17 November 2010

The rabbit in the moon?

Teaching is a learning experience, and not just for the students. Every single day since I became a teacher, I’ve learnt something from my students. And today was no exception. For the very first time, I heard about the rabbit in the moon.

Like most Kiwi children, I was brought up on stories of the man in the moon, which probably stem from such childhood nursery rhymes as Mothergoose: ‘The man in the moon / came down too soon / to ask his way to Norwich’. But my Japanese, Korean and Mexican students see the moon differently – they see a rabbit, not a man.

In the Japanese and Korean cultures, the rabbit is believed to be pounding the ingredients for rice cake in a mortar and pestle. But the image my Mexican students described was of a different rabbit – no mortar and pestle, just the bunny. Presumably this is because their country is further south, so their view of the dark areas, the lunar seas or maria, and the lighter highlands of the lunar surface is different.

In our class discussion about the different images, we decided the reason was because Japan, Korea and Mexico are in the northern hemisphere, whereas New Zealand is in the southern, so we see the moon’s surface from different perspectives. 

That all seemed very logical at the time. But, of course, the Mother Goose rhyme is a northern hemisphere creation, and the idea of a man in the moon is, in fact, a longstanding European tradition. Roman mythology depicted him as a sheep thief, and Christian traditions variously describe him as a man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers XV.32-36) and as Cain, eternally destined to circle the Earth.

When I followed up these ideas on Wikipedia after class I discovered that a great diversity of moon characters have been seen and mythologised, including a woman, a frog, a moose, a buffalo and a dragon. Here in New Zealand, the Maori people believe they see a woman and a Ngaio tree.

The next full moon is due on 22 November. I’ve set my class the task of taking a good look at the moon that night so we can have another moon-image discussion the following day. It had better not be cloudy!