Thursday, September 22, 2022

ABC 19: African Tales

I'm back from Oklahoma (such a great trip!), and ready to jump back in to our last book for Anansi Book Club for September (see the September schedule... plus you can see all the Anansi Book Club posts at this blog). The anthology book for this month is Gcina Mhlophe's African Tales: A Barefoot Collection, with beautiful illustrations by Rachel Griffin, and it's just a click away at the Internet Archive!

Gcina Mhlophe is from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and you can read about her remarkable life and career at Wikipedia. She is an activist and actress, and also a storyteller and writer. YouTube is not the same as being right there in the audience, but it's still a way to see the wonderful Gcina Mhlophe at work; here's just one of many videos of her performances: at YouTube (the embedded video below starts at the 7-minute mark with a song, and then listen as Mhlophe explains the power of words):

Gcina Mhlophe

There are eight stories in the African Tales book, and they come from different regions of Africa, but what I want to focus on this week are two "classic" stories from southern Africa which can be found in many different versions, which means we can appreciate the really distinctive features of the versions that Mhlophe tells in her book.

The first of these two classic stories is "Masilo and Masilonyana" ("Masilo and Little-Masilo"), which is a story about the deadly dangers of jealousy. Mhlophe uses a version from Lesotho, formerly Basutoland, and I'll say something here tomorrow about other sources for Basuto versions of the legend. In this version, the two brothers go hunting and one of them, Masilonyana, finds three mysterious pots, and in one of those pots he awakens a strange sleeping woman. Here is the illustration of the woman in the pot:

The woman gets angry, and the hunting dogs attack and kill her. Then, after she is dead, her fingernails grow and grow and grow (see her fingernails there in the illustration?), and then out of the fingernails emerge tiny cattle and sheep and goats and chickens, along with a tiny woman, and tiny children. Then they all grow, returning to their normal size. How cool is that? The strange old woman was a "swallowing monster," a kind of ogre who devours people and animals, and Masilonyana has set the people and animals that she devoured free. The woman and children thank Masilonyana for setting them free; the woman says that she will become Masilonyana's wife, and all the cattle and animals are now his too.

If you want to read another swallowing-monster story, there's a wonderful Zulu story in another book by Gcina Mhlophe, Stories from Africa, which we read back in June for Anansi Book Club; the story is Nanana Bo Sele Sele. The swallowing monster in that story is a seriously dangerous elephant, and the heroine is Nanana bo Sele Sele, who enters the elephant and fights her way out in order to rescue her children and all the animals that the montser elephant has swallowed. There's also a version of that story in Henry Callaway's Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus, published in 1868 with both the Zulu text and an English translation: Unanana-Bosele.

So, back to our two brothers: when Masilo saw his brother's beautiful wife and children and all his cattle and other possessions, he was jealous and plotted to kill his Masilonyana. After Masilo trapped Masilonyana in a hole and left him for dead, Masilo reported that Masilonyana had been attacked and killed by a wild animal, and he took the woman, children, and cattle back to his village. 

But Masilonyana was not dead! Instead, he was rescued by a mysterious black snake that swallowed Masilonyana and carried him back to the village, disgorging him, much to everyone's delight and surprise. Here is Masilonyana in the snake:

Everyone is happy, except for Masilo, of course, who runs away and is never seen again, while Masilonyana and his new-found wife and children live happily ever after.

