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South-African Folk-Tales

James A. Honey

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A collection of South African folk tales from the early 1900's. Tales about animals including The Monkey's Fiddle, Jackal And Monkey, The White Man And Snake, The Lioness And The Ostrich, Elephant And Tortoise, When Lion Could Fly and The Judgment Of Baboon.

This book has 87 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1910.

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Excerpt from 'South-African Folk-Tales'

IN presenting these stories, which are of deep interest and value to South Africans, I hope they may prove of some value to those Americans who have either an interest in animals or who appreciate the folklore of other countries.

Many of these tales have appeared among English collections previous to 1880, others have been translated from the Dutch, and a few have been written from childhood remembrance. Consequently they do not pretend to be original or unique. Care has been taken not to spoil the ethnological value for the sake of form or structure; and in all cases they are as nearly like the original as a translation from one tongue to another will allow. They are all South-African folklore tales and mainly from the Bushmen. Some are perverted types from what were originally Bushmen tales, but have been taken over by Hottentots or Zulus; a few are from the Dutch. Most of these last named will show a European influence, especially French.

Some of the animal stories have appeared in American magazines under the author's name, but this is the first time that a complete collection has appeared since Dr. Bleek published his stories in 1864. The object has been to keep the stories apart from those which have a mythological or religious significance, and especially to keep it an animal collection free from those in which man appears to take a part.

There will be found several versions of the same story, and as far as possible these will be put in the order of their importance in relation to the original. The author does not pretend to be an authority on South-African folklore, but has only a South-African-born interest in what springs from that country of sunshine. It is a difficult task to attempt to trace the origin of these stories, as there is no country where there have been so many distinct and primitive races dwelling together.

The Bushmen seem to trace back to the earliest Egyptian days, when dwarfs were pictured on the tombs of the kings and were a distinct race. From then until now it has been their pride to say that before men were men, they were; or, to put it clearer, before Africa was inhabited by other races, they were there. As represented by some of these stories of the Bushmen, what races have not, then, had their influence on the folklore? According to Stow, they were a wandering primitive race of small men, painters and sculptors, hunters and herdsmen, and withal a race showing traces of wonderful reasoning and adaptability, with a keen sense of justice and a store of pride. Mythological some of their stories are, but whether this is due to the influence of the Hottentots, a later race, it is difficult to say. And, lastly, there are the Kaffirs spread over the whole of South Africa, domineering, but backward. The varied influences which may have affected these stories before they reached us show what enormous possibilities there are for error in tracing the origin of the animal tales here presented. Bleek finds that a greater congeniality exists between the Hottentot and European mind than is found between the latter and any other of the black races of Africa. Whether he means that this indicates a European origin of the fables, I cannot say. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bushmen came from the north and were the primitive race of south and tropical Africa, the dwarfs of Livingstone, Stanley, and other explorers. Considering, then, the great antiquity of this race, it naturally follows that if these stories are not original with the Bushmen, they are at least so modified as to bear no resemblance to Egyptian, Phoenician, or any other ancient race which the Bushmen may have come in contact with. Herodotus described a race on the upper Nile which corresponds with later descriptions of the Bushmen in tropical and southern Africa.

I agree with what the South-African Folklore Journal stated twenty years or more ago, that with the "vast strides South Africa is making in the progress of civilization, the native races will either be swept away or so altered as to lose many of their ancient habits, customs, traditions, or at least greatly to modify them."

Knowing that by a collection of this kind these stories could best be preserved, and feeling that others had not read them, I began this collection ten years ago. There is so much done now to preserve what is still Bushmen folklore that I feel this small volume is indeed only a small addition to the folklore world.

"South-African folklore is," the South-African Folklore Journal says, "in its very nature plain, and primitive in its simplicity; not adorned with the wealth of palaces and precious stones to be met with in the folklore of more civilized nations, but descriptive in great measure of the events of everyday life, among those in a low state of civilization; and with the exception of evidences of moral qualities, and of such imagery as is connected with the phenomena of nature, very little that is grand or magnificent must be looked for in it."

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