Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation | Annotated Tale

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THE volume [1] containing an instalment of thirty-four negro legends, which was given to the public three years ago, was accompanied by an apology for both the matter and the manner. Perhaps such an apology is more necessary now than it was then; but the warm reception given to the book on all sides--by literary critics, as well as by ethnologists and students of folk-lore, in this country and in Europe--has led the author to believe that a volume embodying everything, or nearly everything, of importance in the oral literature of the negroes of the Southern States, would be as heartily welcomed.

                The thirty-four legends in the first volume were merely selections from the large body of plantation folk-lore familiar to the author from his childhood, and these selections were made less with an eye to their ethnological importance than with a view to presenting certain quaint and curious race characteristics, of which the world at large had had either vague or greatly exaggerated notions.

                The first book, therefore, must be the excuse and apology for the present volume. Indeed, the first book made the second a necessity; for, immediately upon its appearance, letters and correspondence began to pour in upon the author from all parts of the South. Much of this correspondence was very valuable, for it embodied legends that had escaped the author's memory, and contained hints and suggestions that led to some very interesting discoveries. The result is, that the present volume is about as complete as it could be made under the circumstances, though there is no doubt of the existence of legends and myths, especially upon the rice plantations, and Sea Islands of the Georgia and Carolina seacoast, which, owing to the difficulties that stand in the way of those who attempt to gather them, are not included in this collection.

                It is safe to say, however, that the best and most characteristic of the legends current on the rice plantations and Sea Islands, are also current on the cotton plantations. Indeed, this has been abundantly verified in the correspondence of those who kindly consented to aid the author in his efforts to secure stories told by the negroes on the seacoast. The great majority of legends and stories collected and forwarded by these generous collaborators had already been collected among the negroes on the cotton plantations and uplands of Georgia and other Southern States. This will account for the comparatively meagre contribution which Daddy Jack, the old African of the rice plantations, makes towards the entertainment of the little boy.

                The difficulty of verifying the legends which came to hand from various sources has been almost as great as the attempt to procure them at first hand. It is a difficulty hard to describe. It is sometimes amusing, and sometimes irritating, but finally comes to be recognized as the result of a very serious and impressive combination of negro characteristics. The late Professor Charles F. Hartt, of Cornell University, in his admirable monograph [2] on the folk-lore of the Amazon regions of Brazil, found the same difficulty among the Amazonian Indians. Exploring the Amazonian valley, Professor Hartt discovered that a great body of myths and legends had its existence among the Indians of that region. Being aware of the great value of these myths, he set himself to work to collect them; but for a long time he found the task an impossible one, for the whites were unacquainted with the Indian folk-lore, and neither by coaxing nor by offers of money could an Indian be persuaded to relate a myth. In most instances, Professor Hartt was met with statements to the effect that some old woman of the neighborhood was the story-teller, who could make him laugh with tales of the animals; but he never could find this old woman.

                But one night, Professor Hartt heard his Indian steersman telling the Indian boatmen a story in order to keep them awake. This Indian steersman was full of these stories, but, for a long time, Professor Hartt found it impossible to coax this steersman to tell him another. He discovered that the Indian myth is always related without mental effort, simply to pass the time away, and that all the surroundings must be congenial and familiar.

                In the introduction to the first volume of "Uncle Remus" [3] occurs this statement: "Curiously enough, I have found few negroes who will acknowledge to a stranger that they know anything of these legends; and yet to relate one is the surest road to their confidence and esteem."

                This statement was scarcely emphatic enough. The thirty-four legends in the first volume were comparatively easy to verify, for the reason that they were the most popular among the negroes, and were easily remembered. This is also true of many stories in the present volume; but some of them appear to be known only to the negroes who have the gift of story-telling,--a gift that is as rare among the blacks as among the whites. There is good reason to suppose, too, that many of the negroes born near the close of the war or since, are unfamiliar with the great body of their own folk-lore. They have heard such legends as the "Tar Baby" story and "The Moon in the Mill-Pond," and some others equally as graphic; but, in the tumult and confusion incident to their changed condition, they have had few opportunities to become acquainted with that wonderful collection of tales which their ancestors told in the kitchens and cabins of the Old Plantation. The older negroes are as fond of the legends as ever, but the occasion, or the excuse, for telling them becomes less frequent year by year.

                With a fair knowledge of the negro character, and long familiarity with the manifold peculiarities of the negro mind and temperament, the writer has, nevertheless, found it a difficult task to verify such legends as he had not already heard in some shape or other. But, as their importance depended upon such verification, he has spared neither pains nor patience to make it complete. The difficulties in the way of this verification would undoubtedly have been fewer if the writer could have had an opportunity to pursue his investigations in the plantation districts of Middle Georgia; but circumstances prevented, and he has been compelled to depend upon such opportunities as casually or unexpectedly presented themselves.

                One of these opportunities occurred in the summer of 1882, at Norcross, a little railroad station, twenty miles northeast of Atlanta. The writer was waiting to take the train to Atlanta, and this train, as it fortunately happened, was delayed. At the station were a number of negroes, who had been engaged in working on the railroad. It was night, and, with nothing better to do, they were waiting to see the train go by. Some were sitting in little groups up and down the platform of the station, and some were perched upon a pile of cross-ties. They seemed to be in great good-humor, and cracked jokes at each other's expense in the midst of boisterous shouts of laughter. The writer sat next to one of the liveliest talkers in the party; and, after listening and laughing awhile, told the "Tar Baby" story by way of a feeler, the excuse being that some one in the crowd mentioned "Ole Molly Har'." The story was told in a low tone, as if to avoid attracting attention; but the comments of the negro, who was a little past middle age, were loud and frequent. "Dar now!" he would exclaim, or, "He's a honey, mon!" or, "Gentermens! git out de way, an' gin 'im room!"

