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Oral Literature in Africa

On hearing that, the Crow set himself to think and after a little while decided to see what he could do. With his strong bill he succeeded in extracting the first thorn, and truly, two small pieces of meat fell on the ground. The bird devoured them very greedily, and encouraged by the success, began to tackle the job seriously. After great effort he succeeded in extracting the second thorn, but alas! The shock was so great, that he remained buried for two days, until a great shower of rain washed the ground, freeing the Crow of the burden.

He remained a full day basking in the sun and regaining strength. He was so weak that he could not fly. The Crow was washed by the heavy rain, but his neck remained white. That is the reason why crows to-day have a white collar in their plumage. The Crow very much resented the alteration of his plumage and decided in his heart to take revenge. One day he heard that the hyenas had arranged for a great dance in a thicket he knew very well.

He cleaned himself with great care in the morning dew, put on a beautiful string made of scented roots and proceeded to the meeting place. On his arrival he was greeted by the hyenas and several of them asked him to give them some of those little pieces of meat he wore around his body. They took his ornamental beads to be meat. He refused to give any of the beads away, but rising on his feet with an air of dignity, he said: Look up at the sky and see how many white heaps of fat we usually store there. The hyenas gazed up to the sky and asked: You can reach there very easily. Now, let us make an appointment.

The day after to-morrow we will meet here again. On the day appointed the hyenas came in great numbers. I think the whole population was there. The Crow arrived in due time. He started by congratulating the crowd on their punctuality, and with great poise said: You must grapple one another by the tail, so as to form a long chain. There was a general bustle among the hyenas, but after a few moments all were in order. At a given sign, the Crow began to fly, lifting the hyenas one by one till they looked like a long black chain waving in the air. After some time he asked: He flew and flew up into the sky for a long time and asked again: Do you see the trees, the huts, the rivers?

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He flew again for another while and then said to the hyenas nearby: The Crow would not listen at all. He thought the time had come for his revenge. With a sharp jerk he turned to the right. The feathers of his tail tore out, and with them the long chain of hyenas. They fell heavily on the ground and died. One of them escaped with a broken leg. She was pregnant and so saved the kinship from total destruction. That is the reason why hyenas these days limp when they walk Cagnolo The fact that most of the animals portrayed are well known to the audience—their appearance, their behaviour, their calls, so often amusingly imitated by the narrator—adds definite wit and significance that is lost when rendered for readers unfamiliar with this background.

It is true that the imagery associated with the animal figures in tales hardly matches that implied in other contexts praise songs for instance, as pointed out in James But on a straightforward and humorous level the animals that appear in the stories can be appreciated and enjoyed for their amusing antics or their vivid portrayal by the narrator.

On another level, what is often involved in the animal stories is a comment, even a satire, on human society and behaviour. In a sense, when the narrators speak of the actions and characters of animals they are also representing human faults and virtues, somewhat removed and detached from reality through being presented in the guise of animals, but nevertheless with an indirect relation to observed human action. As Smith writes of the Ha, in words that can be applied far more widely: In sketching these animals, not Sulwe and Fulwe [Hare and Tortoise] only, but all the animals in these tales, the Ba-ila are sketching themselves.

The virtues they esteem, the vices they condemn, the follies they ridicule—all are here in the animals. It is a picture of Ba-ila drawn by Ba-ila, albeit unconsciously. Smith and Dale ii, Nor need we refer to literalistic interpretations of the stories, and assume that in each case they present clear-cut moral messages, like the protest of weakness against strength, or a direct one-to-one reflection of human or local society, or specific references to definite individuals— though there are occasional instances of the last category.

The foibles and weaknesses, virtues and strengths, ridiculous and appealing qualities known to all those present are touched on, indirectly, in the telling of stories and are what make them meaningful and effective in the actual narration. In contexts in which literary expression is neither veiled by being expressed through the written word nor usually voiced by narrators removed from the close-knit village group, comment on human and social affairs can be expressed less rawly, less directly by being enmasked in animal characters.

