Monday, November 25, 2019

Tricksters in the bush (Following folktales around the world 132. - Botswana)

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!

Bushman ​folktales
Oral traditions of the Nharo of Botswana and the /Xam of the Cape
Mathias Guenther
F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1989.

The book contains tales from two San (Bushman) ethnic groups, one of which, the Nharo, live in Botswana. Their stories were collected by the author himself from the oral tradition between 1968 and 70, while the Xam tales are from archival sources from the turn of the last century. There are a total of 78 Nharo and 16 Xam stories (including variants). While the two groups are divided by distance, language, and time, the tales form a common tradition and mythology.
The introduction is very lengthy, and talks in detail about Bushman society, lifestyle, traditions, and the collection process. The Nharo stories were collected from 14 men; female storytellers refused to talk to the male collector, and he notes that this probably skewed the contents of the repertoire in the book as well. The introduction talks about each storyteller in detail, as well as San mythology and religion, and the main characters in the stories. On top of this, each story comes with extensive notes and comments, often longer than the story text itself. Even with all this extra information, however, most of the stories were a very difficult read for the European reader.


It was fascinating to read the variants of The hare and the moon one after another. They were all basically the same story, but the details only formed the full picture together. First, the fragments only talked about how Moon wanted to make people immortal, but Hare repeated his message wrong, and people became mortal instead. Next, we found out that Hare was not Moon's intended messenger; she derailed the real one, and gave the false message on purpose. Finally, a longer version revealed that the Moon lured Hare into his hut and assaulted her - which is why she took revenge by distorting his message of immortality.
The story of The ostrich and the gemsbok was the reverse of many wife-kidnapping tales. Here, an old ostrich woman kidnapped herself a handsome gembsok man, and other young women had to figure out a way to steal him back.


It was very interesting that the collector included stories that were from the Bible, retold with local Nharo colors and sentiments. For example, in the myth of Adam and Eve, when god found them hiding in shame after eating the apple, he said "Come out, I didn't say I'm going to kill you, I just told you not to eat the apple, because it's bad." And he allowed them back home. There were also some folktales locals learned from European settlers, such as the story of Wren and Eagle from Grimm (here with local bird species).
Once again there was an animal race folktale, here between Ostrich and Tortoise - one variant even stated that Ostrich's legs got skinny from all the hard running.
Tricksters got their own chapter in the book. One of them was a small, flat-headed person named Bi; he was responsible for stealing fire from Ostrich (while in some other versions ostrich women stole the fire from an ostrich man). Animal tricksters were represented by Hare and Jackal. The latter did the horseback riding trick with Lion; stuck to the tar baby while stealing vegetables; and decided the dilemma of the ungrateful rescued snake to save Fox's life. Human tricksters, next to Bi, included the Khoisan Eyes-on-the-Feet, Pate (his whole body covered in toes), and the very rowdy and crude Pisamboro.

Where to next?

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