Monday, June 24, 2019

When birds talked and trees walked (Following folktales around the world 112. - Sierra Leone)

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!

Tales from Sierra Leone
Mohammed Yassin
Oxford University Press, 1967.

The book contains fifteen folktales, probably retold, but no introduction or notes of any kind. It has black-and-while illustrations, which are pretty. Most of the tales are short, and they usually end with morals that are sometimes surprising to the European reader, but I found many of the stories delightful.


There was a surprisingly chill and optimistic love story in the book, from the time when birds could talk. A young warrior fell in love with the favorite wife of a chief; when the affair came to light, he fled into the woods. Listening to the chatter of birds, he found some treasure, and started a new life - and he simply waited until the chief died before he married his love.
There was a fascinating tale about how a village lost its treasures that were given to them by the spirits who lived in a nearby lake. Every year, in exchange for sacrifices, the spirits piled pots, clothes, weapons, etc. on the lake shore - provided no musicians came near them. A proud priest broke the rule when he went to the lake with a full entourage of musicians - and the spirits took all their gifts back.
I also liked the story of the ram and the leopard, mostly for its moral. The leopard, right-paw man to king lion, tried to ruin the ram's reputation at court with lies. Ram was supported by his friend hyena, who kept encouraging him to stand up for himself. In the end, it came to a fight, and ram defeated leopard, although hyena held him back in the last minute to keep him from actually killing leopard. The moral of the story stated that it is foolish to dislike someone just because your superior likes them...

I was surprised and delighted by the motif of the walking tree that elected village leaders by walking in front of them. When the appropriate candidates were not present, the tree waited motionless until they showed up.


The tale type of the "three magic objects" appeared in its original dilemma tale form here. It featured four twins who set out to see the world, and learned magic skills in another village - next to the usual far-sight, flight, and healing, the fourth brother learned how to make lands fertile. After saving their father's life and wealth together, the storyteller posed the question: which brother deserved the most praise?
The story of the lion and the mouse (rat) had an unusual ending. Here, the rat did rescue the lion from a trap, but in return the lion roared at him and stomped away. The moral of the story was that the strong can often be ungrateful.

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. My mtdna goes back to Sierra Leone. I liked the one about the lion and the rat. Too, too true.