THE collection of folk-lore tales, from which the stories contained in the present volume have been selected, was made by Miss Cronise while a teacher in the mission school at Rotifunk, Protectorate of Sierra Leone, West Africa; a mission under the control of the Woman's Board of the United Brethren Church.
The stories were collected without the remotest thought of offering them for publication. The first motive was a desire to enter more intimately into the life and mental habits of the people whom she was to instruct. This motive was soon reinforced by the attractiveness of the stories themselves, and by the fascinating manner in which they were told.
The tales were gathered from the mission children, most of whom had been brought from native homes farther inland, and from adult employees of the mission who had been long enough in contact with these white people to be found worthy of entire confidence, and to give their confidence in return.
Notwithstanding the many touches of English influence noticeable in the stories, it is believed that the ones here presented are, in all essentials, characteristically native. The same stories were heard from different persons, under different circumstances, and with every evidence of their being the spontaneous outflow of traditional lore. Sometimes a tale already heard in detail from an adult, would be told in mere outline by some child fresh from a hut of the forest.
A year or more had been spent among these people before it was discovered that they possessed a distinct oral literature, and considerably more time passed before any attempt was made to collect and record it.
Missionaries had been in this section for fifty years, but being wholly absorbed in more serious concerns, they were either unaware of this native literature, or more probably looked upon it as a part of the heathen superstition which they felt called upon to obliterate.
No one at all familiar with folk-lore, will need to be told of the peculiar difficulties experienced in making the present collection. Natives are instinctively suspicious of foreigners, and uneasy in their presence, and not only must this natural barrier be broken down, but there must spring up mutual understanding and sympathy, and outward environments must be congenial before there can be any satisfactory story-telling. The collection was made as opportunity offered, after other duties were performed. Various devices had to be resorted to, the commonest being to offer some attractive little inducement to a child of the mission or adjacent town. The child, curled up on the floor, or perched on any convenient object, would at once evince the most sympathetic interest, and then it would be a simple matter to draw out stories heard in the native wilds. By rapid writing, so abbreviated as to approach shorthand, the narratives were taken down literally, word for word. Then again, familiarity made it possible to sit near a group of children gathered in the evening for talk and laughter, and there to overhear the conundrums they propounded, and the stories they related to one another. Sometimes an adult could be induced to relate stories for an evening. One such story was a portion of a loosely connected narrative, the whole of which would occupy the evenings of an entire week.
Two years of patient endeavor brought to light one hundred and twenty-five distinct stories. There was positive assurance of unnumbered more being current among the people, and evidence was occasionally found of the existence of another class of stories, such as the missionary would not care to hear or to record.
It may be, then, that while the fables here given truthfully reflect the life of the people, they do not reflect the whole life, but only the better, purer part.
Strangely enough, during all the years that the English have been in possession of West Africa, no one has taken the pains to collect any considerable part of the oral literature that is particularly abundant there. So far as we have been able to learn, practically nothing has been done in all the Sierra Leone region, toward collecting and publishing this great body of traditional literature. Schlenker included seven tales in his "Temne Traditions" published in 1861, and an occasional "Nancy Story" has appeared in Sierra Leone newspapers, but no serious effort has been made toward a collection; and yet perhaps no region of Africa is richer in native literature.
How completely this literature envelops the life of the people, may be inferred from the fact that the youngest children in the mission were found to possess the salient features of many stories, which they must have acquired before being taken from their people.
These stories seem to be the chief source of entertainment, not only of the young, but of the adult as well. The children of all races are fond of fables and fairy-tales, and the black man in his native state is always a child.
Whatever the distant origin of these legends and fables, it is plain that they now serve as a pleasing diversion for leisure hours, and gratify the natural hunger of the human mind for representations of its own desires as realized, without being hampered by literal fact. They fill even a larger place in the mental and ideal life of these unlettered people, than the great mass of fictitious literature does among more cultured races. There are many close parallels between this native literature and fiction as it is found among civilized peoples. Both allow a delightful freedom to the genius of the story-teller--though the imagination of the African is representative rather than creative,--both please by depicting some form of ideal achievement, both make frequent appeals to the humorous and pathetic in experience, and both furnish entertainment for hours of idleness, or offer the soul an ideal refuge from life's hard and stern realities.
Among the Africans, story-telling is mainly a pastime. It flourishes only under congenial environments and favoring conditions. These are abundant leisure, a company of sympathizing listeners, and freedom from excitement.