But the background to, say, some little story about a competition between two animals for chiefship, or a race between two birds to the colonial secretariat for the prize of local government office, renders it meaningful to an audience fully aware of the lengths to which political rivalry and ambition can lead men. If we cannot say that such events are represented directly in the stories, we can at least see how the tales strike a responsive chord in their audience. In a way common to many forms of literature, but doubly removed from reality in being set among animals, the animal tales reflect, mould, and interpret the social and literary experience of which they form part.

This is the effective use that can be made of the image of the trickster usually but not invariably an animal. This figure can be adapted to express the idea of opposition to the normal world or of the distortion of accepted human and social values. This applies particularly when the trickster figure is made not only wily but also in some way inordinate and outrageous—gluttonous, uninhibited, stupid, unscrupulous, constantly overreaching himself.

Here, the trickster is being presented as a kind of mirror-image of respectable human society, reflecting the opposite of the normally approved or expected character and behaviour.

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This aspect has been particularly well described for Ikaki, the tortoise trickster figure among the Kalahari. He appears in both masquerade and story as. Not only does the trickster figure stand for what is feared, his representation in literature also helps to deal with these fears. In the first place, he is represented in animal guise which allows narrator and listener to stand back, as it were, and contemplate the type in tranquillity. Further, by portraying him in stories, people can show the trickster as himself outwitted and overreached, often enough by his own wife.

In these various ways. People laugh from out of their depths at the ravening forest beast, because for once they have got him behind bars. This in fact is far from being the case. The proportion of animal stories seems to have been much exaggerated, and in some areas at least stories mainly about people or supernatural beings seem to be preferred or to be more elaborate, lengthy, or serious.

It is not easy to work out the numerical and qualitative relationship between animal and other stories in different areas. One or two suggestions have been made along these lines—postulating, for example, that animal tales are the most popular form in Central and East Africa, but not at all conspicuous in parts of South Africa. Quite apart from the overlapping between animal and other tales, one does not usually know what principles of selection have been adopted in any given collection of tales: Perhaps all that can be concluded for the moment at least is that, for all their popularity in Europe, animal tales are not the only or even the most important type of African oral narratives.

These stories are of many kinds. Some are concerned with marvellous events and personages, some exhibit marked Arabic influence particularly in the long-established Islamic areas , some deal with everyday events in village life, some with a combination of all these. Like animal stories, some stories contain an aetiological aspect or a moralizing conclusion, others centre round a series of tricks or a competition.

There is a definite overlapping in subject and structure, both between various categories of stories about people and, as already remarked, between all these stories and animal tales as a whole. This is not because they are less important, but because, being less well known, they have been less theorized over and confused by Western scholars. It is obvious to most readers that these narratives can be treated as a form of literature comparable to the more familiar types of written fiction rather than analysed as some strange product of a totemistic or as yet childish mentality.

After some brief comments on the range of these stories, the narratives can be left to speak for themselves as self-evidently a form of literature. They concern such well-known problems as the relations of two co-wives and how these affect their children or their husband; wooing a wife; jealousy between two equals or between chief and subject; the extremes of friendship and affection shown by two companions; or a series of clever tricks by some outrageous but in essence recognizably human character.

But even more often, it seems, the story is set back a little further from reality by the introduction of some marvellous element in setting, event, or character. Similarly the cunning of the central character may rest on enchanted powers and lead the listener into some far-away world of fantasy.

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The imagination of both teller and audience can rove freely and the exploits of the hero become the more romantic and exciting for being enacted against this imaginary background. The hero struggles against ogres and monsters who are trying to devour him. These fearsome ogres are stock characters in many stories in Bantu Africa. In all these cases, the basically non-human and asocial character of these figures comes through clearly either by reason of their deformities or through their association with non-human creatures.

