from Africa for this week are taken from a variety
of African traditions (Berber, Swahili, and others). They
are all found in the Andrew Lang Fairy Book series,
and in each case they are translations into English from the
African folktales collected by the Europeans who began studying
African cultures at the same time that the European countries
were busy dividing the African continent up amongst themselves.
Unlike the Jamaican folktales which were recorded in a style
imitating that of the native storyteller, these African folktales
are more like paraphrases which have been polished up to read
smoothly in English, but without the distinctive features
that they would have been given by the original storytellers.
You will probably want to do the African folktales unit if
you feel more comfortable reading standard English, as opposed
to the very non-standard English dialect in which the Jamaican
folktales are recorded. There is a nice variety of types of
stories included in this unit, ranging from trickster tales
about the jackal and his animal acquaintances, to the elaborate
and unforgettable fairy tale about the wonder-working gazelle
and his ungrateful master.
Here are some quotes from the stories:
As soon as his mother was out of sight, the baby took
out some magic bones, and placed them in a row before him.
'You are my father,' he told one bone, 'and you are my mother.
You are the biggest,' he said to the third, 'so you shall
be the ogre who wants to eat me; and you,' to another, 'are
very little, therefore you shall be me. Now, then, tell
me what I am to do.' ...
All this time the gazelle had been standing close to
the door, holding the sword in one of its front paws. And
as the snake put one of his heads through the hole that
he had made so as to get in and out comfortably, it cut
it of so clean that the snake really did not feel it. The
second blow was not quite so straight, for the snake said
to himself, 'Who is that who is trying to scratch me?' and
stretched out his third head to see; but no sooner was the
neck through the hole than the head went rolling to join
the rest. ...
While the monkey was looking out for a nice shady place
where he might perch comfortably he noticed a shark watching
him from below with greedy eyes. 'Can I do anything for
you, my friend?' asked the monkey politely. 'Oh! if you
only would thrown me down some of those delicious things,
I should be so grateful,' answered the shark. 'After you
have lived on fish for fifty years you begin to feel you
would like a change. And I am so very, very tired of the
taste of salt.'
from Jamaica is one of my favorite units
in the whole course - along with the Bre'r
Rabbit stories of Uncle Remus (another of my favorite
units!). The Jamaican Anansi stories and the Bre'r
Rabbit stories are closely related, and they go back
to African folktales, brought with slaves from Africa
to the Americas. Over time, these traditional African
stories incorporated plots from European stories and
from Native American stories in order to create an
incredibly rich cycle of tales organized around the
adventures of the brutal and comical tricksters Anansi
and Bre'r Rabbit, along with their enemies Tiger and
Lion and Wolf and Fox. The Jamaican stories you will
read here were collected by an anthropologist named
Martha Warren Beckwith. She recorded these stories
as they were told to her, in a dialect that you may
find hard to read at first (there are a few words
that I am not sure of myself, but that doesn't have
to diminish your enjoyment of the story in any way!).
If you want to see entirely new ways of using English
to tell a story, you will definitely want to read
these Jamaican stories.
Here are some quotes that can give you a sense of what the
dialect is like:
Anansi go out an' court two young lady was de king
daughter an' mak dem a fool, an' dem ketch him an' tie him,
an' de two sister go an' look a bundle a wood fe go an'
mak a fire under a copper fe bu'n him wid hot water. An'
after when dem gone, he see Tiger was coming. Anansi said,
"Lawd! Brar Tiger, I get into trouble heah!" An'
said, "Fe wha'?" An' say, "King daughter
wan' lib wid dem, come tie me." Tiger say, 'You fool,
mak y' loose an' tie me!" Anansi tie Tiger dere now
an' Anansi go to a grass-root an' dodge. An' when de misses
go t'row down de wood at de fireside, de littlest one say,
"Sister! sister! look de little uncle wha' we tie heah,
him tu'n a big uncle now!" ...
Cunnie-mo'n-father say, "Look here! I mus' fin'
out the name of that yam!" He got some okra an' went
to the place where the broad rock is an' mash up the okra
an' have the place quite slippery, an' hide himself away
in the bush near by. Anansi now coming with a larger yam
this time. As he reach to the rock, he make a slide, fa'
down, an' the yam smash. He said, "Lawd! all me yam
foofoo mash up!" ...
Brer Tiger and Brer Anansi went to river-side. Brer
Anansi said, "Brer Tiger, tak out your inside an' wash
it out." Brer Tiger did so. "Now, Brer Tiger,
dip your head in water wash it good." The moment Brer
Tiger put his head in water, Anansi took up the inside and
run away with it give to his wife Tacoomah to boil. ...