Story-telling most often springs spontaneously from the chat, when a number of persons are together with nothing particular to do; sometimes, however, time and place are appointed. Stories may be told whenever circumstances are favorable, but as conditions are most inviting when darkness is in possession of the outer world, most of the story-telling takes place at night. If the moon shines, its light is sufficient; should the night be dark or chill, fires are kindled, and in the flickering light of these, picturesque groups of natives may be seen, brought together by some impulse which they do not stop to question. Before the group breaks up, stories are quite likely to be started, and naturally one will draw out another, each furnishing the inspiration and the excuse for the next. The social instinct of the negro is very strong, and it leads him to seek the companionship of his fellows as often as possible. Crowded together in village communities, with few and irregular demands upon their time, and with instinctive hospitality and friendliness, the black tribes cultivate without conscious effort, their native traditions and fanciful literature. Any one may relate these tales, either as one is suggested to his mind, or on request of some one present; yet in many communities, there are persons so well versed in these common myths and legends, and so gifted in rehearsing them, that they are looked upon as the village story-tellers, and are expected to do most of the reciting. If the people know that a person so gifted is among them, they go and beg him for a story, offering him some present--perhaps tobacco, kola nuts, cowry shells, which are used as currency, or some other small article. Then they build a great fire and sit around it while the story is told.
We have it also on good native authority, that there are occasionally professionals who make their living by going from village to village, and exchanging for food and shelter, stories interspersed with songs. Many of these African troubadours display remarkable dramatic power. Voice, eyes, face, hands, head, and indeed the whole person aid in giving force to the words.
The reader will greatly enhance his pleasure in the perusal of the following tales, if he will give his own imagination full play, and will supply what the narrator added by the manner of his delivery.
Riddles and story-telling are not infrequently continued throughout the entire night, and in connection with an unusual occasion, such as the funeral ceremonies of some distinguished person, or the marriage festivities of a similar personage. They may be protracted for several nights.
Many little songs, or rather choruses, occur in the stories. These are rendered in a kind of chanting measure, a weird melody, usually accompanied by a rhythmical clapping of the hands. They are invariably short, usually in the minor key, and, in the longer stories, are repeated at intervals, seemingly to give variety and animation to the narrative. It makes a peculiar impression upon the distant listener to hear these periodical choruses break forth suddenly on the night air, and just as suddenly cease.
The songs are invariably given in the native language, and the crude attempt at translation given by the narrator, fails utterly to reproduce their musical qualities.
Negro folk-lore, whether in Africa or America, consists largely of animal stories, in which human qualities and characteristics are ascribed to the various animals. In the Temne legends, the Spider, the Cunning Rabbit, the Deer, the Leopard, the Turtle, the Elephant, the Lizard, the Chameleon, the Cat and the Hawk appear very frequently, while many other animals, birds and insects are introduced. It appears to be assumed, throughout the stories, that there was a time when all animals dwelt together in a single community, until some of the animals began to prey upon the others, thus scattering them over the face of the earth, creating enmities, and destroying the power to understand one another. The communities were organized with king and headmen, and had houses and farms, occupations and wants, like the men of later times.
Several accounts are given of how the animals came to be dispersed. The one contained in this collection, of Mister Spider and his powerful witch medicine, is evidently, in part at least, a late invention. It represents Spider in his usual rôle of devising some cunning scheme for securing a supply of food for himself and family. In this instance he procures a gun and ammunition, and announces that he has secured a medicine to kill off the witches that infest the town; and thus, under pretence of rendering the community a valuable service, he begins to kill and to devour the animals one by one. They finally take alarm, and flee to different parts of the earth.
Another story, bearing the marks of greater antiquity, represents the animals as living together in peace and harmony, until the Leopard develops a taste for fresh meat, and begins to prey upon the other animals. They hold a council, and finally decide to take the only boat in existence, and to remove to an island of the sea, leaving Mr. Leopard alone on the mainland. Every day some one is left to guard the boat, while the others are away procuring food. Once, while the Deer is left on guard, Leopard comes to the shore, and in a disguised voice calls for the boat to be brought across. Mr. Deer, always represented in these stories as being extremely stupid, is deceived, and rows the boat across. Of course Mr. Leopard devours the unfortunate Deer, seizes the boat and plans a general feast when the animals return to the village at night. To save themselves, they scatter in every direction, and thus animals become dispersed over the earth.