All over the continent kings are represented as possessing exaggerated wealth and power, heroes are revived from death, girls are wooed by hundreds and thousands of suitors, young men win whole kingdoms for themselves by force of arms or politic love, or hunters kill and capture fabulous beasts who bring them all their desires. In the areas strongly influenced by Islam, particularly on the East Coast, we also hear of sultans with wealthy and glittering entourages and of the miraculous assistance given to a hero by genies.

Each has his own contribution to make of wit, satire, elegance, or moralizing. Similarly some stories may give an impression of serenity; others most definitely do not. It is better to say that the opportunities for various kinds of literary effect are exploited differently in different contexts, and that even when some of the themes are the same, the actual tone and impact of the story itself may vary in different areas and according to different narrations.

In both there is an element of fantasy and a concentration on human action—but the stories are very different in tone. There was a certain Man, a Pauper, he had nothing but husks for himself and his Wife to eat. There was another Man who had many Wives and Slaves and Children, and the two Men had farms close together. One day a Very-Rich-Man who was richer than either came, and was going to pass by on the road.

He had put on a ragged coat and torn trousers, and a holey cap, and the People did not know that he was rich, they thought that he was a Beggar.


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So he had a calabash washed well with white earth, 33 and filled up to the top with dollars, and a new mat 34 was brought to close it. Wacici was a very beautiful girl, admired by many people for her elegance and charm. Her girl friends were very jealous of her and always ill-treated her. One day her friends were going to visit a mwehani 39 to have their teeth filed, spaced, and beautified as girls used to do. He was a man of great fame who was highly reputed for his skill.

They all had their teeth well done and the girls looked very attractive and charming, but no one looked as pretty as Wacici. This annoyed her girl friends very much. On their way home they stopped and talked to young men from time to time. And all the boys agreed and repeated this remark to Wacici. The girls continued their journey towards their homes and on the way they all conspired to bury Wacici alive in a porcupine hole which was somewhere in the forest near the road.

They all agreed to do this and Wacici particularly was very eager to take home some firewood. She was not only a beauty but also a very good girl who upheld the respect expected of Gikuyu girls, and her mother loved her dearly. When the girls reached the porcupine hole in the forest, they grabbed Wacici and pushed her down the hole and quickly buried her alive. She was taken by surprise and she did not have a chance to scream as she thought that they were playing with her.

They did not beat her or do anything harmful to her body. They sealed the hole very carefully on top, quickly left the forest and returned to their homes; they did not speak to anybody about Wacici.


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That evening Wacici did not return home. Her parents waited and waited. They all denied having been with her or seeing her anywhere that day. All this time Wacici was crying in the bottom of the porcupine hole in the forest while her parents were wandering all over the villages looking for her. He reported this to his wife and without wasting any time he went to see the dentist in order to verify this information. The dentist confirmed that Wacici and her friends had been to see him and that he had done their teeth on the day she was reported missing.

He returned home and reported to his wife and the family all the information he had gathered. He suspected foul play. He left home quickly and tracked the route through which the girls had returned from the expert. He knew that if they gathered some firewood, they must have entered the forest on the way. He went into the forest to check if his sister had been killed there. When he came near the porcupine hole he noticed that it was freshly covered and that there were many footmarks which suggested that many people had been there.

He examined them very carefully. He also saw a bundle of firewood which had been abandoned. This time Wacici could hear some noise and footsteps above her. When he listened carefully he heard the voice of Wacici clearly and he had no doubt that she had been buried there by her girl friends who were jealous of her beauty. At once her brother started digging and removing the soil.

He dug and dug until he came to where she was sitting and crying. He carried her to the surface and examined her: He took her home and her parents were so happy to see her again. She was given a good bath and a lamb was slaughtered to offer thanksgiving to Mwene-Nyaga who had preserved her life. Wacici reported what her friends had done to her. The following morning the evil girls were arrested and sent to a trial before the elders in a tribunal court and their fathers were heavily fined.

