Monday, June 3, 2019

Hare and trickery (Following folktales around the world 109. - The Gambia)

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!

Folktales from The Gambia
Wolof fictional narratives
Emil A. Magel
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1984.

The book features 45 Wolof folktales, collected in The Gambia between 1973-74. They are organized by structure, which was kind of fascinating (e.g. "statement-parallel-conclusion" type stories), although less useful than organizing by tale types. The Introduction talks about Wolof history, culture, storytelling, story structure, and other interesting topics. Each story came with ample end notes, and there is also a bibliography.


One of my favorite stories in the book was featured in two variants, under the awkward title The marriage of two masters of the Wolof language. It was about a girl who was so clever and eloquent that she confused all of her suitors - and a young man smart enough to understand her. They communictaed through references and metaphors, and she even rescued him from bandits in the end, thanks to a mysterious message he sent.
Wolof warriors
I also liked the story of the young man who was searching for a friend. He met another chief's son and they became best friends - however, our hero started an affair with his best friend's stepmother, the youngest wife of his father. When the father discovered the affair, the friend came to the rescue with a clever lie.
There were many tales with morals, where the wrong behavior was duly punished, such as the story of a greedy father, who hid food from his hungry family. He even pretended to be dead, so that he would be buried near the food. He was eventually found out by his son, and turned into vines out of shame.
I also enjoyed the fun tale of the donkeys of Jolof. Their king turned into a man and started a human family, until all the donkeys turned into people too, and went drumming and singing, looking for their ruler to bring him home.


There was once again a snake husband (Handsome suitor) tale; I read one of these from Mali, and while these variants lacked the helpful little sister, they still had the warning message about things that look too good to be true. Another familiar African motif was the wife who was secretly a beast (in this case, a hyena). I remember an African-American folktale similar to that of the Eternal lovers - a ram and an ewe. The ram was captured by a king, cooked, and eaten, but it kept singing to his wife all along, even from the king's stomach, until they eventually cut him out of there. I also knew the tale type of Hare seeks endowements from Caribbean traditions - the hare trickster wanted more cunning from Allah, but once he completed all the tricky tasks in exchange, Allah decided he had plenty of cunning to spare already.
Of course, there was yet another "kind and unkind girls" type tale, here it was the Mother of Wild Animals who doled out gifts and punishment. Kumba, the orphan girl, poked the wild animals with needles at night, so that they would think there were fleas in the bed, and leave her alone.
The trickster in residence was definitey Hare, who usually tricked Hyena - rode him like a horse, saved a helpful hippo from him, or got him punished for stealing ostrich eggs from inside a tree (a very popular tale among story therapists, the Secret Heart of the Tree, is very similar to this one). I knew the story of the Bearded Rock as an Anansi tale from Ghana, but this one was a bit darker: any animal that said "that rock has a beard!" died immediately, and Hare gleefully used up all their meat.

Where to next?

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