Hereafter the animals appear to have had dealings with each other, more or less, but were never again united, although there is mention of their gathering for special purposes on several occasions.
The stories frequently assume to account for the peculiar traits or physical characteristics of the various animals; as, for instance, why the Deer coughs, why the Leopard is spotted, why the Spider is flat and why his waist is small, why the Elephant's tusks protrude, and why the Turtle's shell is rough and scarred.
Certain definite qualities and characteristics are ascribed to particular animals, and to these they hold consistently through all the stories. The Deer is always stupid and helpless; the Elephant enormously strong but lacking in mental acuteness; the Cunning Rabbit intelligent and lovable; and the Spider shrewd, designing, selfish, and sometimes vindictive and cruel.
It is noticeable that the weak and helpless creatures are made to prevail against the strong and mighty, not by any use of force, but by cleverness and cunning. Thus Mr. Spider defeats both the Elephant and the Hippopotamus in a pulling match, by the clever ruse of challenging them, in turn, to a trial of strength, proposing to draw the Elephant from the shore to the water, and the Hippopotamus from the water to the shore. The Spider procures a rope so long that neither antagonist can see the other. At the appointed time he ties one end of it to the Elephant, and says that when he is ready to begin the contest, he will give the signal by shaking the rope; then going to the water's edge, he ties the other end to the Hippopotamus, giving the same instructions. Finally, going to the middle of the rope, he gives the signal, and the struggle begins, while Mr. Spider enjoys the sport from behind a tree, to which place of safety he has had the good judgment to retreat.
As the two monsters are so equally matched in strength, the struggle continues, with advantage to neither, until both are completely exhausted and fall down dead. Mr. Spider, viewing the results of his cleverness, soliloquises: "Yo' pass me fo' 'trong, but aintee I pass yo' fo' sense?"
The victims of this cunning supply food to Mr. Spider and his family throughout the famine, and that indeed was the Spider's purpose in the ruse. The story throws in the gratuitous information that the Spider cast into the water such portions of the carcasses as were not desirable for food, and from these pieces came fish, the first of their kind.
Mental superiority counts for more than mere brute force, even where there is a direct trial of strength, as in the story of "Cunning Rabbit and his Well." The other animals come to wrestle with Cunning Rabbit for the privilege of taking water from his well, but on account of his "sense," Cunning Rabbit is always victor, even to hurling the Elephant into the air, although the latter tried to hold himself down by wrapping his trunk around a tree.
Sometimes a necromantic spell is called in to aid the weaker, as in the case of Goro, the Wrestler, in which the song of incantation chanted by the mother, enables the child to prevail.
It satisfies the ethical sense of all people, to represent helpless innocence as finally triumphant over the selfish power of might. Perhaps the black race has more than usual reason for representing in its imaginative literature, that cunning, craft and cleverness are the qualities most to be admired and cultivated. It has always been an oppressed people, defenceless in the contest with wild beasts, without adequate resources in the struggle with nature, and helpless against the cruelties of their more aggressive fellowmen. Little wonder that they exalt cunning, deception and craft. If there is a dash of viciousness in these, all the better. It is only poetic retribution. Consequently the African is taught dissimulation as a fine art, and cunning as the most worthy of accomplishments.
The Spider appears to be the national hero, the impersonation of the genius of the race. To him are ascribed the qualities most characteristic of the people, or those most to be desired: cunning, sleeplessness, almost immortality, an unlimited capacity for eating, and an equal genius for procuring the necessary supplies. He possesses a charmed life, and escapes from all intrigue. He is a tireless weaver, and has spun the thread of his personality into all the warp and woof of the national life. With him the adults associate most of their traditions, while the children love him, and push him tenderly aside if he chances to come in their way. He is inclined to be lazy, and refuses to lift even the lightest burden if it is in the nature of work; if it is something to eat, he can carry the carcass of an elephant with the greatest ease.
The Spider occupies the same place in the folk-lore of West Africa, as does Brer Rabbit in the tales of the southern negro, and as Annancy holds among the negroes of the West Indies, or Hlakanyana among the Kaffirs of South Africa. A comparative study of these several heroes and the literature gathered about them, would be extremely interesting and profitable, but would carry us beyond the bounds set for this introduction.