                These comments, and the peals of unrestrained and unrestrainable laughter that accompanied them, drew the attention of the other negroes, and before the climax of the story had been reached, where Brother Rabbit is cruelly thrown into the brier-patch, they had all gathered around and made themselves comfortable. Without waiting to see what the effect of the "Tar Baby" legend would be, the writer told the story of "Brother Rabbit and the Mosquitoes," and this had the effect of convulsing them. Two or three could hardly wait for the conclusion, so anxious were they to tell stories of their own. The result was that, for almost two hours, a crowd of thirty or more negroes vied with each other to see which could tell the most and the best stories. Some told them poorly, giving only meagre outlines, while others told them passing well; but one or two, if their language and their gestures could have been taken down, would have put Uncle Remus to shame. Some of the stories told had already been gathered and verified, and a few had been printed in the first volume; but the great majority were either new or had been entirely forgotten. It was night, and impossible to take notes; but that fact was not to be regretted. The darkness gave greater scope and freedom to the narratives of the negroes, and but for this friendly curtain it is doubtful if the conditions would have been favorable to story-telling. But however favorable the conditions might have been, the appearance of a note-book and pencil would have dissipated them as utterly as if they had never existed. Moreover, it was comparatively an easy matter for the writer to take the stories away in his memory, since many of them gave point to a large collection of notes and unrelated fragments already in his possession.

                Theal, in the preface to his collection of Kaffir Tales, [4] lays great stress upon the fact that the tales he gives "have all undergone a thorough revision by a circle of natives. They were not only told by natives, but were copied down by natives." It is more than likely that his carefulness in this respect has led him to overlook a body of folk-lore among the Kaffirs precisely similar to that which exists among the negroes of the Southern States. If comparative evidence is worth anything,--and it may be worthless in this instance,--the educated natives have "cooked" the stories to suit themselves. In the "Story of the Bird that Made Milk," the children of Masilo tell other children that their father has a bird which makes milk. [5] The others asked to see the bird, whereupon Masilo's children took it from the place where their father had concealed it, and ordered it to make milk. Of this milk the other children drank greedily, and then asked to see the bird dance. The bird was untied, but it said the house was too small, and the children carried it outside. While they were laughing and enjoying themselves the bird flew away, to their great dismay. Compare this with the story of how the little girl catches Brother Rabbit in the garden (of which several variants are given), and afterwards unties him in order to see him dance. [6] There is still another version of this story, where Mr. Man puts a bridle on Brother Rabbit and ties him to the fence. Mr. Man leaves the throat-latch of the bridle unfastened, and so Brother Rabbit slips his head out, and afterwards induces Brother Fox to have the bridle put on, taking care to fasten the throat-latch.

                The Brother Rabbit of the negroes is the hare, and what is "The Story of Hlakanyana" [7] but the story of the hare and other animals curiously tangled, and changed, and inverted? Hlakanyana, after some highly suggestive adventures, kills two cows and smears the blood upon a sleeping boy. [8] The men find the cows dead, and ask who did it. They then see the blood upon the boy, and kill him, under the impression that he is the robber. Compare this with the story in the first volume of Uncle Remus, where Brother Rabbit eats the butter, and then greases Brother Possum's feet and mouth, thus proving the latter to be the rogue. Hlakanyana also eats all the meat in the pot, and smears fat on the mouth of a sleeping old man. Hlakanyana's feat of pretending to cure an old woman, by cooking her in a pot of boiling water, is identical with the negro story of how Brother Rabbit disposes of Grinny-Granny Wolf. The new story of Brother Terrapin and Brother Mink, relating how they had a diving-match, in order to see who should become the possessor of a string of fish, is a variant of the Kaffir story of Hlakanyana's diving-match with the boy for some birds. Hlakanyana eats the birds while the boy is under water, and Brother Terrapin disposes of the fish in the same way; but there is this curious difference: while Hlakanyana has aided the boy to catch the birds, Brother Terrapin has no sort of interest in the fish. The negro story of how Brother Rabbit nailed Brother Fox's tail to the roof of the house, and thus succeeded in getting the Fox's dinner, is identical with Hlakanyana's feat of sewing the Hyena's tail to the thatch. When this had been accomplished, Hlakanyana ate all the meat in the pot, and threw the bones at the Hyena.

                But the most curious parallel of all exists between an episode in "The Story of Hlakanyana," and the story of how the Bear nursed the Alligators (p. 344). This story was gathered by Mrs. Helen S. Barclay, of Darien, Georgia, whose appreciative knowledge of the character and dialect of the coast negro has been of great service to the writer. Hlakanyana came to the house of a Leopardess, and proposed to take care of her children while the Leopardess went to hunt animals. To this the Leopardess agreed. There were four cubs, and, after the mother was gone, Hlakanyana took one of the cubs and ate it. When the Leopardess returned, she asked for her children, that she might suckle them. Hlakanyana gave one, but the mother asked for all. Hlakanyana replied that it was better one should drink and then another; and to this the Leopardess agreed. After three had suckled, he gave the first one back a second time. This continued until the last cub was eaten, whereupon Hlakanyana ran away. The Leopardess saw him, and gave pursuit. He ran under a big rock, and began to cry for help. The Leopardess asked him what the matter was. "Do you not see that this rock is falling?" replied Hlakanyana. "Just hold it up while I get a prop and put under it." While the Leopardess was thus engaged, he made his escape. This, it will be observed, is the climax of a negro legend entirely different from Daddy Jack's story of the Bear that nursed the Alligators, though the rock becomes a fallen tree. In the "Story of the Lion and the Little Jackal," [9] the same climax takes the shape of an episode. The Lion pursues the Jackal, and the latter runs under an overhanging rock, crying "Help! help! this rock is falling on me!" The Lion goes for a pole with which to prop up the rock, and so the Jackal escapes. It is worthy of note that a tortoise or terrapin, which stands next to Brother Rabbit in the folk-lore of the Southern negroes, is the cause of Hlakanyana's death. He places a Tortoise on his back and carries it home. His mother asks him what he has there, and he tells her to take it off his back. But the Tortoise would not be pulled off. Hlakanyana's mother then heated some fat, and attempted to pour it on the Tortoise, but the Tortoise let go quickly, and the fat fell on Hlakanyana and burnt him so that he died. The story concludes: "That is the end of this cunning little fellow."

