Native Fairy Tales of South Africa | Annotated Tale

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Author's Note

IN PRESENTING these stories from the Zulu and the Sesuto I can make no claim to original research; my part has been confined to the endeavour to offer them in a form suitable for children's reading. The material upon which they are based is to be found chiefly in the Nursery Tales  of Bishop Callaway, published in 1868, and now difficult to procure, and in the more recent Treasury of Basuto Folklore, the work of M. Jacottet, of the French Protestant Mission. Both of these collections are of the greatest value to the student of native languages and beliefs. The stories found in them have been taken down literally from the lips of the natives, and the Zulu or Sesuto text is given side by side with the English version, the aim of the compilers having been to preserve the stories in their original form and diction before these should be swept away by the oncoming tide of European civilization. To students of race they are invaluable in this original form, but to the average reader they are not acceptable by reason of their frequent repetition and by their involved character, specially noticeable in the Zulu stories. At times there are gaps in the procession of events which, have to be filled up by guesswork. There is almost always a wearisome iteration in the dialogue and in the adventures, and lastly their beauty is often marred by a grossness, natural enough to the native but repellent to the European.

                In retelling these stories my aim has been, as I have stated, to give them coherence and form and to free them from coarseness. I have also endeavoured, where possible, to preserve the native picturesqueness of phraseology.

                The folklore of South Africa is peculiarly rich in imaginative qualities, and in some of the stories here set forth a remarkable resemblance may be noted to those of classic legend and to the folk-tales of Europe. In the story of "Senkenpeng and Bulane," for example,there is a maiden victim not unworthy to rank with Iphigenia, and a bride who, like Psyche, might not look upon the face of her husband.

                In the story "The Queen of the Pigeons" there is a curious confusion between birds and men, which may be thus accounted for. A man enchanted, and forced to assume the shape of a bird, a snake, or an animal, is often restored by marriage with a woman bold enough to take such a husband. After marriage the King of the Pigeons may have assumed his human shape, and hence his inability to fly across the lake. One may suppose, too, that his men were under a like enchantment at the opening of the story.

                Another explanation may be that the girl was carried off by a tribe of mounted men, who would be described in Zulu idiom as having wings or as being Pigeons. The Zulus rarely ride, and speak of a horseman as 'flying.'

                The tale as it stands is possibly due to a confusion of two stories—that of an enchanted husband who regained his freedom by marriage with a human wife, and an ordinary tale of a maiden captured by a troop of horsemen. For many generations the record of these stories was one of memory only, and in passing from mouth to mouth much has been lost or distorted.

                More than once the animal stories of South Africa have been presented with humour and charm, but little has been done to make known the vast treasure of fairy lore in which South Africa abounds, and which possesses all the elements of romance and poetry.

CAPE TOWN, May 1919

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Author's Note
Tale Author/Editor: McPherson, Ethel L.
Book Title: Native Fairy Tales of South Africa
Book Author/Editor: McPherson, Ethel L.
Publisher: Harrap
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1919
Country of Origin: South Africa
Classification: Introduction

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