Mr. Harris, in his introduction to "Nights With Uncle Remus," has pointed out the essential identity of Brer Rabbit and Hlakanyana. There is perhaps a closer parallel between the Spider of the Temne tales, and Annancy, the hero of the West Indian stories. A comparison of Mr. Spider and Brer Rabbit reveals many similarities and some differences, the latter due no doubt to the mellowing influence of contact with a finer civilization, an influence that has softened the character of the transplanted negro, and wrought the same change in the hero of his stories. Both are exceedingly clever, and equal to any emergency. Brer Rabbit, however, is inoffensive in his mischief, and very properly gets out of every scrape without serious consequences. If ever he gets others into trouble, it is to save himself, or to settle an old score. Mr. Spider's cunning has at times a touch of viciousness in it. It sometimes overreaches itself, and brings Mr. Spider to grief, though never to destruction.
Cunning Rabbit rivals Mr. Spider in shrewdness and wit, and in the reverence and esteem given him by the people. In pure intelligence and in amiability of disposition he is without a peer. He is uniformly pronounced "King of de beef fo' wise, oh!" He and Mr. Spider are usually on amicable terms, but when their interests clash there is a notable contest of wits. The natives say: "Two cunnie meet up, de one cunnie, de odder cunnie," but Cunning Rabbit always has a shade the better of it in the end.
We have found it very difficult to identify this little creature, called by the natives "Cunnie Rabbit." It is evidently not a rabbit at all, but the water deerlet or chevrotain, noted for its nimbleness and cunning. It is about eighteen inches long, slender and graceful in form, with a soft fawn-colored skin, and the daintiest of legs and feet. The little creature is very difficult to secure. Its shyness, fleetness and cunning have led the natives to invest it with a sort of veneration.
A fragment of skeleton submitted to Dr. F. W. True, Head Curator Department of Biology, Smithsonian Institution, was pronounced to belong to Hyomoschus Aquaticus, an animal peculiar to West Africa.
It would be the merest conjecture to surmise that this water deerlet, the Cunning Rabbit of African folk-lore, may be the ancestor of Brer Rabbit, as the negroes of the South portray him, and yet there is a shadow of evidence for such belief. The negroes might have transferred the qualities of their Cunning Rabbit to the American hare, because of the similarity of their popular names. It certainly requires a very friendly eye to see in the hare all the mental acumen accredited by the negroes to Brer Rabbit.
To students of comparative folk-lore, these little stories will furnish much food for reflection. They probably come as nearly fresh from the hearts of a primitive people, and are as little modified by outside influences, as any collection made in recent times.
To the oft-repeated question as to how the story was learned, and whence it came, the uniform answer was: "Oh, please, Missus, f'om f-a-r up country," with a much prolonged emphasis on the "far," and an intonation that expressed wonder at such a question's being asked, as all such stories must come from the infinitely remote in space and time.
It will be observed that very many of the stories in this collection are almost identical with a number of the tales in the "Uncle Remus" series, and with a few in the "Annancy Stories," to say nothing of likenesses found in the folk-lore of the American Indians, and the very natural similarity between these tales and those current among the negroes of other portions of Africa.
The "Tar Baby" story, which seems to be in the oral literature of all African tribes, and a standard among the folk-lore tales of all peoples, appears here as the "Wax Girl."
The incidents leading up to the encounter of Mr. Spider with the Wax Girl, differ from the preliminaries in the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, but the encounter itself is the same in both. The outcome also differs in the two stories, but in each is entirely consistent with the story as a whole. Brer Rabbit has been guilty of no offence that deserves punishment, so he suffers only temporary humiliation, and finally regains simultaneously his freedom and his prestige, by inducing Mr. Fox to fling him into the brier patch. Mr. Spider, on the other hand, has practised gross deception, and has appropriated to his own use what should have been shared with others, so he very appropriately receives as punishment an unmerciful flogging at the hands of the outraged community.
Mr. Spider's feat of strength in his contest with the Elephant and the Hippopotamus, already referred to, is a variant of the same contest between Mr. Terrapin and Mr. Bear.
The Temne story of the Turtle making a riding-horse of Mr. Leopard, finds its parallel in Brer Rabbit's riding Brer Fox, as told by "Uncle Remus," and in the "Annancy Stories," by Pamela Colman Smith, where Annancy rides the Tiger.