                Theal also gives the story of Demane and Demazana, [10] a brother and sister, who were compelled to run away from their relatives on account of bad treatment. They went to live in a cave which had a very strong door. Demane went hunting by day, and told his sister not to roast any meat in his absence, lest the cannibals should smell it and discover their hiding-place. But Demazana would not obey. She roasted some meat, a cannibal smelt it, and went to the cave, but found the door fastened. Thereupon he tried to imitate Demane's voice, singing:

"Demazana, Demazana,
Child of my mother,
Open this cave to me.     
The swallows can enter it.
It has two apertures."



                The cannibal's voice was hoarse, and the girl would not let him in. Finally, he has his throat burned with a hot iron, his voice is changed, and the girl is deceived. He enters and captures her. Compare this with the story of the Pigs, and also with the group of stories of which Daddy Jack's "Cutta Cord-la!" is the most characteristic. In Middle Georgia, it will be observed, Brother Rabbit and his children are substituted for the boy and his sister; though Miss Devereux, of Raleigh, North Carolina, who, together with her father, Mr. John Devereux, has laid the writer under many obligations, gathered a story among the North Carolina negroes in which the boy and the sister appear. But to return to the Kaffir story: When the cannibal is carrying Demazana away, she drops ashes along the path. Demane returns shortly after with a swarm of bees which he has captured, and finds his sister gone. By means of the ashes, he follows the path until he comes to the cannibal's house. The family are out gathering wood, but the cannibal himself is at home, and has just put Demazana in a big bag where he intends to keep her until the fire is made. The brother asks for a drink of water. The cannibal says he will get him some if he will promise not to touch his bag. Demane promises; but, while the cannibal is gone for the water, he takes his sister out of the bag and substitutes the swarm of bees. When the cannibal returns with the water, his family also return with the firewood. He tells his wife there is something nice in the bag, and asks her to bring it. She says it bites. He then drives them all out, closes the door, and opens the bag. The bees fly out and sting him about the head and eyes until he can no longer see. Compare this with the negro story (No. LXX.) of how Brother Fox captures Brother Terrapin. Brother Terrapin is rescued by Brother Rabbit, who substitutes a hornet's nest. This story was told to the writer by a colored Baptist preacher of Atlanta, named Robert Dupree, and also by a Henry County negro, named George Ellis.

                Compare, also, the Kaffir "Story of the Great Chief of the Animals" [11] with the negro story of "The Fate of Mr. Jack Sparrow." [12] In the Kaffir story, a woman sees the chief of the animals and calls out that she is hunting for her children. The animal replies: "Come nearer; I cannot hear you." He then swallows the woman. In the negro story, Mr. Jack Sparrow has something to tell Brother Fox; but the latter pretends he is deaf, and asks Jack Sparrow to jump on his tail, on his back, and finally on his tooth. There is a variant of this story current among the coast negroes where the Alligator is substituted for the Fox. The Kaffir "Story of the Hare" is almost identical with the story of Wattle Weasel in the present volume. The story of Wattle Weasel was among those told by the railroad hands at Norcross, but had been previously sent to the writer by a lady in Selma, Alabama, and by a correspondent in Galveston. In another Kaffir story, the Jackal runs into a hole under a tree, but the Lion catches him by the tail. The Jackal cries out: "That is not my tail you have hold of. It is a root of the tree. If you don't believe, take a stone and strike it and see if any blood comes." The Lion goes to hunt for a stone, and the Jackal crawls far into the hole. In the first volume of Uncle Remus, Brother Fox tries to drown Brother Terrapin; but the latter declares that his tail is a stump-root, and so escapes. The Amazonian Indians tell of a Jaguar who catches a Tortoise by the hind leg as he is disappearing in his hole; but the Tortoise convinces him that he is holding a tree-root. [13] In the Kaffir story of the Lion and the Jackal, the latter made himself some horns from beeswax in order to attend a meeting of the horned cattle. He sat near the fire and went to sleep, and the horns melted, so that he was discovered and pursued by the Lion. In a negro story that is very popular, Brother Fox ties two sticks to his head, and attends the meeting of the horned cattle, but is cleverly exposed by Brother Rabbit.

                There is a plantation proverb current among the negroes which is very expressive. Thus, when one accidentally steps in mud or filth, he consoles himself by saying "Good thing foot aint got no nose." Among the Kaffirs there is a similar proverb,--"The foot has no nose,"--but Mr. Theal's educated natives have given it a queer meaning. It is thus interpreted: "This proverb is an exhortation to be hospitable. It is as if one said: Give food to the traveller, because when you are on a journey your foot will not be able to smell out a man whom you have turned from your door, but, to your shame, may carry you to his." It need not be said that this is rather ahead of even the educated Southern negroes.

