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Showing posts with label African Folktales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label African Folktales. Show all posts


The Adventures of Nzumah: The First Volcano (2013)

Written and Illustrated by Naa Korkoi Abotchi


Hey, this one was pretty good. This is the third volume of The Adventures of Nzumah, all written by Naa Korkoi Abotchi, and published by Matador - who were good enough to send me these complimentary copies.

I couldn't find much information on Abotchi, other than that she was born in Ghana and now lives in Harrow. "[My] series has been inspired by conversations with her grandmother," she writes in her author bio, "whose story telling was legendary and who has been a very important part of [my] life. She is still very much alive when I remember the stories every day."

This would have been a great story to have been told as an impressionable child, and it was not a story I had heard before. Though now that I have, it makes perfect sense. Volcanoes are the result of a giant dragon who was long ago trapped underground by some crafty villagers, and who now wanders underground still, spewing out in anger.

At first, two brave, strong men attempt to take on the dragon single-handedly, and fail. It is the third man, Yinka, who has the idea to seek help from the entire village. By working together, he decides, the dragon can be defeated.

There were some nice, gruesome images of the dragon chowing down on some livestock, and the festive scenes of the villagers celebrating had a lot of really wonderful details, dancing and musical intruments. I believe I could really see Abotchi growing as a writer and an illustrator in just these three titles, and I hope she continues!


The Adventures of Nzumah: The Proud Peacock (2013)

Written and Illustrated by Naa Korkoi Abotchi


Nzumah is back in another story-within-a-story. This book follows from The Ugly Chick. I liked that in this one, we are given some more details about the world the story takes place in. Before, all we knew was that Nzumah was the son of a king. As this story opens, the kingdom is given a name, the Bantu kingdom, and we are told that it is, "surrounded by hills in a secluded valley... hidden from the world."

I actually prefer the framing device of these stories to the actual stories. I looked up 'Bantu kingdom,' assuming it to be fictional, I found this description of it on althistorywikia.com:

"The Bantu were a tribe originating in central Africa but predominantly in Nigeria. After the conquest of Nigeria by the Roman Empire many tribes escaped into southern Africa. One of these were the Bantu. The Bantu at first settled on the border of the Satavahana so that they could benefit from their trade. But soon the Satavahana began attacking the Bantu for invading their lands. The bantu fought back and the Satavahana believed that they were an uncivilized people, but they had weapons on par with the Satavahana. By 1075 (322 AD) the Bantu almost all were settled on the border north of the Satavahana. A large war ensued in which the bantu attempted to take most of the mainland parts of the Satavahana Kingdom. they were defeated but the Satavahana had a Pyrrhic Victory and settled for allowing the Bantu to create a state on their border. The general of the Bantu became the first King, Namula, and he ruled with a strong and dignified ability and asserted his control over the body of water named Lake Bantu (Lake Tanganyika) and the northern shores of Lake Malawi."

Althistorywikia.com is the wiki page for fictional places and histories, so I'm not really sure what's going on here, or why it's significant.

What I am sure about is the fact that in this story, Nzumah struts around his village, going from the market to the story hut, dressed in a new outfit that the youngest of his father's wives had given to him. But... how can he play when he's wearing nice, new clothes???!!!

Fortunately, the tale of the Proud Peacock is told to him, and the day is saved. Phew!


The Adventures of Nzumah: The Ugly Chick (2013)

Written and Illustrated by Naa Korkoi Abotchi


Funny to think the last time I reviewed this basic story, it was for the Maynard Moose tale, The Uglified Ducky. Now here it is again, but told with complete earnestness. It's not a moose being raised by ducks, but an eagle being raised by a hen, at the foot of Mount Killimanjaro, which is a good place for a story to take place.

This is the first book in a trilogy of books about a young boy named Nazumah, the son of a King, to whom the great lessons of life are imparted via storytelling.

This was a strange book for me to read, and I'm having a lot of trouble saying anything about it, I'm afraid. I'm so used to reading children's books which somehow subvert the presumed expectations of the readers, or find some ironic twist... but this is pretty much a straight-up ugly duckling story. Hen raises the ugly chick, turns out its an eagle, and Nazumah realizes, "We are all special in different ways and should learn to respect each other."


The Magic Tree (1973)

Retold and Illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Henry Holt and Company

This was a really wonderful read, and hard to come by. I'd somehow missed this one all these years.

It has a much different feel than Anansi the Spider, which is readily apparent just from the cover. Anansi was bright red! Anansi was grinning right us! In The Magic Tree, the colors are muted. The expression on Mavungu's profile is hard to read. This is a downbeat tale.

It begins with brothers - Mavungu and Luemba - one inexplicably favored, and one not. Mavungu leaves his home in shame. McDermott is so sparse with his prose: "One night he left his home," is all we're given, but the dark, highly stylized images show an epic journey through the nighttime rivers of the Congo.

Finally, Mavungu finds a thick tree growing from the water which blocks his path, and from the unfolding of the leaves comes a beautiful woman. These images remind me of the unfolding of a paper snowflake, colorful and mysterious, I could imagine the movement of it. The woman loves Mavungu, and transforms him into a lover worthy of her, with the only caveat that he must never tell of the Magic Tree.

It is hard to keep such a delicious secret, and the maddening dilemma along with his return to his home forms the remainder of the story. I have to say, I was surprised at the ending, and the finality of it.

He forgot those who loved him. And he gave his secret to those who did not love him at all.


Anansi the Spider (1972)

Retold and Illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Henry Holy and Company

Gerald McDermott died on December 26th of last year, just a couple of weeks ago, as I write this. He was 71 years old.

I think back on it, and I think that his books - and especially this particular book, Anansi the Spider - were the most influential in getting me interested in storytelling through picture books.

I always loved picture books since I had been a kid, but it was when I was put in charge of the children's section at the Penn Bookstore that I really came into contact with picture books in a meaningful way, and Anansi the Spider was a book I found right away.

Three of the six: Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion

I am drawn to the Trickster tales more than any other, and Anansi is the Trickster of all Trickster. I read this book often to groups of children who would come in for storytime. The story is about Anansi and his six sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion, and how they each use their unique skills to rescue their father from a series of unfortunate events. It's a very fun read for children, and uses elements of puzzle-solving in addition to storytelling.

"He fell into trouble."

Re-reading through it tonight, however, I realize that there isn't very much tricking going on in this particular Anansi story, which makes it stand in contrast to many of the Anansi picturebooks which have followed. Anansi seems strangely passive. Events happen to him, and the story ends with him being unable to make up his mind. I think McDermott became a much more engaging writer as his career unfolded, but there's still a wonderful elegance in this story - its both simple and complex - and the colorful, geometric illustrations are such a standout it feels as though you've read something elemental.

"Mythology transforms, making the ordinary into the magical," he writes in the prologue. "It brings beauty to the ways of man, giving him dignity and expressing his joy in life. Folklore prepares man for adult life. It places him within his culture. With oral traditions, retold through generations, the social group maintains its continuity, handing down it culture."

I like that word, 'continuity,' in this context. It shouldn't come as a great surprise to learn that Gerald McDermott was good friends with Joseph Campbell, and was the first fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. The subject of storytelling is one he took quite seriously, and permeates his entire career, as we shall see.

The God of All Things

The God of All Things,
He took
the beautiful white light
up into the sky.

He keeps it there
for all to see.
It is still there.
It will always be there.

It is there tonight.
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