In one instance Mr. Leopard feigns death, and when the other animals gather around to wail for him, he seizes and devours them. This is much like Mr. Wildcat's attempt to secure the wild turkey by the same ruse.
It must suffice to have mentioned a few variants only, although there are many more of the same nature. If anything further were needed to prove that the folk-tales of the American negroes were brought with them from Africa, the striking parallels in the tales of the two countries ought to supply the proof.
The magic nuts, or eggs, or other articles, which appear in the folk-lore of most races, and which on being opened let out, at one time a profusion of all things desired--riches, fine houses, servants etc., and at other times, reptiles, insects, and cruel monsters, are also found among these tales. The story of the devil's magic eggs is a representative of this class. In another story the bangah-nuts take the place of the eggs.
There are also traces of the "half thing" conception. In one story a man's possessions consisted of half things of various kinds, a half pot, a half bowl, everything half. A bird that possessed magic power, befriended the poor man, and transformed the "bush" into a village filled with riches, to be his on condition of never disturbing the bird's egg. The condition is finally violated, and the man, made utterly destitute, learns that half a thing is better than none. In the story contained in this collection, in which a young girl marries a devil, it will be noted that the devil in taking human form, was compelled to supply his hideous deficiency by borrowing half a head, one foot, one hand, everything half; and after his successful wooing, when he approached his own home, with his bride, all the half things that he had borrowed fell off one by one, until finally "all t'ing nah heen skin bin lef half."
In all the stories we possess, there is only one mention of the divining mirror. It is employed by a lover, and startles him by revealing his loved one lying dead.
It may aid the reader to appreciate these fables from Temne-Land, if a few paragraphs of this introduction be given to a brief discussion of the peculiar beliefs, customs, and environments of the people who have formulated the stories, and who repeat them with never-dying interest.
If we could get a true and complete picture of the black man's mental and moral world from his view point, we should be able to confer a measureless boon upon all those who must deal with him; but unfortunately we have no such good gift to offer. The negro character is so perverse and enigmatical that it defies satisfactory analysis.
The stories themselves will furnish the best kind of information on these points, and to the serious student, this perhaps will be their chief value. However a summary of a few of the facts available will not be amiss. What is said, though applicable directly to the Temnes, will be true in a general sense of all the surrounding tribes, and in a limited way of all the race. As a people, the Temnes are filled exceedingly with innate pride and natural dignity, and love to be noticed and honored. They are fond of riches as they understand them, and are shrewd traders. Their wealth consists of wives, slaves, cows, and goats, and these they value in the order named. Mentally they are bright and quick-witted, though only as concerns the reproductive powers of the mind; for independent thinking they have little capacity. The memory powers are especially strong and persistent. The black man keeps in his head records that a white man would be compelled to write in a book.
The native African has few ambitions beyond the satisfying of his appetites, and the gratification of his sensual desires. Contentment with his lot is the bane of his life, so far as any hope of improvement is concerned, and yet these stories reveal glimmerings of better things, and a capacity to formulate ideals. It is not an easy matter to know the impulses that lie deep within the breast of any people,--the central life impulses, out of which flow all desires and motives, and all standards of happiness. It is still more difficult to get at this central impulse in an uncivilized people, because heathenism renders the soul-life of its adherents extremely difficult to understand.
The literature of a people is the best revelation of its soul-life, especially of the ideals it would consciously or unconsciously set up. It is in this fact that such collections as the one here offered, find their greatest worth.
The inner life of the African is so completely under the control of his superstitious beliefs, that to comprehend it adequately, one must understand all the hideous network of superstitions that envelop the whole life of the people.
Mr. Alfred Sumner, an educated native, has kindly furnished us the following facts concerning this phase of the life of his people.