                To compare the negro stories in the present volume with those translated by Bleek [14] would extend this introduction beyond its prescribed limits, but such a comparison would show some very curious parallels. It is interesting to observe, among other things, that the story of How the Tortoise Outran the Deer--current among the Amazonian Indians, and among the negroes of the South,--the deer sometimes becoming the Rabbit in the South, and the carapato, or cow-tick, sometimes taking the place of the Tortoise on the Amazonas--has a curious counterpart in the Hottentot Fables. [15] One day, to quote from Bleek, "the Tortoises held a council how they might hunt Ostriches, and they said: 'Let us, on both sides, stand in rows, near each other, and let one go to hunt the Ostriches, so that they must flee along through the midst of us.' They did so, and as they were many, the Ostriches were obliged to run along through the midst of them. During this they did not move, but, remaining always in the same places, called each to the other: 'Are you there?' and each one answered: 'I am here.' The Ostriches, hearing this, ran so tremendously that they quite exhausted their strength, and fell down. Then the Tortoises assembled by and by at the place where the Ostriches had fallen, and devoured them." There is also a curious variant [16] of the negro story of how Brother Rabbit escapes from Brother Fox by persuading him to fold his hands and say grace. In the Hottentot story, the Jackal catches the Cock, and is about to eat him, when the latter says: "Please pray before you kill me, as the white man does." The Jackal desires to know how the white man prays. "He folds his hands in praying," says the Cock. This the Jackal does, but the Cock tells the Jackal he should also shut his eyes. Whereupon the Cock flies away.

                In his preface, Bleek says that the Hottentot fable of the White Man and the Snake is clearly of European origin; but this is at least doubtful. The Man rescues the Snake from beneath a rock, whereupon the Snake announces her intention of biting her deliverer. The matter is referred to the Hyena, who says to the Man: "If you were bitten, what would it matter?" But the Man proposed to consult other wise people before being bit, and after a while they met the Jackal. The case was laid before him. The Jackal said he would not believe that the Snake could be covered by a stone so that she could not rise, unless he saw it with his two eyes. The Snake submitted to the test, and when she was covered by the stone the Jackal advised the Man to go away and leave her. Now, there is not only a variant of this story current among the Southern negroes (which is given in the present volume), where Brother Rabbit takes the place of the Man, Brother Wolf the place of the Snake, and Brother Terrapin the place of the Jackal, but Dr. Couto de Magalhães [17] gives in modern Tupi a story where the Fox or Opossum finds a Jaguar in a hole. He helps the Jaguar out, and the latter then threatens to eat him. The Fox or Opossum proposes to lay the matter before a wise man who is passing by, with the result that the Jaguar is placed back in the hole and left there.

                With respect to the Tortoise myths, and other animal stories gathered on the Amazonas, by Professor Hartt and Mr. Herbert Smith, it may be said that all or nearly all of them have their variants among the negroes of the Southern plantations. This would constitute a very curious fact if the matter were left where Professor Hartt left it when his monograph was written. In that monograph [18] he says: "The myths I have placed on record in this little paper have, without doubt, a wide currency on the Amazonas, but I have found them only among the Indian population, and they are all collected in the Lingua Geral. All my attempts to obtain myths from the negroes on the Amazonas proved failures. Dr. Couto de Magalhães, who has recently followed me in these researches, has had the same experience. The probability, therefore, seems to be that the myths are indigenous, but I do not yet consider the case proven." Professor Hartt lived to prove just the contrary; but, unfortunately, he did not live to publish the result of his investigations. Mr. Orville A. Derby, a friend of Professor Hartt, writes as follows from Rio de Janeiro:

                    DEAR SIR,--In reading the preface to Uncle Remus, [19] it occurred to me that an observation made by my late friend Professor Charles Fred Hartt would be of interest to you.

                    At the time of the publication of his Amazonian Tortoise Myths, Professor Hartt was in doubt whether to regard the myths of the Amazonian Indians as indigenous or introduced from Africa. To this question he devoted a great deal of attention, making a careful and, for a long time, fruitless search among the Africans of this city for some one who could give undoubted African myths. Finally he had the good fortune to find an intelligent English-speaking Mina black, whose only knowledge of Portuguese was a very few words which he had picked up during the short time he had been in this country, a circumstance which strongly confirms his statement that the myths related by him were really brought from Africa. From this man Professor Hartt obtained variants of all or nearly all of the best known Brazilian animal myths, and convinced himself that this class is not native to this country. The spread of these myths among the Amazonian Indians is readily explained by the intimate association of the two races for over two hundred years, the taking character of the myths, and the Indian's love for stories of this class, in which he naturally introduces the animals familiar to him.... Yours truly,    

Caixa em Correio, No. 721,Rio de Janeiro.

                Those who are best acquainted with the spirit, movement, and motive of African legends will accept Mr. Derby's statement as conclusive. It has been suspected even by Professor J. W. Powell, of the Smithsonian Institution, that the Southern negroes obtained their myths and legends from the Indians; but it is impossible to adduce in support of such a theory a scintilla of evidence that cannot be used in support of just the opposite theory, namely, that the Indians borrowed their stories from the negroes. The truth seems to be that, while both the Indians and the negroes have stories peculiar to their widely different races and temperaments, and to their widely different ideas of humor, the Indians have not hesitated to borrow from the negroes. The "Tar Baby" story, which is unquestionably a negro legend in its conception, is current among many tribes of Indians. So with the story of how the Rabbit makes a riding-horse of the Fox or the Wolf. This story is also current among the Amazonian Indians. The same may be said of the negro coast story "Why the Alligator's Back is Rough." Mr. W. O. Tuggle, of Georgia, who has recently made an exhaustive study of the folk-lore of the Creek Indians, has discovered among them many legends, which were undoubtedly borrowed from the negroes, including those already mentioned, the story of how the Terrapin outran the Deer, and the story of the discontented Rabbit, who asks his Creator to give him more sense. In the negro legend, it will be observed, the Rabbit seeks out Mammy-Bammy Big-Money, the old Witch-Rabbit. It may be mentioned here, that the various branches of the Algonkian family of Indians allude to the Great White Rabbit as their common ancestor. [20] All inquiries among the negroes, as to the origin and personality of Mammy-Bammy Big-Money, elicit but two replies. Some know, or even pretend to know, nothing about her. The rest say, with entire unanimity, "Hit 's des de ole Witch-Rabbit w'at you done year'd talk un 'fo' now." Mrs. Prioleau of Memphis sent the writer a negro story in which the name "Big-Money" was vaguely used. It was some time before that story could be verified. In conversation one day with a negro, casual allusion was made to "Big-Money." "Aha!" said the negro, "now I know. You talkin' 'bout ole Mammy-Bammy Big-Money," and then he went on to tell, not only the story which Mrs. Prioleau had kindly sent, but the story of Brother Rabbit's visit to the old Witch-Rabbit.