They had to pay many heads of cattle and many rams and bulls were slaughtered and a lot of beer had to be brewed for the judges and the elders to eat and drink. The bad girls were exposed and they were all shunned in society and were unable to get husbands for a long time.

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Wacici was widely respected and she got married and became a mother of many children and lived happily ever after. Some societies have their own favourite named heroes, often of a trickster type, for instance the Lamba Kantanga a little mischievous fellow , the Zanda Ture or Tule an amusing rogue , the Zulu Uthlakanyana when appearing as a human a deceitful and cunning little dwarf , the Fon Yo a glutton with various supernatural powers , and so on.

As with animal tales it would be misleading to assume that all these stories about named characters fall into clear-cut cycles in an attempt to give an overall and in principle unitary history of the hero. In some cases at least there seems to be no attempt at consistency or chronology, the stories are told as short independent narrations on different occasions, and their inclusion into one united narrative may represent the outlook of the Western systematizing scholar rather than the intentions of the narrators.

The names are merely taken, it seems, from everyday names in current use and given to a character for ease of reference. Thus the Ila are particularly fond of stories about fools Smith and Dale ii Some stock characters have wide application and appear in various contexts in the stories of many African peoples. We often hear of the actions of a jealous husband, a boaster, a skilful hunter, an absurdly stupid person, a despised youngster making good, a wise old woman, an oppressive ruler, twins, good and bad daughters, or young lovers.

The basic human dilemmas implied by so many of these figures have clearly brought inspiration to hundreds of story-tellers practising their otherwise diverse skills throughout the continent. This will involve recapitulating several points touched on earlier. This provides a convenient starting-point. Myths are prose narratives which, in the society in which they are told are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past.

They are accepted on faith; they are taught to be believed; and they can be cited as authority in answer to ignorance, doubt, or disbelief. Myths are the embodiment of dogma; they are usually sacred; and they are often associated with theology and ritual. Their main characters are… animals, deities, or culture heroes, whose actions are set in an earlier world, when the earth was different from what it is today, or in another world such as the sky or underworld… Bascom b: This is in spite of the narratives presented as myths in many popular collections.

It is seldom, also, that we seem to find narratives depicting the activities of deities or other supernatural beings alone or even as the central subject 44 much more frequently the interest seems to be centred on human or animal characters with supernatural beings only appearing in secondary roles. And one could go further and say that myths in any strict sense do not seem, on the evidence we have, to be a characteristic African form at all.

This can be illustrated from three or four of the better-studied African cultures. The elements of entertainment and of conscious artistry seem relatively unimportant. The second group of Fon narratives, the heho , covers more light-hearted stories. There are tales about various supernatural, human, and animal characters: All these latter stories are normally told at night.

In fact, as Herskovits points out The Kimbundu classifications, for example, divide narratives into three main groups excluding the closely related proverbs, jisabu. There are, first, the stories regarded as fictitious, misoso , arising from imagination. This class includes animal tales and stories about the marvellous and supernatural. Secondly there are the maka , reputedly true stories or anecdotes. These are instructive as well as entertaining, and are socially didactic, concerned with how to live and act. Their oral literature is divided into several categories.

This includes the genealogies, back to the supposed time when all Dogon descended from the three sons of a common ancestor. It also includes accounts—how far appearing in narrative sequence it is not clear—about the deeds of the first ancestor and his descendants, and about the ancestors of each clan and the founding of the various contemporary villages. Then there are the tanye or tanye nanay literally impossible or unbelievable but true. These are tales about events that not only could not but in fact, according even to the teller, never did take place, and take the form of fantastic stories often ending up with a dilemma.

Distinct from all these are the stories elme or elume told to entertain children, often by the children themselves. These tales are not usually told by adults but by young people while in the fields or during their time as herders. The West African Limba, for instance, mostly use the single term mboro to cover all kinds of narratives, the Yao of Malawi similarly use ndano of tales in general Macdonald Amid the variety of classifications a few general points emerge.