"All the people believe in signs and omens, good and bad; every occurrence that is a little beyond the ordinary, or seems a little strange, must receive some interpretation from the natives. In fact, occurrences that are not beyond the natural, so long as they do not happen every day, are the sign of something. The withering of a tree, the falling of a fence, the stumbling against something in the road, the ringing of the ear, the dancing of the eyelid, the itching palm, two babies laughing at each other; these and many more things that time would fail us to mention, mean something to the native; tokens of good, warnings of calamity near. The cry of the witch bird, and the "cluck, cluck, cluck" of the boa-constrictor, mean the certain death of someone. If one should be killed by lightning on the road, persons passing the spot from that time on, must pluck a leaf or a small branch and throw it there to avert the same death. Some parts of a road have been entirely abandoned and new paths made on this account. One dare not sew his cloth while it is on his body, lest a relative of his die. There are many more, to us silly superstitions, in which the natives fully believe. To them they are signs and wonders. Some are easy to interpret, others must come under the prophetic eye of the "country-fashion" man--a man who interprets signs and wonders either by spiritual means, or on sand, or with stones. All sorts of charms are made and worn. Various articles are used in their composition--such as oil, leaves, beads, hair, finger-nails, toe-nails etc. Most of the charms the women put on in Africa, are merely small bits of paper with Mohammedan writing, wrapped in a piece of soft leather. They are either to ward off evil, or to bring about luck, according to the writing on the paper. All the "Sebbehs"--that is, the flat, regularly formed charms--are made in this way. Not all of the charms are to be seen by everybody; some are very private, and must be worn next the skin. The "hoodoos" and "fetiches" are of more importance than the ordinary charms, and their composition is more complex, consisting of leaves, barks, roots, horns and bones, either of man or beast, or of both, all carefully placed in a country-pot made of clay, and kept from every eye save that of the owners and perhaps near relatives. These fetiches may serve as gods, and are believed to have the power to return evil for evil to any one who may harm their owners. What is called "gree-gree" is a fetich that is employed by its owner to revenge any wrong received by him. The "He-ge-de" is considered to have the power of self-motion, and of attacking in a death-combat the one to whom it is sent. These charms may be used by any one, irrespective of rank or age; but some of them are very costly, and only the rich can afford them. The leopard's teeth are considered very great and valuable ornaments--pearls of great price; and natives are loth to sell them. They may well be called their diamonds, as they not infrequently calculate their wealth by the number of leopard's teeth owned."
It is thus seen that the natives are born, reared, and die in nameless terror of unseen powers that teem in woods, fields and towns. Their spirits are legion. A few of these are believed to be good, the majority bad, exceedingly bad. It is the greater part of their existence to circumvent the evil spirits, and to win the favor of the good. The tiniest babe is decorated with strings, shells, or bits of wood, supposed to possess the power to ward off evils which mother-arms cannot avert. Those of maturer years, even down to old age, often sacrifice to conciliate they know not what.
Sickness is believed to be caused by a witch. If one is seized with serious illness, a witch-doctor is called in to exorcise the evil spirit; failing in thus obtaining relief, the next resort is to incantations and ordeals, to discover who is guilty of bewitching the afflicted one, some individual being held guilty of bringing on the malady.
The power of the witch-doctor is considered absolute, and woe to the unfortunate one that falls under his ill-will. He is believed to possess the power of double vision, and to be able to see spirits, and to know their doings. Never is the power and efficiency of his incantations doubted. His exorbitant fees are paid with a cheerfulness that would quite astound a Christian doctor. A curse pronounced in the name of a witch-medicine is supposed to be relentless towards the one against whom it is directed. The following is a good example of a native curse.
"Oh, thou medicine, the person who stole this my rice, cloth, lamp, fruit, bed, or pot, I give this person into your hands. If you leave this person you leave your fowl (used in sacrifice). I swear the person's lungs, heart and liver. If the person goes to work, let him cut himself, and if he goes to war let him be killed; everything he does, let evil come upon him."
The "Country-fashion" man, also, is supposed to possess the power of double vision, but of a slightly different kind. He can see the mysterious occult powers that operate beyond the reach of ordinary vision. He is therefore prophet and seer, the interpreter of signs and omens, and various mysterious occurrences.
In the social relations of the people, a loose caste system prevails, based chiefly upon might. The chief exacts obedience and service from all beneath him. Men make servants of women, and of other weaker men. In a polygamous household, the head wife regards the other wives as her inferiors and servants, while each wife makes practical slaves of her own children. The older children in turn exact service of the younger. He is poor indeed, who cannot find another weaker than himself to do his bidding. Society is a pyramid with the weakest at the bottom, and the strongest at the top.
It remains to make the necessary explanations of the dialect of the stories, and with that this introduction must close.
The general reader may feel like protesting against the use of a dialect that presents so many difficulties, and the philologist will object to the form employed, as being too much influenced by English associations to represent the dialect of the people in its native purity.