                Mr. Tuggle's collection of Creek legends will probably be published under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, and it will form a noteworthy contribution to the literature of American folk-lore. In the Creek version of the origin of the ocean, the stream which the Lion jumps across is called Throwing-Hot-Ashes-on-You. Another Creek legend, which bears the ear-marks of the negroes, but which the writer has been unable to find among them, explains why the 'Possum has no hair on his tail. It seems that Noah, in taking the animals into the ark, forgot the 'Possums; but a female 'Possum clung to the side of the vessel, and her tail dragging in the water, all the hair came off. No male 'Possum, according to the story, was saved. Mr. Tuggle has also found among the Creeks a legend which gives the origin of fire. One time, in the beginning, the people all wanted fire, and they came together to discuss the best plan of getting it. It was finally agreed that the Rabbit (Chufee) should go for it. He went across the great water to the east, and was there received with acclamation as a visitor from the New World. A great dance was ordered in his honor. They danced around a large fire, and the Rabbit entered the circle dressed very gayly. He had a peculiar cap upon his head, and in this cap, in place of feathers, he had stuck four sticks of resin, or resinous pine. As the people danced, they came near the fire in the centre of the circle, and the Rabbit also approached near the fire. Some of the dancers would reach down and touch the fire as they danced, while the Rabbit, as he came near the fire, would bow his head to the flame. No one thought anything of this, and he continued to bow to the fire, each time bowing his head lower. At last he touched the flame with his cap, and the sticks of resin caught on fire and blazed forth. Away he ran, the people pursuing the sacrilegious visitor. The Rabbit ran to the great water, plunged in, and swam away to the New World; and thus was fire obtained for the people.

                The student of folk-lore who will take into consideration the widely differing peculiarities and characteristics of the negroes and the Indians, will have no difficulty, after making due allowance for the apparent universality of all primitive folk-stories, in distinguishing between the myths or legends of the two races, though it sometimes happens, as in the case of the negro story of the Rabbit, the Wildcat, and the Turkeys, that the stories are built upon until they are made to fit the peculiarities of the race that borrows them. The Creek version of the Rabbit, Wildcat, and Turkey story is to the effect that the Wildcat pretended to be dead, and the Rabbit persuaded the Turkeys to go near him. When they are near enough, the Rabbit exclaims: "Jump up and catch a red-leg! jump up and catch a red-leg!" The Wildcat catches one, and proceeds to eat it, whereupon the Turkeys pursue the Rabbit, and peck and nip him until his tail comes off, and this is the reason the Rabbit has a short tail. The Creeks, as well as other tribes, were long in contact with the negroes, some of them were owners of slaves, and it is perhaps in this way that the animal stories of the two races became in a measure blended. The discussion of this subject cannot be pursued here, but it is an interesting one. It offers a wide field for both speculation and investigation.

                The "Cutta Cord-la" story (p. 241) of Daddy Jack is in some respects unique. It was sent to the writer by Mrs. Martha B. Washington, of Charleston, South Carolina, and there seems to be no doubt that it originated in San Domingo or Martinique. The story of how Brother Rabbit drove all the other animals out of the new house they had built, by firing a cannon and pouring a tub of water down the stairway, has its variant in Demerara. Indeed, it was by means of this variant, sent by Mr. Wendell P. Garrison, of "The Nation" (New York), that the negro story was procured.

                In the introduction to the first volume of Uncle Remus, a lame apology was made for inflicting a book of dialect upon the public. Perhaps a similar apology should be made here; but the discriminating reader does not need to be told that it would be impossible to separate these stories from the idiom in which they have been recited for generations. The dialect is a part of the legends themselves, and to present them in any other way would be to rob them of everything that gives them vitality. The dialect of Daddy Jack, which is that of the negroes on the Sea Islands and the rice plantations, though it may seem at first glance to be more difficult than that of Uncle Remus, is, in reality, simpler and more direct. It is the negro dialect in its most primitive state--the "Gullah" talk of some of the negroes on the Sea Islands, being merely a confused and untranslatable mixture of English and African words. In the introductory notes to "Slave Songs of the United States" may be found an exposition of Daddy Jack's dialect as complete as any that can be given here. A key to the dialect may be given very briefly. The vocabulary is not an extensive one--more depending upon the manner, the form of expression, and the inflection, than upon the words employed. It is thus an admirable vehicle for story-telling. It recognizes no gender, and scorns the use of the plural number except accidentally. "'E" stands for "he" "she" or "it," and "dem" may allude to one thing, or may include a thousand. The dialect is laconic and yet rambling, full of repetitions, and abounding in curious elisions, that give an unexpected quaintness to the simplest statements. A glance at the following vocabulary will enable the reader to understand Daddy Jack's dialect perfectly, though allowance must be made for inversions and elisions.