The story of Masilo and Masilonyana is told in many versions, including several versions recorded and published in the 19th century, so we can compare Mhlophe's version with other versions of the story. The earliest recorded version comes from Eugène Casalis, a French Protestant missionary in what was then Basutoland (now Lesotho); his book Les Bassoutos was published in 1859 and translated into English in 1861: The Murder of Maciloniane. In this story, Macilonyana awakens a strange man (not a woman) in the pot, and the man has a gigantic leg. "Big Leg" says he was grinding ochre (more about ochre in Africa), and then he makes Macilonyana carry him, but then the hunting dogs attack and kill him, and when Macilonyana chops open his leg (not his fingernail), a herd of cattle emerge, including one especially beautiful white cow (no people). Macilonyana shares the cattle with his brother, but keeps the white cow for himself, which makes Macilo angry. He kills his brother (he really does kill him!) and buries the corpse, but then a little white bird begins to follow him, denouncing him as a murderer. He kills the bird but it keeps coming back to life; finally, Macilo burns the bird's corpse. He comes to the village and says Macilonyana died in an accident, but then the bird appears and denounces him again. The bird then flies to Macilonyana's sister and says, "I am the heart of Maciloniane; Macilo has murdered me," and then the bird tells her where to find his (human) corpse. That's the end of the story. No snake. No happy ending for Macilonyana.

Henry Callaway's collection of Zulu stories published in 1868 (see above) also contains a version of the story under the title The Two Brothers. Here's how that version begins (click the image for a larger view):

In this version, the woman who comes out of the pot is not a swallowing-monster. Instead, she leads Macilonyana to a tree, and when he chops a hole in the tree, cattle emerge, along with sheep and goats. The greedy Macilo wants all the livestock for himself, so he leaves Macilonyana for dead at the bottom of a precipice and returns to the village, saying his brother died in an accident. But then a bird appears and denounces Macilo; the people follow the bird and find Macilonyana alive. They haul him back up the precipice and bring him back to the village. Macilo runs away and is never seen again.
The earliest published version with a Sesuto (Sotho) text is in Jacottet's Treasury of Basuto Lore, published in 1908: Macilo and Macilonyane. He provides this helpful note about the versions of the stories known to him at that time (and there are other very useful comparative footnotes throughout the story too): 

Here is how this version of the story begins (click the image for a larger view):

It is again a woman in the pot (as in Casalis), and she is grinding ochre (as in Callaway). This time she has a gigantic toe. She makes Masilonyana carry her, but he escapes and the dogs kill her. When he chops open her toe, cattle emerge, including one cow that is especially beautiful. Masilo wants the beautiful cow, but Masilonyana refuses to give it to him. Masilo kills his brother, and then his brother's heart takes the form of a bird that pursues Masilo and denounces him to the villagers.

So, those are some 19th-century and early 20th-century versions, with the bird, rather than the snake, as the distinctive animal in the plot of the story, and the conflict is over cattle; there is no rescue of a woman and her children as in Mhlophe's version. But I did find a version from Botswana recorded in the early 20th century which features a snake, and in which the younger brother wins a bride; we even get the name of the bride in this story; is Kammetla. This version of "Masilo and Masilonyane" comes from J. Tom Brown's Among the Bantu Nomads, published in 1926. The song portions of the story are in Tswana and English:

Finally, I also want to mention the version of the story in Minnie Postma's Tales from the Basotho, first published in 1964, which has some amazing ostriches (!) who play the role of the hunting dogs in the story. Here is that story: Masilo, Masilonyane, and the Old Woman.

I hope you've enjoyed these different versions of a traditional southern African folktale, and there's another "classic" folktale in Mhlophe's book: the story of the magical horns. The version she tells is from Malawi: Makhosi and the Magic Horns. In this version, a young boy named Makhosi must go find his uncle, who is a healer, in order to get medicine needed to cure his parents and other people in his village who have fallen ill. Along the way, Makhosi's white bull must do battle with a buffalo; Makhosi hides in a tree and watches:

As you can see, the artwork is lovely! I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so I'll just say that it's a very dramatic story and, yes, the magic horns come from this white bull. I'll update this blog post tomorrow with some information about other versions of this story, and how the version in Mhlophe's book is distinctively different from those other versions, where the hero is more of a "Cinderella" character. Rather than completing a mission of healing for his family, he runs away or is driven out of his village and then, with the help of the magical horns, he is able to live happily ever after after all.

