|Kikuyu Folktales (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1983, 144 p.)|
Collections of folktales continue to appear every year both in vernaculars and in English, often adapted for school children. Seldom do they attempt studies of the artistic character of such tales and their function in traditional societies, as has been done in this instance. In their context the tales helped incalcate language skills and emotional development in the course of what was mainly entertainment. For this reason alone they have a lesson for the modern educator, in that instruction was carried on so pleasantly that children were eager to pursue it on their own accord. For though the plots are simple and language direct, the tone is often complex. Stereotype characters retain a degree of individuality which is uncompromisingly laid bare (whatever the mask or archetypal symbols they may happen to be couched in). Humour is tinged with irony and tragedy. It would be surprising indeed if in our more enlightened days our children grew up with no tale on their lips or song in their hearts. For the tales to continue to serve this function they should be presented in such a way that they retain their oral immediacy.
In recent years it is increasingly becoming the practice to include the full vernacular texts in such collections of tales.
This of course is an ideal, resulting in a considerably bulkier and hence more expensive publication. Mrs. Mwangis at its best is fresh and strongly suggests the flavour of Kikuyu texts. This feeling is enhanced by the selection use of stock vernacular expressions like Hi, Haiya (e.g. pages 86, 107, 114); and by the unexpected dramatic interposition of a whole song in Kikuyu (e.g. 97), speak commendably of the sureness of the authors ear. And she has wisely avoided translating the untranslatable.
But this very success, together with the authors appreciation of the function of repetition, raises (as it has done for other collections), the problem of how to present the musical aspect of the tales. The songs are a structural part of the totality of the tales. Very often they are central to the development of the plot, especially where several events are synchronised; and are also employed to suggest time and distance. The closest attempt to taking the bull by the horns is in the collections by Hugh Tracey-The Lion and the Path- to which Andrew Tracey has written a musical score. Nevertheless these scores remain largely inert for the general reader. Some more immediate technique is indicated. But it is a move in the right direction.
Folktales like song in rural Africa, are so numerous that for no one area can it be said that all have been collected. This fact alone suggests that scholars should attempt to make more comprehensive collections with analyses of Motifs, leit-motivs, in the many variant forms. Mrs. Mwangi has made an excellent start. I hope that others will follow her lead.
H. Owuor Anyumba.
17th July, 1970.