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I received this book some years ago as a gift from Harold Courlander, one of the two authors. We had met in Haiti. He was a scholar of Haitian folk literature (as well as his well-known work on African culture) and the day I met him he was sitting at a table on the veranda of the famous Hotel Ollofoson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I walked up the steps and was simply startled to see this very well-dressed my sitting at this outdoor table reading MY ESSAY I had just published on Haiti. I had no idea how that could have gotten to Haiti. So I stopped, didn’t introduce myself, I was just so startled and asked where he’d found that essay. He said Richard Morse, the hotel owner had recommended it to him. I introduced myself and sat to chat. That began a very long friendship over several years. This book is one, among others of his writings, which he sent to me over the following years.
This is a collection of very short stories, each just a few pages. What is emphasized is that in African folktales much of the nature of Africa’s lands, and the way people live and animal behave is credited to the physical nature of each species. Thus the myths, unlike so many European myths are not rooted in mythical beings, but in the nature of specific animals on the continent.
I will just share the sort of essence of the “message” of each of these very short stories to give any would-be reader an idea of how these moral tales work.
The authors point out the great diversity of geography, languages, and sorts of land, (plains, sea coasts, mountains, jungles and cities). They emphasize the various periods of small cultures on their own, and then European countries taking over lands and bringing European culture and languages as well. All of this great diversity accounts for a huge variety of popular African folk tales which this volume is meant to sample.
A hunter goes into the forest to hunt and doesn’t return home. He is lost and presumed dead. However, after a very long time his small child is born and after some time he asks where his father is. This prompts the man’s other sons to go find him, which they do. However, he is dead, killed by a leopard. The children, however, put him back together, each one contributing something to his rebirth and healing.
The man is so please that he makes a beautiful cow-tail switch in order to celebrate his return. It is so beautiful that everyone in the village wants it and the man must decide to whom this magnificent cow-tail switch must go. His decision is very surprising!
Kaddo was the richest man in his village and he grew most of the corn that people needed, but he wouldn’t help the poor with his own surplus, and many died or went elsewhere. But when famine came he himself had no corn or food left and he paid the price for his selfishness.
This is a hilarious story of people’s THINKING – yams, dogs, trees, fish traps and such – all begin to talk to their humans, scaring them a great deal!
Every night “sleep” sneaks up on people and takes away their ability to stay awake. One great hunter decides to stay awake and to kill sleep when he comes. He almost stays awake long enough to do it, but finally he just realizes you can’t defeat or kill sleep!
A great hunter and strong man can defeat most enemies but a huge bird tries to take the antelope he has killed. Kassa kills the bird, but the bird’s feathers weigh him down. His buddies can lift it, but a small woman of the forest comes along and blows the feather away.
The story seems to have the moral that knowledge is better than pure strength.
Anansi is notorious for cheating people in all business dealings. However, Anene out smarts him by playing on Ananis’s greed of always looking for the greatest advantage. Anene ends up teaching him a lesson in fairness. Cute tale.
A rural fellow goes to the town of Accra for the first time. However, he doesn’t understand the language. This leads him to misunderstand everything said to him and gives a total misunderstanding of everything said. Quite a funny outcome.
Ama finds a singing turtle and begs it to come to him home to live and to play and sing for him. The turtle says no – it would become too well known. Ama promises that no one would ever know, he would never tell anyone. So the turtle comes but Ama finally blabs to all and the people doubt he’s telling the truth. When he tries to make the turtle play for all the people the turtle won’t and Ama become the village fool.
A man named “Time” is rich and famous. But, in later years he becomes very poor. A group from far away travelled for days to see him and they meet this poorest of men. He tells them that “Time isn’t what it used to be.”
Maftam was poor but famous because he never told a falsehood. A local leader tried to trick him into telling a lie, but he failed. It seems that the reason Maftam never tells a lie is because he never makes any clear claim at all, but always talks of various possibilities and alternatives, thus he can’t really lie.
Guinea Fowl had a very successful farm that he works hard to keep up. Rabbit is very lazy and has a terrible farm. He tried to cheat Guinea Fowl out of his farm but the old judge assume features of behavior of both rabbit and guinea fowl as being “natural” to them. Thus when rabbit tries to pretend he is Guinea Fowl he fails and the judge is on Guinea Fowl’s side.
This story is a simple play on the word “nothing.” A kind rich man named “Nothing” is tricked by rabbit (who is very lazy) and killed so that rabbit can take over his property. Nothing’s wife, in the dead man’s honor, then feeds the poor in his name. Thus when one sees poor children crying for nothing, it is really that they are asking for food, people ask why are they crying and hear they are “crying for nothing.” Sad joke!
Soko had a debt and little by little everyone else finally came to have some of this debt.
Turtle came to the house of spider, and spider was thus obliged to offer food and hospitality, but he insists, first, that turtle wash his feet. But this is a trick. Every time turtle walks to the creek and washes, as he walks back his feet again get dirty and the entire time spider is eating, until finally the food is gone.
Some years later spider is travelling and comes to the sea, his is starved and has no food, but there is turtle, so spider presses him to feed him in return. Turtle agrees and goes down into the sea and prepares a fine meal. However, spider’s body is much too light to be able to go down into the sea to eat this lovely meal. It was payback time for spider!
A farmer has a dominant bull that kills all calves for fear one may be another bull. However, once the farmer found a new bull calf and hid it away. As it grew stronger it tested its great strength and created physical wonders in that region of Africa. Eventually the calf is of age and comes back to challenge the dominant bull. The fight also creates much of the variation in Africa’s geography so great was their battle and strength!
Because of his insatiable gluttony and selfishness Ansige loses his wife and his wealth.
Frog got his long hand because in his thankfulness for how others helped him, he shook hands to too many people and his hands were simply elongated by the shaking and squeezing!Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com