Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/103

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93
EVOLUTION IN FOLKLORE.
EVOLUTION IN FOLKLORE.

SOME WEST AFRICAN PROTOTYPES OF THE "UNCLE REMUS" STORIES.

By the late Colonel A. B. ELLIS.

IN the process of collecting the folklore of West Africa, but chiefly that of the Gold Coast, I have found several tales which are evidently the West African variants of some of the stories collected in the Southern States by Mr. Joel Chandler Harris, and published under the title of "Uncle Remus," and a comparison of the two sets may be of some interest to American readers, besides affording an example of the extent to which folklore is affected by change of environment.

The rôle of Brer Rabbit is filled on the Gold Coast by the Spider {Anansi), and on the Slave Coast by the Tortoise {Awon), who is doubtless the prototype of the Terrapin in "Uncle Remus." In both districts the Hare figures in the tales, and possibly Brer Rabbit is the Hare amid new surroundings, but in West Africa "Long Ears" rather takes the place of Brer Fox, as he is usually outwitted by the Spider and the Tortoise.

So large a number of the folklore tales of the Gold Coast have the Spider for their hero that the title Anansi' sem, "Spider stories," is now the generic native name for all folklore tales whatever, no matter what the subject may be; and this designation survives in the British West Indies in the name "Nancy stories," which is there applied by the negro to his local folklore. The supply of slaves for the British West Indies was drawn almost exclusively from the Gold Coast, so that al], or almost all, of the existing folklore of those islands is derived direct from the Spider stories, and can be readily traced; but in the Southern States the connection is not always so apparent, for although up to the beginning of the present century Gold Coast negroes formed the bulk of the imported slaves, yet, after about 1810, when the African kingdom of Yoruba broke up, large numbers of Slave Coast negroes were introduced, with the result that the local tales present features peculiar to both districts of West Africa.

The second tale in Mr. Harris's "Uncle Remus" series is entitled The Wonderful Tar-baby, and, briefly, is as follows: Brer Fox makes an effigy of tar, mixed with turpentine, and sets it up by the roadside. Brer Rabbit, coming along the road, sees the tar-baby and bids it "Good morning." The tar-baby makes no reply, upon which Brer Rabbit grows angry and strikes it, with the result that his hand sticks to the effigy. Then he strikes with