Monday, September 2, 2019

The story door (Following folktales around the world 120. - Cameroon)

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!

The Sacred Door and Other Stories
Cameroon folktales of the Beba
Ohio University Press, 2007.

The thirty-six tales in this book were recorded between 1979 and 1989 by a lady from Cameroon who emigrated into the USA. Makuchi is Beba, and she grew up in a living oral tradition with regular storytelling in the evenings (children were told that if they told stories in the daylight, the ghosts would take their voice). She also wrote her master's thesis on folktales she collected and translated, but she only started working on this book when she began sharing the stories with American children, to bring Beba culture closer to them. Each story comes with useful footnotes, and they are peppered with proverbs and wisdom. From the Afterword we can learn about the history of Cameroon and the Beba, as well as the Beba oral tradition, and we even find a collection of riddles to open storytelling sessions with.


I really enjoyed the story of the curious and brave little girl who saved herself from a man-eating lion. I also encountered women who turned down all suitors in favor of a handsome stranger who turned out to be a cannibal spirit; this should be under the Connections category, but all of them were so unique that I wanted to mention them here. In one of them a bunch of fish disguised themselves as suitors (they even borrowed a car!), while in another the girl was rescued from the spirit world inside the belly of a toad, with a straw in her mouth so that she could breathe. The storyteller explains that these stories were supposed to warn young people that a marriage unites two families, and you should not run off and marry strangers.
I was also thoroughly entertained by the most R-rated story of the book, about the friendship of Penis, Testicles, and Vagina.Or rather, the friendship of Penis and Vagina, because Testicles offended Vagina, and she has been refusing to have anything to do with them ever since.


There was yet another story about why bats fly at night (in this case, due to their quarrel with the sun, because the latter did not shine long enough for bat's mother's funeral). The story of the feast in the sky was also familiar from both sides of the ocean. Tortoise joined in with the help of borrowed feathers, but when he ate up all the food, his bird-friends took the feathers back, and he had to jump and crack his shell. Another traveling story motif that made an appearance is "a bundle of sticks is harder to break than a single one."
I was reminded of Aesop's tales by the story of the monkey and the bee, whose friendship was tested when they tricked each other out of shared meals. In this case, however, they made up in the end and became friends again. There are also Aesopic parallels to the story of the flutes, where a boy lost her flute, and the spirits offered him a golden one instead that he humbly refused, earning a reward. Another boy was not so humble, and got punished. These "kind and unkind" type tales appeared in quite a few versions in the book, both with boys and girls. Out of the latter kind, the best one was the story where the two sisters were hosted and tested by a mysterious drum-maker who did everything - talking, cooking - with his buttocks.
Cameroon has a good football team
The story of Sense-Pass-King was a variant on the Clever Maid story with a male hero, while the unhappy stepchild was a straight up male Cinderella story, where they even tried the shoe on his foot. It was accompanied by a female Cinderella as well, called Dance in the Sky, where the girl had crocodile skin, and wings in her armpits. Mbaka and the magic ring was a classic dog-and-cat Aladdin type tale, except here the magic ring brought success to the hero's soccer career...
The evil predator that got tricked back into the trap was Leopard, defeated by Monkey and Cow. The trickster in residence is Torokee the Tortoise; he did the tug-o-war trick with Elephant and Hippo, and ran the infamous race against Hare with the help of his family.

Where to next?
The Central African Republic!

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