It is true that the absence of the word need not imply the non-occurrence of the thing. But it is certainly suggestive if the local terminology either makes no distinction at all within narratives or a distinction on different lines from those of the foreign theorist. Here it often appears that the crucial differentiating factors are not so much the content or the characters of the narratives but the context in which they are told.

They are used in serious discussion during the day, as distinct from the entertaining stories of the evenings. Certain of the same factors recur in the otherwise rather different cases of the Kimbundu and the Dogon. Questions about the circumstances in which the narrations take place, their purpose and tone, the type of narrator and audience, the publicity or secrecy of the event, and, finally, even the style of narration may be more crucial than questions about content and characters. Unfortunately it is precisely about these former factors that we are often least well informed: We know, for instance, of the many aetiological tales or of those including references to certain supernatural beings or events.

Is the fortune smaller than they thought? Wang makes a strong debut with this fun drama. In The Library Book , journalist Susan Orlean explores that case and other library fires and shows readers what history loses when books, and the safe spaces that house them, are targets. As a child of unfit parents, Tena Clark was raised by her family's black maid— an experience that shaped her views on race and life and put her at odds with her family.

In her moving memoir, Southern Discomfort , Clark reflects on growing up and coming out in the s. Unsheltered , the new novel from Barbara Kingsolver, introduces us to Willa Knox, who is confronting life's unpredictability. After losing her job, she is forced to move to an inherited home that's falling apart.

There she finds comfort from an unlikely source: You've probably taken a personality test at some point, possibly just because you were interested, or maybe because it was mandated by a school or job. Ten years later, the son reappears and is quickly admitted to a psychiatric facility where a Maya, a speech therapist, tries to get him to talk about what happened over the long decade he was gone, while also grappling with secrets in her own past. The story begins with Elsie, the wife of a missionary in India in the s. This gorgeous novel examines the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.

If you could invite anyone—dead or alive—to dinner, who would they be? That's a question asked during parties, in interviews, and now in Rebecca Serle's whimsical novel, The Dinner List. Just before Sabrina's 30th birthday party, she finds out she'll dine with her best friend, three people from her past, and Audrey Hepburn.

This fun book will make readers reflect on friendship and lost love and how we remember the past. The McCloud siblings have lost everything— first their mother to childbirth, then their father to a Category 5 tornado. Tucker disappears, leaving the eldest, Darlene, to care for her two sisters. Three years later, Tucker, now a radical animal rights activist, reappears after bombing a local cosmetics factory to kidnap his 9-year-old sister, Cora. Told by Darlene and Cora, Abby Geni's haunting literary thriller, The Wildlands , explores humans' relationships with nature and what drives a person to fanaticism.

Eleven-year-old Wash is a slave on a sugar plantation when his master's brother—an enigmatic scientist and abolitionist—chooses him to be a personal assistant. After they have to flee the plantation in the night, a bounty is put on Wash's head. In Washington Black , Esi Edugyan depicts how even as Wash leads an adventurous and boundary-pushing life, the risk of enslavement is never far behind. A riveting story about identity, slavery, and freedom. After the war, Juliet works a humdrum job at the BBC and believes the past is behind her when unusual happenings—old colleagues turning up on streets, a threatening note in the mail—can't be ignored.

In Atkinson's quietly suspenseful novel, nothing is as it seems. At the start of Joyful , author and designer Ingrid Fetell Lee describes a struggling Albanian city that painted its buildings bright colors. Almost immediately, crime declined. People filled the sidewalks. This was in part because color, Lee writes, universally brings people joy. In her book, Lee names 10 "aesthetics of joy," from Energy things like color to Play round objects. Blending science and tips, Lee shows readers that looking outward—at flowers in a vase or fireworks in the sky—can brighten our days.