    B'er, brother.

    Beer, bear.

    Bittle, victuals.

    Bret, breath.

    Buckra, white man, overseer, boss.

    Churrah, churray, spill, splash.

    Da, the, that.

    Dey, there.

    Dey-dey, here, down there, right here.

    Enty, ain't he? an exclamation of astonishment or assent.

    Gwan, going.

    Leaf, leave.

    Lif, live.

    Lil, lil-a, or lilly, little.

    Lun, learn.

    Mek, make.

    Neat', or nead, underneath, beneath.

    Oona, you, all of you.

    Sem, same.

    Shum, see them, saw them.

    Tam, time.

    'Tan', stand.

    Tankee, thanks, thank you.

    Tark, or tahlk, talk.

    Teer, tear.

    Tek, take.

    T'ink, or t'ought, think, thought.

    T'row, throw.

    Titty, or titter, sissy, sister.

    Trute, truth.

    Turrer, or tarrah, the other.

    Tusty, thirsty.

    Urrer, other.

    Wey, where.

    Wun, when.

    Wut, what.

    Y'et or ut, earth.

    Yeddy, or yerry, heard, hear.

    Yent, ain't, is n't.

                The trick of adding a vowel to sound words is not unpleasing to the ear. Thus: "I bin-a wait fer you; come-a ring-a dem bell. Wut mek-a (or mekky) you stay so?" "Yeddy," "yerry," and probably "churry" are the result of this--heard-a, yeard-a, yeddy; hear-a, year-a, yerry; chur-a, churray. When "eye" is written "y-eye," it is to be pronounced "yi." In such words as "back," "ax," a has the sound of ah. They are written "bahk," "ahx."

                Professor J. A. Harrison of the Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, has recently written a paper on "The Creole Patois of Louisiana," [21] which is full of interest to those interested in the study of dialects. In the course of his paper, Professor Harrison says: "Many philologists have noted the felicitous [Greek: aithiopizein] of Uncle Remus in the negro dialect of the South. The Creole lends itself no less felicitously to the récit and to the conte, as we may say on good authority. The fables of La Fontaine and Perrin, and the Gospel of St. John have, indeed, been translated into the dialect of San Domingo or Martinique; lately we have had a Greek plenipotentiary turning Dante into the idiom of New Hellas; what next? Any one who has seen the delightful 'Chansons Canadiennes' of M. Ernest Gagnon (Quebec, 1880) knows what pleasant things may spring from the naïve consciousness of the people. The Creole of Louisiana lends itself admirably to those petits poèmes, those simple little dramatic tales, compositions, improvisations, which, shunning the regions of abstraction and metaphysics, recount the experiences of a story-teller, put into striking and pregnant syllabuses the memorabilia of some simple life, or sum up in pointed monosyllables the humor of plantation anecdote." Professor Harrison alludes to interesting examples of the Creole negro dialect that occur in the works of Mr. George W. Cable, and in "L'Habitation Saint-Ybars," by Dr. Alfred Mercier, an accomplished physician and litterateur of New Orleans. In order to show the possibilities of the Creole negro dialect, the following Conte Nègre, after Dr. Mercier, is given. The story is quoted by Professor Harrison, and the literal interlinear version is inserted by him to give a clue to the meaning. The Miss Meadows of the Georgia negro, it will be perceived, becomes Mamzel Calinda, and the story is one with which the readers of the first volume of Uncle Remus are familiar. It is entitled "Mariage Mlle. Calinda."

      1. Dan tan lé zote foi, compair Chivreil avé compair

        Dans temps les autres fois, compère Chevreuil avec compère

      2. Torti té tou lé dé apé fé lamou à Mamzel Calinda.

        Tortue étaient tous les deux après faire l'amour à Mademoiselle Calinda.

      3. Mamzel Calinda té linmin mié compair Chivreil, cofair

        Mlle. Calinda avait aimé mieux compère Chevreuil, [pour] quoi faire

     4. li pli vaïan; mé li té linmin compair Torti oucite,

        le plus vaillant; mais elle avait aimé compère Tortue aussi,

     5. li si tan gagnin bon tchor! Popa Mamzel Calinda di li:

        il si tant gagner bon coeur! Papa Mlle. Calinda dire lui:

      6. "Mo fie, li tan to maïé; fo to soizi cila to oulé." Landimin,

        "Ma fille, il (est) temps te marier; faut te choisir cela tu voulez." Lendemain,

      7. compair Chivreil avé compair Torti rivé tou yé dé coté Mlle. C.

        compère Chevreuil avec compère Tortue arriver tous eux de côté Mlle. C.

      8. Mamzel C., qui té zonglé tou la nouite, di yé: "Michié Chivreil avé

        Mlle. C., qui avait songé toute la nuit, dire eux: "Monsieur Chevreuil avec


      9. Michié Torti, mo popa oulé mo maïe. Mo pa oulé di ain

        Monsieur Tortue, mon papa vouloir me marier. Moi pas vouloir dire un

     10. dan ouzote non. Ouzote a galopé ain lacourse dice foi cate

        dans vous autres non. Vous autres va galopper une la course dix fois quatre

     11. narpan; cila qui sorti divan, ma maïe avé li. Apé dimin

        arpents; cela qui sortir devant, moi va marier avec lui. Après demain


     12. dimance, ouzote a galopé." Yé parti couri, compair Chivreil

        dimanche, vous autres va galopper." Eux partir courir, compère Chevreuil


     13. zo tchor contan; compair Torti apé zonglé li-minme:

        son coeur content; compère Tortue après songer lui-même:

     14. "Dan tan pacé, mo granpopa bate compair Lapin pou

        "Dans temps passé, mon grandpapa battre compère Lapin pour

     15. galopé. Pa conin coman ma fé pou bate compair Chivreil."

        galopper. Pas conner (= connaître) comment moi va faire pour battre compère Chevreuil."