The oldest recorded version that I know of is the English story in George McCall Theal's Kaffir Folklore (the insulting term "kaffir" was first used for the Xhosa people, as here in Theal's book, and then later came to be a term of disrespect for any Black person in South Africa): The Story of the Wonderful Horns.

Theal's version was the inspiration for Ashley Bryan's version of the story, The Ox of the Wonderful Horns, which you can also read at the Internet Archive!

Here is the young man with his bride at the end of the story:

Wrapping up this exploration of some classic folktales in Mhlophe's book, I wanted to share one more version of the story of the "magical horns," this time in a Khoekhoe (Hottentot) version that appears in When Lion Could Fly by Nick Greaves. The focus in Greaves's books is on the animals and the ecology of the story, and the version of the story he tells does not have a domestic cow as the source of the magical horns, but instead the kudu, a long-horned antelope (the word "kudu" itself comes from the Khoekhoe language): Kudu's Wonderful Horns. The illustrations are by Rod Clement.

As in most versions of the story, the hero of this story is an outcast who overcomes the obstacles that he faces thanks to the magical horns that the kudu gives him. Mhlophe's version is very different, where the boy is not an outcast but instead on a mission of healing. One thing I wish this book included was some commentary from Mhlophe because it would be fascinating to learn just how and why she chose the versions of the stories foudn in this book.

And don't forget: there's another book of Mhlophe's stories that you can read at the Internet Archive (we read this one back in June for the book club): Stories of Africa. Enjoy them both!

by Gcina Mhlophe

by Gcina Mhlophe

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Scottish

Here's another book in the Hippocrene proverb series (no editor's name supplied): Scottish Proverbs.

The illustrations are by Shona Grant; here's the one used for the book cover: Better be deid than oot o' fashion.

The book has only the Scottish versions of the proverbs, which isn't too difficult to figure out for English speakers, but just in case, there's a glossary in the back:

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ne'er rode ne'er fell.
  • Better sma' fish than nae fish.
  • Illy-willy cows should have short horns.
  • Even the langest day will hae an end.
  • I theekit ma hoose in the guide weather.
  • Ne'er show your teeth unless you can bite.
  • A young saint may prove an old devil.
  • A misty morning may be a clear day.
  • A mitten'd cat ne'er was a good hunter.
  • There is mony a true tale tauld in jest.
  • Every man wishes the water to his ain mill.
  • Forbid a fool a thing an' that he'll do.
  • Tak time when time is, for time will awa'.
  • He that gets, forgets, but he that wants, thinks on.
  • It is weel said, but wha will bell the cat?
  • Enough's as good as a feast for a starvin' man.
  • Be happy while you're livin, for you're a lang time deid.
  • He has ae face to God an' anither to the de'il.
  • A day to coem seems longer than a year that's gone.
  • What may be done at any time will be done at no time.

Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

So, have fun with these... and don't mind if the spellchecker protests the Scottish spelling!

Scottish Proverbs

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Eli

This book is a combination of traditional proverbs and quotations (far more quotations than proverbs): African-American Wisdom: A Book of Quotations and Proverbs by Quinn Eli.

Quinn Eli (who is best known as a playwright) has organized the book into five general sections: Wisdom, Identity, Achievement, Humanity, and Hope.

The book is beautifully illustrated with work by African American artists (see the list of art credits in the back), and, the quotations are credited on each page. For example, here is a painting called "Expectation" by Hughie Lee-Smith, paired with two quotations.