To both classes of readers our apology may seem weak and inadequate. In the first place, the stories would lose much of their vitality and force if the flavor of the peculiar mental qualities of the people who tell them should be lost by an attempt at translation. The ideal means of expression would be the vigorous and picturesque native tongue, did it not exclude all but the initiated from sharing the stories. The next best thing is to allow the native mind to express itself in its own adaptation of a foreign language.
As to the form the dialect has been allowed to take, it may be said that it differs from that used by the people in daily conversation, only as formal English differs from the colloquial. There is a little nearer approach to subordination of clauses than is found in ordinary conversation, and a larger per cent of English words is employed, as might be expected from those who have had some training in that language. This necessarily involves an inconsistency, inasmuch as the stories are represented as being told by natives in their native environment; but as the whole undertaking has presented peculiar difficulties, some degree of allowance may be expected.
The dialect is that of the Temne people, and is essentially the dialect of Sierra Leone, from which it was derived. Each new tribe, in learning the dialect, modified it slightly, so that, although it is perfectly intelligible to all the tribes using it, an attempt to represent the words phonetically, reveals many differences. Wherever the pronunciation of common words, such as "make," "take," "come" etc., very closely approximates the English usage, we have not hesitated to give the correct English form.
The whole dialect is a hopeless jumble of English and African words. It is very much condensed, almost stenographic in its brevity, and requires the aid of voice and gesture to round it out to like-life fulness. This requirement, the native temperament, being emotional and picturesque, meets to perfection. These accessories the imagination of the reader must supply, if he is to receive the keenest pleasure from the perusal of the stories.
With the native, a common device of expression is the repetition of the emphatic word or phrase, or else its very much prolonged utterance. The word "Sotáy"--accent on the last syllable--when used in the sense of "a long time," is prolonged until the very utterance conveys the impression desired. Naturally, the vocabulary is very meager. There are no words to express shades of meaning. Every thing that in any way pleases the eye is "fine." Every thing that pleases the taste, either literally or figuratively, is "sweet." Rice is "sweet," pepper is "sweet," and fighting is "sweet." Gender is ignored. "He" stands for "he," "she," or "it," indiscriminately. "Me Mammy he go bring yo' him son Mary, to-morrow." Idea of number is rudimentary. "He" is uniformly singular, and "dem" is usually plural. "Um" occurs often in the objective singular, but the variation in number appears to be purely accidental. "Dey" is rarely used for the pronoun "they," although to avoid confusion it has been allowed to appear quite frequently in the stories. "Dem" and "den" are used interchangeably for "they," and since there is no distinction in case, they may also be used for them. "Den" is seldom used for "then," but is usually a pronoun. The reader will need to exercise special care on this point. For the adverb "there," the natives invariably use "deh." There is a peculiar use of an auxiliary that will need careful notice. Its sound is between that of "dey" and "duh;" the latter has been chosen. "He duh come" means "He is coming," or "He comes," in the historical present. However, laws of language are trampled on with utmost unconcern. "Go" is used occasionally as a sign of the future. "He go come" meaning "he will come," and "he go go," "he will go." Certain words are repeated to form a single expression, as "so-so," meaning "merely," "nothing but." "San'-san'" is sand, and "bug-a-bug" is the white ant. Idiomatic expressions occur frequently, and unless mastered at once, may prove confusing; once understood, they are very expressive. "He no tay" means "it does not stay," that is, Time does not linger, or, It is but a short time. "Pass" is used in all comparisons, in the sense of surpass, excel, exceed, etc.; as--"Spider pass Elephan' fo' sense," "I pass yo' fo' 'trong." "Pull" is employed in the peculiar sense of "produce," "devise," "create," as: "He pull one big holler," "He pull dis sense," "God pull de people," referring to the creation of Adam and Eve. "No mo'" is an expression frequently found, and although no single English expression can cover the meaning in all of its uses, it signifies "only that and nothing more." "He de one man no mo'" means "only he and no one else." "So-so san'-san' no mo'," "entirely sand, nothing more."
But of these expressions there are not many, so the difficulty in mastering them will not be great. It has often been difficult to find a spelling that represents correctly the sound desired. The natives never say "house," but always "ho'se," giving "s" its sibilant sound. With the further aid of the vocabulary printed at the end of the volume, there should be little difficulty in reading the stories.
It may be said in conclusion, that no one can be more conscious of the fragmentary nature of the literature presented in this volume, or of the faulty manner of its presentation, than are the authors themselves.
F. M. C.
H. W. W.