     16. Dan tan cila, navé ain vié, vié cocodri qui té gagnin

        Dans temps cela en avait un vieux, vieux crocodile qui avait gagné

    17. plice pacé cincante di zan. Li té si malin, yé té pelé li

        plus passé cinquante dix ans. Lui était si malin, eux avaient appelé lui

     18. compair Zavoca. La nouite vini, compair Torti couri trouvé

        compère Avocat. La nuit venir, compère Tortue courir trouver

     19. compair Zavoca, é conté li coman li baracé pou so

        compère Avocat, et conter lui comment lui embarrasser pour sa

     20. lacourse. Compair Zavoca di compair Torti: "Mo ben

        la course. Compère Avocat dire compère Tortue: "Moi bien

     21. oulé idé toi, mo gaçon; nou proce minme famie; la tair

        vouloir aider toi, mon garçon; nous proche même famille; la terre

     22. avé do lo minme kichoge pou nizote. Mo zonglé zafair

        avec de l'eau même quelquechose pour nous autres. Moi va songer cette affaire

     23. To vini dimin bon matin; ma di toi qui pou fé."

        Toi venir demain bon matin; moi va dire toi que pour faire."

     24. Compair Torti couri coucé; mé li pas dromi boucou,

        Compère Tortue courir coucher; mais lui pas dormir beaucoup,

    25. li té si tan tracassé. Bon matin li parti couri

        lui était si tant tracassé. Bon matin lui partir courir

     26. coté compair Zavoca. Compair Zavoca dija diboute apé

        côté compère Avocat. Compère Avocat déjà debout après

     27. boi so café. "Bonzou, Michié Zavoca." "Bonzou, mo

        boire son café. "Bonjour, Monsieur Avocat." "Bonjour, mon

     28. gaçon. Zafair cila donne moin boucou traca; min mo

        garçon. Cette affaire cela donne moi beaucoup tracas; mais moi

     29. cré ta bate compair Chivreil, si to fé mékié ma di toi."

        crois toi va battre compère Chevreuil, si toi fais métier moi va dire toi."

     30. "Vouzote a pranne jige jordi pou misiré chimin au ra

        "Vous autres va prendre juge aujourd'hui pour mesurer chemin au ras

     31. bayou; chac cate narpan mété jalon. Compair Chivreil a

        bayou; chaque quatre arpents mettez jalon. Compère Chevreuil va

     32. galopé on la tair; toi, ta galopé dan dolo. To ben compranne

        galopper en la terre; toi, tu va galopper dans de l'eau. Toi bien comprendre

     33. ça mo di toi?" "O, oui, compair Zavoca, mo ben

        cela moi dire toi?" "O, oui, compère Avocat, moi bien

     34. couté ton ça vapé di." "A soua, can la nouite vini,

        écouter tout cela vous après dire." "Le soir, quand la nuit venir,

     35. ta couri pranne nef dan to zami, é ta chaché aine dan

        toi va courir prendre neuf dans tes amis, et toi va cacher un dans

     36. zerb au ra chakène zalon yé. Toi, ta couri caché au ra

        herbe au ras chacun jalon eux. Toi, toi va courir cacher au ras

     37. la mison Mamzel Calinda. To ben compranne ça mo di toi?"

        la maison Mlle. Calinda. Toi bien comprendre cela moi dire toi?"

     38. "O, oui, compair Zavoca, mo tou compranne mékié ça vou

        "O, oui, compère Avocat, moi tout comprendre métier cela vous

     39. di." "Eben! couri paré pou sové lonnair nou nachion."

        dire." "Eh bien! courir préparer pour sauver l'honneur notre nation."

     40. Compair Torti couri coté compair Chivreil é rangé tou

        Compère Tortue courir côté compère Chevreuil et arranger tout

     41. kichoge compair Zavoca di li. Compair Chivreil si tan sire

        quelquechose compère Avocat dire lui. Compère Chevreuil si tant sûr

     42. gagnin lacourse, li di oui tou ça compair Torti oulé.

        gagner la course, lui dire oui tout cela compère Tortue vouloir.

     43. Landimin bon matin, ton zabitan semblé pou oua

        Lendemain bon matin, tous habitants assembler pour voir

     44. gran lacourse. Can lhair rivé, compair Chivreil avé

        grande la course. Quand l'heure arriver, compère Chevreuil avec

     45. compair Torti tou lé dé paré. Jige la crié: "Go!" é yé

        compère Tortue tous les deux préparés. Juge là crier: "Go!" et eux

     46. parti galopé. Tan compair Chivreil rivé coté primié

        partir galopper. Temps compère Chevreuil arriver côté premier

     47. zalon, li hélé: "Halo, compair Torti!" "Mo la, compair

        jalon, lui héler: "Halo, compère Tortue!" "Moi là, compère

     48. Chivreil!" Tan yé rivé dézième zalon, compair Chivreil

        Chevreuil!" Temps eux arriver deuxième jalon, compère Chevreuil

     49. siffle: "Fioute!" Compair Torti réponne: "Croak!" Troisième

        siffler: "Fioute!" Compère Tortue répondre: "Croak!" Troisième

     50. zalon bouté, compair Torti tink-à-tink avé compair

        jalon au bout, compère Tortue tingue-à-tingue avec compère

     51. Chivreil. "Diâbe! Torti la galopé pli vite

        Chevreuil. "Diable! Tortue là galopper plus vite

    52. pacé stimbotte; fo mo grouyé mo cor." Tan compair

        passé steamboat; faut moi grouiller mon corps." Temps compère

     53. Chivreil rivé coté névième zalon, li oua compair Torti

        Chevreuil arriver côté neuvième jalon, lui voir compère Tortue

     54. apé patchiou dan dolo. Li mété ton so laforce

        après patchiou! dans de l'eau. Lui mettre toute sa la force

     55. dihior pou aïen; avan li rivé coté bite, li tendé

        dehors pour rien; avant lui arriver côté but, lui entendre

     56. ton monne apé hélé: "Houra! houra! pou compair Torti!"

        tout monde après héler: "Hourra! hourra! pour compère Tortue!"

