Monday, October 21, 2019

Unlikely heroes, diverse tricksters (Following folktales around the world 127. - Angola)

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!

Folk-tales of Angola
Fifty tales, with Kimbundu text, literal English translation, introduction, and notes
Héli Chatelain
The American Folk-Lore Society, 1894.

This is a very old book: the very first volume of the American Folk-Lore society series! It contains fifty folktales collected from the Mbundu people of Angola. The collector was a linguist who traveled to the country to help missionaries learn the local languages. Most of the tales came from a student of his named Jeremiah, who even accompanied him to America to help put the stories into writing.
The long and detailed (although definitely dated) introduction talks about Angola's geography, natural resources, climate, population, languages, societies, folklore, and oral traditions. A separate chapter deals with phonetics and pronunciation, since all the stories are printed in mirror translation, both in the original language and in English. They have been translated carefully word for word, which makes the English rendering hard to read and enjoy (even though, I still found quite a few fun stories in it). At the end of the book we get extensive notes for each tale to help with the understanding of linguistic and cultural details. This book was definitely ahead of its time.


I have read a similar story before, but I really liked this version of The son of Kimanaueze and the Daughter of the Sun and the Moon. A mortal man wanted to marry the celestial girl, but there was no one to carry his letters to her. Frog figured out a way to make the trip back and forth (in the water jugs of heavenly maidens), and managed to arrange the marriage through multiple visits.
The tale of Dinianga Dia Ngombe was strange but very entertaining. The hunter killed a deer and skinned it, but then the animal suddenly jumped up and got away. The hunter yelled after it, shaming it for running around "naked" - to which the deer responded that the hunter looked even more embarrassing, going home with an empty deer skin and nothing else. The humor was similarly poignant in the story of The young man and the skull; here the protagonist met a talking skull that warned him that his wits will be his undoing. The young man went around boasting that a talking skull told him he's so smart it will be his end... until they told him to prove his story. The skull, however, refused to talk, and the young man was beheaded, his own skull joining the family of talking skulls that should have known better.
I was fascinated by the tale of the two men who competed for the same girl. The father gave them the difficult task of catching a live deer. One of them considered his options and decided not to try, while the other stubbornly completed the task. The father gave the girl to the former, claiming that a man who followed senseless orders without thinking will make a terrible husband, and will beat his wife if she makes a mistake. Whoa.


Pic from here
The story of the (beautifully named) Na Nzua Dia Kimanaueze was similar to the European "boy who turned into animals" tales, except here the hero could take on the form of any animal, not just three, and besides rescuing a princess, he also used his forms to hunt for food when he was hungry. The princess, by the way, had to be rescued from slavery in Portugal. The story had a similar beginning than that of The woman who ate too much fish, except in that one, she did not have to give up her child to the God of Fish (eco-tales!), but rather, a particularly large fish came to life in her stomach, just like in the African-American story of the Singing Geese.
Once again I encountered a story about a woman (Ngana Samba) who married into the spirit world - here, against her will - and managed a daring escape together with her children. There was also another story where a little sister saved her siblings from the evil Ma-kishi spirits by keeping vigil at night and keeping them occupied. She eventually convinced her sisters to run away from the spirit world; in their escape they were helped by a hawk, which, strangely reminded me of a story I read from Kiribati.
There was a whole host of resident tricksters, including Hare and Monkey. In a Tar Baby variant they actually appeared together, and were caught by the tar-women set up by Leopard (but obviously they got away). In the tale about the shared food secretly stolen, Fox was tricked by a wily Mole, but he managed to take revenge in the end. In the story where the "male goat gave birth to kids" trial had to be decided, it was clever Duiker (a distant relative to Mouse Deer) who helped the defendant; while the infamous horse-riding trick of Br'er Rabbit was played on Elephant by Frog. I was also reminded of Br'er Rabbit stories by the "briar patch" tale, where Turtle made people believe he could only be killed by being thrown into the river. The ungrateful predator rescued from a trap (and then put back in) was Leopard, tricked by Hare. Leopard was also the villain of the story where he invited animals along to his family, played tricks on them on the way, and had them killed in the end. It was Monkey who managed to outsmart him (in other African traditions it used to be Antelope who tricked wily Tortoise).

Where to next?

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