Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy
Healey, Joseph G
. Orbis Books . Maryknoll, N.Y. ,
BX2350.3.O53 2004 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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This is a delightful collection of stories, most of which are aptly described in terms of their genre (e.g. myth, folktale, and true story). Watch out especially for those stories that Healey calls parables. The viewpoint of the book is that of liberal Catholicism today: Africans knew God long before they met anybody from the historical religions. The stories are grouped under eight headings, with an introduction to each group: In the Beginning, Life, Family, Community, Good Times and Bad Times, Joy and Celebration, Culture Matters, and Seeds of God in African Soil. Let me mention first several stories that bear on traditional fables. The chameleon wins the race against the rabbit by grabbing on underneath the rabbit (10). He is thus the first to sit on the victor's chair, since he is underneath the rabbit then too! The hyena sees one goat caught at the end of either of two paths (30). He lets his left leg follow the left path and his right leg the right path. He splits in two. An old man meets two successive young men about to enter a village (53). Both ask how the people are in the village. He asks each how the people were where the man came from. The first answers positively and enthusiastically. The second is negative about the people and their reception of him. To both the man wisely answers You will find people here about the same. A captured prince sang through his humiliating work day (89). Why? I sing because you cannot take away my title and who I am. I need not react to your shameful behavior! The monkeys survived the flood because they could climb up into the trees. When the waters started to recede, they noticed fish darting around in the water and believed that they were struggling and about to drown (96). And so they piled them up on the shore! A king sent messengers to a famous sage to ask for some one hundred proverbs. The sage asked the messengers to sit down, be quiet, and close their eyes. For half an hour he said nothing. Then he said Tell me your dreams. How, if we have not been sleeping? He answers And how can I tell you proverbs if the situation has not arisen? The Dying Father's Last Testament to His Three Sons is listed as a true story, but it is really Aesop's Bundle of Sticks (36). The Lion's Share is listed as a folktale, but is really Aesop's story about learning how to divide spoil for a ruler. The fox here answers that he learned so much when he heard the wolf's skull cracking! Another touching story is I Am the Dancing Man (12). I like the story You'd Better Be Running (17). Every morning the gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning, the lion wakes up and knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It does not matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you'd better be running.