Monday, February 24, 2020

The wisdom of the jungle (Following folktales around the world 144. - Uganda)

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 ​King of the Snakes
And other folk-lore stories from Uganda
Rosetta Baskerville
The Sheldon Press, 1922.

The book contains twenty-six Ugandan folktales from the turn of the last century. Some of them have been translated from a Luganda collection by the author, while others she collected herself over the years she spent in Uganda. The book also contains some songs and proverbs, although it's hard to tell how close the rhyming song translations are to the original. The book was meant for children, so I suspect the tales have been "prettied up" by the author, but it was still a pretty great read.
(The title refers to a story where a wise man sees a dream predicting the arrival of the whites carried by metal snakes - the railroads.)


The story of Kintu revealed how death appeared in the world. Kintu was a shepherd boy who fell in love with Nambi, princess of the Cloud Kingdom, who slid down the rainbow with her siblings to play. Kintu and Nambi married, but when she moved to earth she was followed by her brother Walumbe, Death, who decided to stay among the people. In another story Mpobe the Hunter found the passage to Walumbe's underground realm, but Death let him go, making him promise not to tell anyone about his adventure. Of course the hunter broke the promise, and Walumba came to take him.
The story of Princess Peace started out great, but then took a nose dive, sadly. It was about a princess who wanted to travel and see other lands, but her father kept telling her that other kingdoms were full of strange people and not worth seeing. The princess set out anyway, crossing the great lakes with the help of a bird... and saw a foreign kingdom where people were different, so she returned home, concluding that her father was right. Boo.
Two wizards featured into the story of the Locusts, and they worked together to end the pest: one lured the locusts above Lake Victoria with the help of singing fireflies, and the other sent a storm from the top of his volcano to wash all the insects into the lake.
My favorite story in the book was that of The fairy foxes, where a greedy king built a zoo, collecting all kinds of animals, none of which were happy or treated well in captivity. One of his advisers, feeling sorry for the animals, convinced the king that there were "fairy foxes" in the jungle, and the king set out to find them. Over the weeks spent in the jungle the king's eyes opened to the beauty of nature, and he set his zoo animals free.
Another favorite was the story of Two friends. A strange, quiet boy went out into the jungle to think, and all kinds of animals gave him unwanted advice, until he was befriended by a hare, who treated him kindly and helped him find his own way.
These last two stories were the kind that makes this whole reading challenge worth it...


The story of the fairy bumblebee resembled that of the Queen Bee by the Grimms. Kinto saved a bumblebee from the rain, and in return it helped him get back his stolen cow from a wizard, with the help of various ants and a bamboo forest. The riddles of an evil king were answered by Walukaga the Blacksmith, rather than the usual clever maiden.
The motif of fire theft appeared in the tale of Kibate: here the fire had to be taken from the horn of a rhino, by telling it a funny story. The fire was successfully acquired by a lonely hunter, who'd spent enough time in the jungle to understand the humor of rhinos. There was once again a "why bats fly at night" type story (here, because they forgot to give a message to the Sun and they are hiding from him). The story of the animals inviting each other for dinner featured Frog and Lizard this time. There was also a tale where Rooster threatened all the animals with his "burning" comb - until Leopard's children figured out it was not dangerous at all.
The resident trickster was Hare once again. In one story he got rid of Lion and Hyena to get a better king for the animals (they had a contest about whose thoughts are more interesting). In another tale he traded a handful of corn for increasingly better things until he earned a cow (this was a very good variant for this tale type).

Where to next?

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