    57. Tan li rivé, li oua compair Torti on la garlie apé

        Temps lui arriver, lui voir compère Tortue en la galerie après

     58. brassé Mamzel Calinda. Ca fé li si tan mal, li

        embrasser Mlle. Calinda. Cela faire lui si tant mal, lui

     59. sapé dan boi. Compair Torti maïé avé Mamzel Calinda

        s'échapper dans bois. Compère Tortue marier avec Mlle. Calinda

     60. samedi apé vini, é tou monne manzé, boi, jika

        samedi après venir, et tout monde manger, boire jusqu'à

     61. y tchiak. [22]

        eux griser.

                It only remains to be said that none of the stories given in the present volume are "cooked." They are given in the simple but picturesque language of the negroes, just as the negroes tell them. The Ghost-story, in which the dead woman returns in search of the silver that had been placed upon her eyes, is undoubtedly of white origin; but Mr. Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) heard it among the negroes of Florida, Missouri, where it was "The Woman with the Golden Arm." Fortunately, it was placed in the mouth of 'Tildy, the house-girl, who must be supposed to have heard her mistress tell it. But it has been negroized to such an extent that it may be classed as a negro legend; and it is possible that the white version is itself based upon a negro story. At any rate, it was told to the writer by different negroes; and he saw no reason to doubt its authenticity until after a large portion of the book was in type. His relations to the stories are simply those of editor and compiler. He has written them as they came to him, and he is responsible only for the setting. He has endeavored to project them upon the background and to give them the surroundings which they had in the old days that are no more; and it has been his purpose to give in their recital a glimpse of plantation life in the South before the war. If the reader, therefore, will exercise his imagination to the extent of believing that the stories are told to a little boy by a group of negroes on a plantation in Middle Georgia, before the war, he will need neither foot-note nor explanation to guide him.

                In the preparation of this volume the writer has been placed under obligations to many kind friends. But for the ready sympathy and encouragement of the proprietors of "The Atlanta Constitution"--but for their generosity, it may be said--the writer would never have found opportunity to verify the stories and prepare them for the press. He is also indebted to hundreds of kind correspondents in all parts of the Southern States, who have interested themselves in the work of collecting the legends. He is particularly indebted to Mrs. Helen S. Barclay, of Darien, to Mr. W. O. Tuggle, to Hon. Charles C. Jones, Jr., to the accomplished daughters of Mr. Griswold, of Clinton, Georgia, and to Mr. John Devereux, Jr., and Miss Devereux, of Raleigh, North Carolina.

J. C. H.



[1] Uncle Remus; His Songs and His Sayings. The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1880.

[2] Amazonian Tortoise Myths, pp. 2, 3.

[3] Page 10.

[4] Kaffir Folk-Loreor, A Selection from the Traditional Tales current among the People living on the Eastern Border of the Cape Colony. London, 1882.

[5] Kaffir Folk-Lore, p. 43.

[6] Professor Hartt, in his Amazonian Tortoise Myths, relates the story of "The Jabuti that Cheated the Man." The Jabuti is identical with Brother Terrapin. The man carried the Jabuti to his house, put him in a box, and went out. By and by the Jabuti began to sing, just as Brother Rabbit did. The man's children listened, and the Jabuti stopped. The children begged him to continue, but to this he replied: "If you are pleased with my singing, how much more would you be pleased if you could see me dance." The children thereupon took him from the box, and placed him in the middle of the floor, where he danced, to their great delight. Presently, the Jabuti made an excuse to go out, and fled. The children procured a stone, painted it like the tortoise, and placed it in the box. After a while the man returned, took the painted stone from the box and placed it on the fire, where it burst as soon as it became heated. Meantime, the Jabuti had taken refuge in a burrow having two openings, so that, while the man was looking in at one opening, the tortoise would appear at another. Professor Hartt identifies this as a sun-myth--the slow-sun (or tortoise) escaping from the swift-moon (or man).

[7] Kaffir Folk-Lore, p. 84.

[8] Page 89.

[9] Kaffir Folk-Lore, p. 178.

[10] Page 111.

[11] Kaffir Folk-Lore, p. 166.

[12] Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings, xix. p. 88.

[13] Amazonian Tortoise Myths, p. 29.

[14] Reynard, the Fox, in South Africaor, Hottentot Fables and Tales. By W. H. I. Bleek, Ph. D. London, 1864.

[15] Page 32.

[16] Bleek, p. 23.

[17] O'Selvagem, p. 237. Quoted by Mr. Herbert H. Smith, in his work Brazil and the Amazons.

[18] Page 37.

[19] The first volume.

[20] D. G. Brinton's Myths, pp. 161-170.

[21] The American Journal of Philology, vol. iii. no. 11.

[22] Tchiak is the name given by the Creole negroes to the starling, which, Dr. Mercier tells me, is applied adjectively to express various states of spirituous exhilaration.--Note by Prof. Harrison.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Introduction
Tale Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Book Title: Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation
Book Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1883
Country of Origin: United States
Classification: Introduction

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