and nature's beauty. But people did not understand his music. They preferred to hear the old songs they had known from childhood on. Only then they felt satisfied and rewarded him generously.
During the summer season tourists from other countries and places would visit the markets, and they, took, liked to hear Joaquin playing. One day he was approached by two foreigners who talked to each other in a language he could not understand. They asked him to show them some more of his art, and as he set the instrument to his lips, he suddenly felt a strong desire to present his own kind of music.
On powerful wings the song of his flute was rising to the sky, reaching out to join the flight of eagle and condor, while rattle and drum responded with the sound of rustling leaves stirred by the wind and with the dark voice of the earth. The two strangers listened enchanted, always urging him to go on. And when at last they took their leave, they invited him to the capital.
Shortly after Joaquin travelled to the big city of Quito and there he played for a number of people gathered in a big room. It was his first concert and more were to come. His music was put on records, and soon you could see him on television, dressed in his colourful poncho and playing the flute.
Years passed by, and Joaquin travelled around on concert tours in various countries and even went to Europe. He met a great number of different people, and though he did not know their
language, he could understand the secret message, expressed in their eyes and in their faces, and he learned that their hopes and their grief did not differ from his own.
Now he played in big concert halls and was accompanied by a whole orchestra. When he entered the stage, the audience would greet him with expectant applause and people would whisper to each other: "He is truly Indian!" Yet there was no trace of disregard, but even a feeling of admiration as if he kept some precious secret they almost envied him.
Joaquin bowed, receiving the applause, and when he started to speak, his voice was gentle but firm. "Yes, I am an Indio," he said, "and the music I'm playing has its roots in the land of my forefathers. But what matters most, is that I'm a human being like everybody else, and therefore this music does not belong to my country or to my people, but to all of you."
His listeners fell silent, and by the magic of his flute they were carried far away to the distant highlands of the Andes crowned with snow-covered volcanos gleaming in the sunlight. And suddenly they realized that his country was part of this planet earth, which they shared with all of mankind, and that his music joined into the grand polyphonic symphony in which they all
took part with their own voices. And they felt joyous and grateful as if they had received an unexpected gift, while Joaquin in his turn recognized in all of them the old crinkled face of Padre Anselmo smiling at him in quiet agreement.
This page should be left blank, for more personal notes. On its back or the back of the last page of a story there could be given some information about the author and his published works and where they are available. So this would be a means for the authors to get some advertising without other effort. If people like a particular story, they might look for something else of the same author.
Text and Illustration
from the book, A Foreign Country—A Part of the Earth.
Copyright 1988 Prisca Wild