West African Folktales

Jack Berry, Author, Richard A. Spears, Editor, Jack Berry, Translator Northwestern University Press $21 (229p) ISBN 978-0-8101-0993-3
Covetous of God who was the sole subject of all stories, a clever spider named Anaanu proposed a wager. If he could present God with a swarm of bees, a python and a leopard, he would prove himself worthy of becoming a subject of stories as well. Craftily appealing to each creature's sense of self-importance, Anaanu not only succeeded in his task but became a kind of Prometheus of storytelling. Appropriately, Anaanu, also known as Ananse, emerges as the hero of this volume's 123 tales, collected and translated by the late Berry, a former Northwestern linguistics professor, from the Akan culture of Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. Although many tales involve other characters and range from serving as parables about jealousy to practical guides for polygamists, first and foremost they take great pleasure in the act of storytelling. While Spears ( The Slang and Jargon of Drugs and Drink ) and Berry have admirably avoided Americanizing these tales, many appear to prefigure our own Uncle Remus tales and several--about loquacious newborns--even seem distant precursors to supermaket tabloid tales of the strange but ``true.'' Taken together, these pk West African folktales demonstrate with vast charm how a culture's storytelling both preserves it and transcends it. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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