When Clare arrives in Havana, Cuba, she is shocked to see her husband, Richard, who was killed in an accident only a month before. As she follows him through the island, the lines between what is real and what isn't start to blur, and Clare is brought on a highly unusual adventure, one that may be happening only in her mind.

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When newly-divorced Virginia accepts a job in the information booth at Grand Central Terminal in New York, she only wants to make enough money to support herself and her daughter. What would you do if you came home to find another family had moved to your home? But when Fiona tries to sort out what could be happening, she realizes that both Bram and the boys are nowhere to be found. This heart-pounding thriller follows Fiona as she desperately hunts for answers and for her family, exposing how little she really knew about Bram along the way.

This fascinating investigation dives into the world of heart science and the scientists and doctors pushing medical progress further—at any cost necessary. Frances de Pontes Peebles's tender novel follows this unlikely friendship and the jealousy and rivalry that come with their pursuit of fame. Kya is left to fend for herself when her mom walks out on her family. Only 7 years old, with an absentee, alcoholic father, Kya learns to survive the wild North Carolina coast on her own. Townspeople nearby dub her the Marsh Girl and believe she is dangerous.

So when a man in town is murdered, it doesn't take long for the locals to try to pin the crime on Kya. Delia Owens's gorgeous novel, Where the Crawdads Sing , is both a coming-of-age tale and an engrossing whodunit. They offer us an insight into someone else's head. If we're really lucky they provide reassurance that other people think like we do. The best part about reading a diary and this applies to reading your own, old diaries is discovering what the writer of that diary chose to record.

What was important to them on that day? Seemingly irrelevant, mundane comments can say a lot about a person, even if it's that "I had the biggest laugh at school today. Jason was messing about with a Bovril sandwich and somehow it ended up being shoved down my jumper I hasten to add that it was wrapped in cellophane.

I got it out, crawled over to James' bag and put it inside without him seeing. Everyone else saw — it was well funny. I was supposed to be revising for my GCSEs. Books based on diaries give a reader something really special. The feeling that someone is confiding in you; sharing things with you that they would never tell another living soul. There are many fantastic books for children and teenagers with a diary format. These are my top ten, in no particular order as these books are so diverse that it would be impossible to compare them to each other.

Rebecca Westcott's debut novel Dandelion Clocks is published by Penguin and follows the diary of year-old Liv from thirteen weeks before to six months after the death of her much-loved mum from cancer. There is no doubt about this — Nana has plans to decorate her own coffin and when it arrives on Mira's birthday it's clear that Nana hasn't got long to go. At the same time, Mira joins a writing club at school where she is encouraged to write a diary.

The timing is perfect. Things are changing and Mira is suddenly less keen to confide in her best friend.

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The diary becomes her keeper of secrets. This is a beautiful book, full of what it means to love and be loved. It also contains the sentence I most wish I had written. It's a sentence that keeps coming back to me and could be the opening line to a thousand different stories. Mention children's books based on a diary to most people and this is the first one they'll think of. Since its first publication in it has been translated into 70 languages and sold over 30 million copies.

It's a great example of a diary being written to be read. When Anne first began her diary in , it was intended as a personal journal, for her eyes only. That changed in when she heard that the Dutch government was looking to collect letters and diaries after the war that would show the plight of the Dutch people.

At this point, Anne revisited her old diaries, adding more detail and editing existing entries. She wanted to become a famous writer and imagined her diaries as a way of enabling that. This fact makes reading The Diary of a Young Girl a doubly powerful experience. Anne was a real teenager with real teenage concerns - the back of the book describes her as "an ordinary yet extraordinary teenage girl. Her chatty, friendly style of writing means that her diary entries possess a dry humour despite being poignant and devastatingly awful.

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Girls Closed In (Prose Series 73) Girls Closed In (Prose Series 73)
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Girls Closed In (Prose Series 73) Girls Closed In (Prose Series 73)
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