Here are my favorites:

  • When you clench your first, no one can put anything in your hand. [Alex Haley]
  • It's better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret. [Jackie Joyner-Kersee]
  • Don't hate: it's too big a burden to bear. [Martin Luther King, Sr.]
  • You may encounter defeats, but you must not be defeated. [Maya Angelou]
  • When I discover who I am, I'll be free. [Ralph Ellison]
  • Everybody hears a different drummer. [Alvin Ailey]
  • The price of your hat isn't the measure of your brain. [African American proverb]
  • A man without knowledge of himself and his heritage is like a tree without roots. [Dick Gregory]

Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

So, enjoy the inspiring words and all the artwork too!

by Quinn Eli

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Kogos

Here's a bilingual book of proverbs in both Yiddish and English: 1001 Yiddish Proverbs by Fred Kogos.

There's also a pronunciation guide for the Yiddish at the start of the book. Here's how the layout looks, with the Yiddish first, and then an English translation.

When you find a keyword you're interested in, you can always use Internet Archive's search feature too. So, for example, if you are curious to find more proverbs with horses, here they are:

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Man thinks, and God laughs.
  • A child's wisdom is also wisdom.
  • One can't fill a torn sack.
  • Another's cloak doesn't keep you warm.
  • It's no crime to steal from a thief.
  • A foolish rich man is still a lord.
  • A bad peace is better than a good war.
  • The wedding jester makes everyone laugh; he alone is miserable.
  • A man should stay alive if only out of curiosity.
  • A friend you have to buy; enemies you get for nothing.
  • A curse is not a telegram; it doesn't arrive so fast.
  • A fool makes two trips where the wise man makes none.
  • An animal has a long tongue, yet he can't recite a blessing.
  • A heart is a lock; you need the right key to find it.
  • A wise man knows what he says; a fools says what he knows.
  • It's a good idea to send a lazy man for the Angel of Death.
  • A liar tells his story so often that he gets to believe it himself.
  • Man is sometimes stronger than iron and at other times weaker than a fly.
  • A rich man's fortune down and a poor man's fortune up: they are still not even.
  • A fool can ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in a year.
Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

Lots to enjoy here in both Yiddish and English!

by Fred Kogos

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Taylor & Whiting

Here is a monumental reference work for American proverbs of the 19th century: A Dictionary of American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1820-1880, by Archer Taylor and Bartlett Jere Whiting.

The proverbs are organized by keyword, with detailed bibliography for each one.

The book's preface explains the methodology they used to collect the proverbs, followed by a detailed bibliography of texts and also secondary reference works.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Rotten apples are the sweetest.
  • A new broom sweeps clean.
  • Blackberries don't grow on every bush.
  • An empty bag can't stand straight.
  • Life lies open like a book.
  • What's everybody's business is nobody's business.
  • Our backs are fitted to our burdens.
  • Ants live safely till they have gotten wings.
  • The ass knows in whose face he brays.
  • You can't get blood out of a stump.
  • Let every man drink from his own bottle.
  • But buds will be roses, and kittens, cats.
  • Don't cross the bridge before you get to it.
  • I'll row my own boat against wind and tide.
  • He who loves not bread dotes not on dough.
  • Other men beat the bush, but you catch the bird.
  • A man who is born to be hanged will never be drowned.
  • I wasn't born in the brush to be scared of garter snakes.
  • Now the bridge that has carried me so well over, shall I not praise it!
  • We praised a bridge that carries us safe, even if it is a poor one.
  • Book-learning spoils a man if he's got mother-wit, and if he ain't got that, it don't do him any good.

Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

Archer Taylor and Bartlett Jere Whiting are two of the leading proverb scholars of the 20th century, and this book is a fabulous reference work although, be warned, the number of "proverbial phrases" (metaphors, comparisons, other kinds of verbal cliches) outnumber the actual proverbs by far.

by Archer Taylor and Bartlett Jere Whiting

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Basset

Here's a wonderful example of a truly bilingual publication: A Dictionary of Proverbs, Sayings, Saws, Adages: English and Spanish by Delfín Carbonell Basset.

It's meant both for Spanish-speakers learning about English proverbs AND for English-speakers learning about Spanish proverbs. The one thing to beware of is that this book features equivalents rather than literal translations of the proverbs in each language.

