Monday, July 8, 2019

Great mothers, questionable husbands (Following folktales around the world 114. - Ivory Coast)

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!

Some Gold, a Little Ivory
Country tales from Ghana and the Ivory Coast
Edythe Rance Haskett
The John Day Company, 1971.

The book contains 24 folktales, out of which 14 are from the Ivory Coast (and the rest from Ghana). They have been collected and re-told by an African-American teacher, who spent years in the countries of West Africa. Since I will have a whole other post for Ghana, in this one I will only focus on the tales from the Ivory Coast. The stories were told in an enjoyable style with an audience of children in mind, and the book has some colorful illustrations, but I found it interesting as an adult as well.


In the tale of Mahda and the Bull Elephant, an evil elephant devoured the three children of a widow. She set out, tracked the elephant down, followed her children into his stomach, and saved everyone, people and animals alike, who had been trapped there.
In another story, Mongoose accidentally killed the king's favorite (but very annoying) goat, and tried to frame Dog for the murder. Dog's wife figured out a way to save her husband, and in the end, it was Mongoose who got sentenced to death by snake pit. This is why, according to the story, Mongoose is so good at killing snakes.
Once again, there were some dilemma tales in the collection. In one of them, a warrior loved two girls equally, and could not make up his mind about which one to marry - so he killed himself. One girl died after him in grief, while the other found a way to bring both of them back to life. The storyteller poses the lover's riddle: How should the warrior decide now?
In a short, fun pourquoi story, God entrusted Bat with a basket full of darkness, to deliver it to the Moon. On the way Bat fell asleep, and curious monkeys opened the basket, letting the night loose. Ever since them, Bat has been frantically flying around at night, trying to collect the darkness.


Binyoka, the Old Woman of the Water helped a girl named Hallah when she made a mistake and threw herself into a lake in her shame. She sunk down into the land of water spirits, where she met the Old Woman. Binyoka rewarded the girl's patience and kindness with gemstones, and made sure she found a good husband. This story reminded me of that of Frau Holle, without the "unkind girl" repetition. There was also a tale very similar to the European "handless maiden" stories - here, a girl was mutilated and chased away by her evil brother. When she was exiled into the wilderness for a second time, her father's blessing and the friendly forest snakes helped her turn her fate around.
The story of The Three Prayers reminded me of all the "three wishes" tales - a husband first wished his ugly wife to be pretty, then, when she was taken from him, he wished her to be a monkey, then when he got her back he wished her to go back to her original self. In the end, however, he concluded that he could be just as happy with an ugly wife.
As for tricksters: I was reminded of the Tar Baby stories by the tale in which a lazy thief was captured with the help of a bowl of fu-fu (and hot peppers). In the end, the thief was chased out of the village, and his wife, who wished for a better husband, became the second wife of the fu-fu's owner. There was also a version of the classic story in which a boy rescued a crocodile, and it wanted to eat him in return. Everyone they asked claimed that it is usual for good deeds to be rewarded with bad, until a chief came along and saved the boy.

Where to next?
Burkina Faso!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like good fun - and I’m fond of trickster tales.