Where Animals Talk West African Folk Lore Tales
THE GORHAM PRESS
Copyright 1912 by Richard G. Badger
All rights reserved
The Gorham Press, Boston, U. S. A.
The typical native African Ekano or legend is marked by repetition. The same incidentsoccur to a succession of individuals; monotony being prevented by a variation in theconduct of those individuals, as they reveal their weakness or stupidity, artificeor treachery.
Narrators, while preserving the original plot and characters of a Tale, vary it, andmake it graphic by introducing objects known and familiar to their audience. Theseinconsistencies do not interfere with belief or offend the taste of a people withwhom even the impossible is not a bar to faith; rather, the inconsistency sharpenstheir enjoyment of the story.
Surprise must not be felt at the impossibility of some of the situations; e.g., the swallowing by an animal of his wife, baggage and household furniture, as a meansof hiding them. The absurdity of such situations is one of the distinctive attractionsto the minds of the excited listeners.
Variations of the same Tale, as told in different Tribes, were inevitable among apeople whose language was not written until within the last hundred years; the Taleshaving been transmitted verbally, from generation to generation, for, probably, thousandsof years. As to their antiquity, I believe these Tales to be of very ancient origin.No argument must be taken against them because of the internal evidence of allusionto modern things, or implements, or customs of known modern date; e.g., “cannon,” “tables,” “steamships,” etc., etc. Narrators constantly embellish by novel additions; e.g., where, in the original story, a character used a spear, the narrator may substitutea pistol.
Almost all these Tales locate themselves in supposed pre-historic times, when Beastsand Human Beings are asserted to have lived together with social relations in thesame community. An unintended concession to the claims of some Evolutionists!
The most distinctive feature of these Tales is that, while the actors are Beasts,they are speaking and living as Human Beings, acting as a beast in human environment;and, instantly, in the same sentence, acting as a human being in a beast’s environment.This must constantly be borne in mind, or the action of the story will become notonly unreasonable but utterly inexplicable.
The characters in the stories relieve themselves from difficult or dangerous situationsby invoking the aid of a powerful personal fetish-charm known as “Ngalo”; a fetishalmost as valuable as Aladdin’s Lamp of the Arabian Nights. And yet, with inconsistency,notwithstanding this aid, the actors are often suffering from many small evils ofdaily human life. These inconsistencies are another feature of the Ekano that thelisteners enjoy as the spice of the story.
From internal evidences, I think that the local sources of these Tales were Arabian,or at least under Arabic, and perhaps even Egyptian, influences. (Observe the prefix,Ra, a contraction of Rera equals father, a title of honor, as “Lord,” or “Sir,” or“Master,” in names of dignitaries; e.g. Ra-Mar‚nge, Ra-Mborakinda, Ra-Meses.)
This is consistent with the fact that there is Arabic blood in the Bantu Negro. Theinvariable direction to which the southwest coast tribes point, as the source of theirancestors, is northeast. Such an ethnologist as Sir H. H. Johnston traces the Bantustream southward on the east coast to the Cape of Good Hope, and then turns it northwardon the west coast to the equator and as far as the fourth degree of north latitude,the very region from which I gathered these stories.
Only a few men, and still fewer women, in any community, are noted as skilled narrators.They are the literati.
The public never weary of hearing the same Tales repeated; like our own civilizedaudiences at a play running for a hundred or more nights. They are made attractiveby the dramatic use of gesture, tones, and startling exclamations.
The occasions selected for the renditions are nights, after the day’s works are done,especially if there be visitors to be entertained. The places chosen are the openvillage street, or, in forest camps where almost all the population of a village go for a week’s workon their cutting of new plantations; or for hunting; or for fishing in ponds. Thetime for these camps is in one of the two dry seasons: where the booths erected arenot for protection against rain, but for a little privacy, for the warding off ofinsects, birds and small animals, and for the drying of meats. At such times, mostof the adults go off during the day for fishing; or, if for hunting, only the men;the children being guarded at their plays in the camp by the older women, who arekept occupied with cooking, and with the drying of meats. At night, all gather aroundthe camp-fire; and the Tales are told with, at intervals, accompaniment of drum; andparts of the plot are illustrated by an appropriate song, or by a short dance, theplatform being only the earth, and the scenery the forest shadows and the moon orstars.
The Bantu Language has very many dialects, having the same grammatical construction,but differing in their vocabulary. The name of the same animal therefore differs inthe three typical Tribes mentioned in these Tales; e.g., Leopard, in Mpongwe, equals Njĕg‚; in Benga, equals Nj‚; and in Fang, equals Nzĕ.
In all the dialects of the Bantu language, consonants are pronounced, as in English;except that g is always hard.
The vowels are pronounced as in the following English equivalent:—
|a||as in father||e.g., Kabala|
|‚||as in awe||e.g., Nj‚.|
|e||as in they||e.g., Ekaga.|
|ĕ||as in met||e.g., Njĕg‚.|
|i||as in machine||e.g., Njina.|
|o||as in note||e.g., Kombe.|
|u||as in rule||e.g., Kuba.|
A before y is pronounced ai as a diphthong, e.g., Asaya. Close every syllable with a vowel, e.g., Ko-ngo. Where two or more consonants begin a syllable, a slight vowel sound maybe presupposed, e.g., Ngweya, as if iNgweya.
Ng has the nasal sound of ng in “finger,” as if fing-nger, (not as in “singer,”) e.g., Mpo-ngwe.
The following sixteen Tales were narrated to me, many years ago, by two members ofthe Mpongwe tribe (one now dead) at the town of Libreville, Gaboon river, equatorialWest Africa. Both of them were well-educated persons, a man and a woman. They choselegends that were current in their own tribe. They spoke in Mpongwe; and, in my Englishrendition, I have retained some of their native idioms. As far as I am aware noneof these legends have ever been printed in English, excepting Tale 5, a version of which appeared in a