Central African Republic: Oral, Not Written 

It took me awhile to get this book from the Central African Republic, but now I’ve finally read it! African Tales: Folklore of the Central African Republic (by Rodney Wimer and Polly Strong) is definitely different from the books I’ve read this far, because this is the first book during this challenge of mine based on oral stories, translated into English and published as a book. Quite frankly I would have expected to read a few of these books by now, but let’s see how many there will be all in all once I’ve finished the challenge.

First I’d like to state this is not a book written from a Western point of view, a missionary “I lived with the tribe for many years, and now I feel like one of them, but I’ve also taught them my ways, but this is all so genuine” kind of a story. This is instead African stories told to a Westerner, who speaks the language, were told the stories, and translated them into the English. It would of course be at its most authentic if the stories were written by a native, but literature is translated anyway, and I am sure there are quite a few things lost in translation every time.

The stories in this short book are told by the Mandjia and Banda people, who do not have a written language. Different tribes have different stories, but the closer the tribes live to each other the more similar the stories are. The stories are basically the same, but names and locations change. That is typical when it comes to folklore. Sango is spoken all over the republic, and it has a limited vocabulary. This can be seen through the stories told and translated, which gives the stories a special charm. For example, Sango only has words for three different colours; red, black and white. I wonder how they would describe a birch, a lemon or a giraffe.

Most of the stories in the book are about animals, nature and humans, especially a man called Tere. The stories are about important life lessons regarding for example greed, trickery and telling things that will lead to evil events. A typical way to end a story is for example: “For this reason the chicken and the dog are enemies just until today”.

Being an admirer of animals and nature I enjoy the way I can see that nature is important in the republic, and people have to respect Mother Earth and respect nature. It is not the Western way of consumption and using and abusing everything, everyone, especially nature and its resources. I bet it would be quite the experience sitting around the fire listening to these stories. I think I would need to learn Sango to be able to soak in the full experience. I am pleased to have find this book, and read all the stories. This is as (central) African I have always imagine it can get. I adore the drawings in the book. Hopefully there will be more stories written (and translated) in the future.


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