West Indian Folk-tales (Oxford Myths and Legends) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-05-29 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 3 user ratings

" My first intro to Anansi! Nowadays, I might like a better historical intro, but that is par for the course for fairy books. " said.

" A charming selection of Caribbean folk tales that include fables of the birds and animals of the West Indies: including Anansi, the spider. Twenty-one selections from the Arawak and the Carib people, and from the Ashanti people of West Africa. A great introduction to folk tales and legends. " said.

"What struck me about these stories is the similarity between traditional folk tales in different parts of the world. I grew up, of course, with British or European stories, whereas these stories are either of Carib or African origin. Yet many of them sounded familiar, not in the specifics but in the general themes -- explaining the world and how things came to be the way they are, through stories with animals as characters illustrating different aspects of human behaviour.

What was also interesting about these stories was that the moral was not always clear. The spider Anansi figures heavily in the African-origin stories, and he often tricks the other animals or acts selfishly, taking advantage of their generosity or trust. Sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn't. The outcome wasn't as predictable as I'd expected it to be.

The first few stories are from the Carib people, the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Caribbean who gave the region its name but suffered heavily under European colonisation and are now very few in number. They explain the origins of the people, saying they used to live on the moon but saw in the bright procession of worlds around them there was one that looked dull and needed cleaning. So they went down to Earth on cloud chariots to clean it, but got stuck here when the cloud chariots broke loose and floated away. They cried out to Kabo Tano ( the 'Ancient One') for help, and he gave them a huge Coomacka Tree with all kinds of fruit and vegetable. Then he ordered them to cut it down, and each one took cuttings from it. "And so, to this day, every Carib has food close to his dwelling." Then there are stories to explain the animals, for example how the sun-spirit Arawidi created the dog as a companion for humans, molding it out of fish. The part he held in his hand became the nose, and that's why every dog has a cold nose.

Then the majority of the stories are those the enslaved Africans brought with them to the West Indies from their homelands. Many of them are originally Ashanti tales - in the West African language Twi, the word for spider is "ananse". The characters in these stories are animals, but with human characteristics, for example living in houses, wearing clothes, talking, paying each other money. Anansi the spider, the central character, is often greedy and selfish, scheming to outwit the other animals, but is portrayed sympathetically - as the weakest animal, he can't compete physically with the tigers etc, so has to use his wits.

One interesting parallel with the Carib stories was the trajectory of all the animals living together as friends at first, before pulling apart and becoming enemies as a result of some trick. For example in the Carib stories, the reason man needed the dog as a companion was that all the other animals had deserted him after times were hard and he started hunting them to stave off his hunger. In the African stories, Anansi and Tiger used to be friends, but Anansi stole Tiger's lunch one day and so Tiger retreated deep into the bush and Anansi hid in a tree, safe in his web.

I would be interested to know how this book was put together - what the original sources were, and how much the modern-day author Philip Sherlock adapted them. It was always a question in my mind, particularly when I saw striking parallels with other cultures. For example the character of the Wise Owl appears in both the African and Carib stories, and is of course also familiar from European stories. It's quite amazing that people in three different corners of the world should see an owl in the same way - reminds me of the parallels I'm seeing in "The Golden Bough", a massive compilation of myths and traditional beliefs from around the world that I'm reading gradually over several months. For me, this was the most interesting part of these stories. I enjoyed them for themselves and their characters too, but mostly for the unexpected feeling of deep familiarity.
" said.

"With the exception of the first few stories, which are interesting legends that originate with the Native Americans of the Caribbean, all of the other stories are of Akan origin (southern and central Ghana and East Ivory Coast)and deal entirely with the legendary spider, Anance, who is a prominate character in Akan literature." said.

"What the above poster may not know is that Anansi stories are very much a part of West Indian culture. Seeing as how the West Indies were created by the blood of African slaves this only makes sense. That said, this book is 100% full of West Indian folklore. Enjoy!" said.

"In the late 1960s, when I was eight years old, we vacationed in Jamaica at Christmas-time, and my father got me a hardcover copy of this book for the holiday. I read it many times as a child, and long years later read some of the stories to my daughter's kindergarten class in New York City. As I was, the children were captivated by naughty Anansi, and they clamored for more.

I love these old stories, and I find the vitality and natural voice of the storytelling to be thoroughly engaging and still delightful.

Sir Philip Sherlock was a remarkable man of great accomplishments as a writer, scholar, and educator, and his conception of these stories is insightful. He retains their quality as West Indian, the African roots are rich, but above all they are universal and human. My daughter's class in the East Village was as diverse as could be, with children of Caribbean, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Latin American, African, white and black American, and mixed parentage, and they were all spellbound by the stories. I am going to introduce this book as a reading experience and conversation nucleus to my adult ESL students, who are from all around the world, and I expect much delight in the stories and pleasure in exposure to new culture(s) to ensue. (My African students know Anansi tales already, but don't yet realize that the stories live in the West Indies, too!)

For me, this is a long-treasured book, one that I have shared with my own child, and that I think will delight and enrich anyone who reads it.
" said.

June 2017 New Book:

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