Monday, May 6, 2019

Good examples, bad examples (Following folktales around the world 105. - Mali)

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 here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

A madáron vett menyasszony
Bambara mesék Maliból és Szenegálból
Görög-Karády Veronika & Gérard Meyer
Európa Könyvkiadó, 1984.

This book contains 43 Bambara folktales, collected over the course of two expeditions in 1972 and 1975. The stories were recorded first, and then translated to French and Hungarian. Storytelling happened in its natural setting, with local audiences, after sunset. At the end of the book a lengthy Afterword tells us about Bambara history and culture, and the role of folktales in Bambara tradition. There are approximately ten million Bambara living in West Africa, most of them in Mali, but also in the neighboring countries. Among the stories there were some familiar types, but also new ones (for me), and some of them repeated in the collection more than once.


In the story of The snake husband, a girl married a snake disguised as a man. Her little sister tried to follow her to her new home, and stuck around even though the bride tried to chase her away multiple times. In the end, it was the clever sister who saved both of them when the husband showed his true nature. I enjoyed the character arc, and the sibling teamwork at the end.
Bambara antelope headdress
I found the story of Siriman the Hunter both exciting and strange. He was a hunter who killed too many animals, and the animals swore revenge against him. In an elaborate plan, they turned an antelope into an attractive young woman, and she lured the hunter away into the wilderness without his weapons. In the end, he had a narrow escape with the help of his hunting dogs, and the moral of the story told us he should have listened to the warning of his mother about the woman. I found myself a little disappointed. Animals had a more helpful role in the Animal companions tale, where a dying father made sure to garner favors with various animals. Later, when his orphan son was persecuted by the village, the animals helped him fulfill all their impossible tasks. Rabbit was the hero of the story of The elephant stomped into the mud, in which an elephant killed everyone who tried to drink from his watering hole, until the brave little rabbit defeated him.
The tale of The farmer and the spirits was both humorous and eerie. Spirits of the land helped a farmer by mimicking everything he did, which was very useful at first (they helped him plough, sow, harvest, etc.)... but when he slapped at a mosquito on his arm, the spirits did the same, and beat him to death. Oops.
The best story of the collection, however, was that of The wicked boy and the griot. Everyone gave up the boy as evil and good for nothing, until a griot began following him around, beating his drum and singing "He is not acting wicked because he is evil" over and over again. At first, the boy only heard the griot calling him wicked, and tried everything to get him to stop... but in the end, the storyteller managed to convince him that he had the capability to change his ways and do good. Lovely story.


I was reminded of the seven kids story by The beautiful girl who was locked up, and eaten by a hyena. In this one, the girl was hidden in a house by her mother, because she was so beautiful that her father and brothers wanted to marry her. When the hyena got in, mimicking the voice of the mother, and ate her, the story put the blame on the male relatives. On the other hand, there were two stories that I have encountered in other African countries, where a girl abandoned her weak or sick brother, and regretted it later, when their fortunes turned.
There was yet another Kind and Unkind Girls type story (here, the person giving out rewards and punishments was a three-headed old woman), and a race between animals, run by The hedgehog and the heron, who were co-wives, and were racing to get to their hairdresser first.

Where to next?


  1. Going to have fun following along...

    DB McNicol
    author, traveler, shutterbug
    Author Blog
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  2. These remind me of when I was a child. My favorite folktale was "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears"
    by Verna Aardema. Have you ever read this?

    1. Yes! And the title story is a really fun one too :)