Monday, June 5, 2017

Susan and the Sesame (Following folktales around the world 28. - Grenada)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk-lore of the Antilles, French and English I.
Elsie Clews Parsons - Gladys A. Reichard
American Folk-lore Society, 1933.

For those small Caribbean countries where I could not find an individual book of folktales, I'll be reading chapters from this collection. Folk-lore of the Antilles is a three-volume opus that contains hundreds of folktales in French and English, organized by island. The Grenada chapter contained 32 tales, most of them in English and some in French with English variants. All texts were transcribed phonetically, which made reading a little hard sometimes. Especially interesting was the list of informants: Most of them were between 13 and 18 years old, and the oldest was 35.


My favorite story from the collection was from the island of Carriacou, and told about a girl who knew all the Nancy stories ("Nancy story" or Anansi story is the generic term used for folktales and especially trickster tales). In this tale, the girl wanted to marry a man who could tell her a story with a meaning she could not understand. A boy, whose mother was trying to kill him, managed to recount a series of adventures that baffled the girl in the end.
Another tiny but deep story was Cat and Rat bathe together. In this, a young kitten and a young rat were friends and went bathing together every day until their parents told them they were supposed to be natural enemies. The story had a very clear point to make, about hate being a learned behavior...


After Ecuador I once again encountered a "Trickster asks for a boon" type tale (of African origins). Rabbit asked God for wits, and had to bring various things (lion's teeth, large snake) to prove that he was worthy. There were also other classic trickster tale types, such as swapping places before an execution, the deadly rock (a.k.a. Anansi and the Moss-covered rock), and Trickster looks for trouble, which I have also read from Trinidad last week.
I also found a Grenadian Hansel and Gretel, a "Mother killed me, father ate me" fairy tale, and a version of the Haitian tale of Tayzanne about the friendship (or maybe love) of a girl and a fish. Also from Haiti (or rather, from Diane Wolkstein's Haitian story collection) I knew the story of Filomena, where the cruelty of a stepmother comes back to destroy her own children - this one showed up in the Suriname collection as well. Here, the stepchild was called Crocodile.
I chuckled a lot at a tale where thieves could open a door with a magic word - but instead of "Open, Sesame!" the call was "Open, Susan!" I wonder how that happened...

Where to next?
In the logical line of succession: St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


  1. "Mother killed me, father ate me?" The mind boggles!

    1. It's a common fairy tale type. A child gets killed by its mother and fed (unknowingly) to its father, and then their remains somehow sing a song telling the whole story. Sometimes it's just the murder, not the eating.

  2. 'Open Susan'. LOL. So many ways to misinterpret. Being from the Caribbean myself (Jamaica). I found this post very intriguing. I love Anansi stories!

    1. I'm gonna be getting to Jamaica in a couple of weeks! Any book suggestions? :)

  3. going to have to look up that folk-lore book.

    joy @ The Joyous Living