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African Lit - The Folklore

The folklore is one of the many variants of African literature; an interesting, alluring and exciting part of African oral literature that was in existence long before written literature emerged. The folklore, also referred to as the Folktale, was very much prevalent in all of Africa; it was, and still is, part of the African culture that speaks of the liberating beauty and awareness that the African continent holds. Folklore, which usually involves talking animal characters, was narrated to bring entertainment to both children and adults, not just to entertain, but also as a means of education. Folklore also helps to convey the wisdom of disclipline for children; some of the tales make them aware of the wrong in actions such as lies, theft, greed, and being generally disobedient to their parents. Although most of the storylines hold little or no ounce of truth, the theme behind them is meant to strongly move the audience to think right, act responsibly, and to do the right thing when in a dificult situation.

These tales are generally made up of three kinds: the trickster tales, the dilemma tales, and the tales that explain reasons why certain things, or animals, are the way they are.

The trickster tale is the kind that usually tells of a certain animal's trickery and wiles into getting what he wants, and most of the time this results either in a lesson learned (an example could be The consequences of greed), or leads to a 'reason-why' tale, (e.g. Why the tortoise carries his house on his back). The animals that are used in these tales include the Hare, Tortoise and Spider (in most African countries the spider is popularly known as Anansi, originally derived from Ghana. In countries like Nigeria, the tortoise is the most popular of the animals because of his extremely cunning and deceitful ways). The trickster tale is not restricted to just animal characters, but human characters are included as well. The trickster's intention might either be good or bad, but either way, he almost always loses in the end because of the shrewd means he goes through to prove his intentions.

The dilemma tale is when the audience is presented with a dilemma situation in a folktale and asked to participate and try to decide or conclude what happens at the end: who among the fictional characters deserves to be rewarded for his/her good deeds, etc. It is a form of cliffhanger that invites the audience to guess and try to make their own conclusion on how the 'dilemma' is to be resolved. These tales serve to educate but also to entertain the audience and get them to be interactive and strengthen their bond as a community and family.

The third type of folktale is that which describes why a certain real situation is the way it is. Needless to say that these tales are exactly what they are – tales, they still are hugely entertaining and humorous. An example (or two) of this kind would be tales about Why the Cheetah's cheeks are forever stained, Why chickens don't fly or Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears. The fun part about these tales is that they seem very logical, reasonable, and of course almost believable when narrated to a children-filled audience.

Today, African folklore still exists, but now in written form, as the oral tradition is almost non-existent, having being overridden by modernization and higher education. Nevertheless, the African tradition of the folklore is still collected, preserved and published by the African scholars and writers of today, their mindset intent on preserving the richness and virility of the African culture.

The folklore is forever entertaining, and if you want to learn more about these tales, visit your local library, there are tons of books that showcase the history of African literature, and there are lots of books as well that contain the most popular African folklore of all time - see Goodreads for a list of books. Also, you can choose to buy one from Amazon. Happy readings!
They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.
-- Robert R. McCammon, Boy's Life



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