The first part of the book is for Spanish speakers. It contains English proverbs with Spanish equivalents, along with a brief commentary in Spanish. The organization is alphabetical:

The second part of the book, beginning on p. 223, reverses the order: there are now Spanish proverbs with English equivalents and a brief commentary in English for English-speakers:

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Llevar agua al río.
  • Cada día sabemos más.
  • Cada ollero su olla alaba.
  • Más vale antes que después.
  • No hay día sin lección.
  • Para aprender nunca es tarde.
  • La avaricia rompe el saco.
  • Nadie se alabe hasta che acabe.
  • Amor fuerte dura hasta la muerte.
  • Cada día se aprende algo nuevo.
  • Del árbol caído, todos hacen leña.
  • Quien acecha por agujero, ve su duelo.
  • De las aguas mansas me libre Dios.
  • Nunca digas de este agua no beberé.
  • Cuando todos dicen que eres asno, rebuzna.
  • Quien peces quiere, que se moje el culo.
  • Amigo en la adversidad es amigo de verdad.
  • Amor no respeta ley, ni obedece a rey.
  • El pez que busca elanzuelo, busca su duelo.
  • Los árboles no nos dejan ver el bosque.
  • El favo es dulce, mas pica la aveja.
  • Quien no se aventura, no pasa la mar.
  • Quien no se aventuró, ni perdió ni ganó.
  • Más vale un amigo cercano que un hermano lejano.
  • Quien de todos es amigo, de ninguno es amigo.
  • El que se acuesta en dos sillas, da de costillas.
  • Cuando Adán cavaba y Eva hilaba, la hidalguía, ¿dónde estaba?
  • Amar y no ser amado es un tiempo mal empleado.
  • Cuando carga de oro el asno lleva, sube al azotea.
  • Todos somos hijos de Adán, los de la telilla y los del tafetán.
  • De los amigos me guarde Dios, que de los enemigos me guardaré yo.
  • Al amigo que no es cierto, con un ojo cerrado y otro abierto.
  • Quien rompe una tela de araña, a ella y a sí mismo se daña.
Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

Finally, there is a bibliography in the back. So much to enjoy here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Proverbs at Internet Archive: Rivera

The book focuses on Mexican proverbs and sayings: Orígen y Significación de Algunas Frases, Locuciones, Refranes, Adagios y Proverbios by Luis Rivera.

The book is organized alphabetically, and each saying has a brief explanation:

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Es pintar como querer.
  • Poner cruces en ladrones.
  • ¿Estoy en un lecho de rosas?
  • Ahogarse en un vaso de agua.
  • Ahí les dejo el gallo muerto.
  • Come el burro que tocó la flauta.
  • A caballo ajeno, espuelas propias.
  • A falta de pan, buenas son semitas.
  • A caballo dado no se le ve colmillo.
  • Al mejor cazador se le va la liebre.
  • Decir las tres verdades del barquero.
  • Hágase el milagro y hágalo el Diablo.
  • A dos garrochas no hay toro valiente.
  • A cada puerco se le llega su San Martín.
  • Pagar en tres plazos: tarde, mal, y nunca.
  • ¡Qué haya un caváver más, que importa al mundo!
  • Al nopal lo van a ver, sólo cuando tiene tunas.
  • Si malo es San Juan de Dios, peor es Jesús Nazareno.
  • ¡El pan duro, duro, duro, duro / es bueno cuando no hay ninuno!
  • ¡El zapato malo, malo, malo, malo / es mejor en el pié que en la mano!
  • Se hace como los barriles de Tequila que despiden tufo aunque estén vacíos.

Here's one I made into a slide in a World Proverbs slideshow:

The book is in Spanish only, and the focus on Mexican sayings may be of special interest. 

Orígen y Significación de Algunas Frases,
Locuciones, Refranes, Adagios y Proverbios

by Luis Rivera