COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in August 2018 with all known ATU Classifications. Only the Introduction and Folktales from this book have been included.

Fetich in Folk-Lore (Introduction to Section)

THE telling of Folk-lore Tales amounts, with the African Negro, almost to a passion. By day, both men and women have their manual occupations, or, even if idling, pass the time in sleep or gossip; but at night, particularly with moonlight, if there be on hand no dances, either of fetich-worship or of mere amusement, some story-teller is asked to recite. All know the tales, but not all can recite them dramatically. The audience never wearies of repetition. The skilful story-teller in Africa occupies in the community the place filled in civilization by the actor or concert-singer.

               This is true all over Africa. In any one region there are certain tales common to all the tribes in that region. But almost every tribe will have tales distinctive to it. It is part of native courtesy to ask a visitor to contribute his local story to the amusement of the evening.

               Some of these tales are probably of ancient origin, as to their plot and their characters. I am disposed to give the folk-lore of Africa a very ancient origin. Ethnology and philology trace the Bantu stream from the northeast, not by a straight line diagonally to the southwest, but the stream, starting with an infusion of Hamitic (and perhaps Caucasian) blood in the Nubian provinces, flowed south to the Cape, and then, turning on itself, flowed northwestward until it lost itself at the Bight of Benin. That blood gave to the Bantu features more delicate than those of the northern Guinea Negro.

               That stream, as it flowed, carried with it arts, thoughts, plants, and animals from the south of Egypt. The bellows used in every village smithy on the West Coast is the same as is depicted on Egyptian monuments. The great personages mentioned as "kings" are probably semi-deified ancestors, or are even confounded with the Creator. It may not be only a coincidence that the ancient Egyptian word "Ra" exists in west equatorial tribes (contracted from "rera" = my father) with its meaning of "Lord," "Master," "Sir." In these tales the name Ra-Mborakinda is used interchangeably with the Divine Name, Ra-Nyambe.

               But it is true that a doubt can be raised against the antiquity of some of the tales, in which are introduced words, e. g., "cannon," "pistol," articles not known to the African until comparatively modern times. And in the case of a few, such as No. V., the origin is in all probability modern. In No. V. the reader at once turns in thought to "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." There the internal evidence is positive, either that the story was heard long ago from Arabs (or perhaps within the last hundred years from some foreigner), or there may have been an original African story, to which modern narrators have attached incidents of Ali Baba which they have overheard within the last fifty years from some white trader or educated Sierra-Leonian.

               But it would not necessarily condemn a tale's claim to antiquity that it had in it modern words. Such words as "gun," "pistol," "stairway," "canvas," and others may be interpolations. It was probably true long ago, as is now the case, that narrators added to or changed words uttered by the characters. Where in the plot some modern weapon is named, long ago it was perhaps a spear, club, or bow and arrow. When Dutch and Portuguese built their forts on the African shore three hundred years ago, some bright narrator could readily have varied the evening's performance by introducing a cannon into the story. Such variations necessarily grew; for the native languages were not crystallized into written ones until the days of the modern missionary.

               In recitation great latitude is allowed as to the time occupied. Brevity is not desired. A story whose outline could be told in ten minutes may be spread over two hours by a vivid use of the speaker's imagination in a minute description of details. A great deal of repetition (after the manner of "This is the house that Jack built") is employed, that would be wearisome to a civilized audience, but is intensely enjoyed by the African, e. g., where the plot calls for the doing of an act for several days in succession, we would say simply, "And the next day he did the same." But the native lover of folk-lore will repeat the same details in the same words for the second and third and even fourth day. In my reporting I have omitted this repetition.

               I have purposely used some native idioms in order to retain local color. African narrators use very short sentences. Africans in many respects are grown-up children. One of their daily recognized idioms finds its exact parallel in the speech of our own children. Listen to a civilized child's animated account of some act. They repeat. The native does so constantly. He is not satisfied, in telling the narrative of a journey, by saying curtly, "I went." His form is, "I went, went, there, there," etc. His dramatic acting keeps up the interest of the audience in the twice-told tale.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fetich in Folk-Lore (Introduction to Section)
Tale Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Book Title: Fetichism in West Africa
Book Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1904
Country of Origin: West Africa
Classification: Introduction

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