Compiled by an American missionary, West African Folk Tales by William H Barker is a delightful collection of folk tales from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania and other countries along the west coast of Africa. These stories spread in various forms to other countries like the West Indies, Suriname, the Netherland Antilles, etc and can be still heard today among the people of these countries. West African Folk Tales is a wonderful read for both young people and older readers alike. The stories are charmingly retold. Most of them are about Anansi, the trickster god of the West African people. He is worshiped as the god of all stories and often takes the form of a spider, which is considered to be very cunning. Anansi the Spider sometimes has a human face, wears clothes or assumes human form but keeps his eight legs. The first story in this book tells of how the Anansi tales originated. In the olden days, goes the tale, all stories were only about Nyankupon the chief of gods. But Anansi the Spider felt that he should be the hero of all stories. He goes to the chief and demands that he should be made the hero, whereupon the chief sets some conditions for Anansi to fulfill before he can call himself a hero. How the clever Spider achieves this forms the rest of this entertaining tale.
The Anansi tales are supposed to have originated in Ghana and it is among the Ashanti people of Ghana that they are most popular. However, they remained an oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation, and Anansi himself was reputed to be a skillful speaker and teller of stories. Though Anansi is quite smart, he uses his cleverness to trick others and sometimes he himself meets a bad end! This book contains 18 Anansi stories and 17 others about different animals like leopards, tigers and elephants. There are also stories about various trees and plants. The Anansi tales are closely linked to Uncle Remus' Brer Rabbit tales and Anansi's character bears a strong resemblance to the tricky rabbit. The original edition of West African Folk Tales has some beautiful illustrations which would appeal to young readers.
This collection was first published in Lagos in 1917. William H Barker was a missionary and the principal of a government school in Accra. The book was coauthored by Cecilia Sinclair and will certainly provide hours of entertainment for both parents and children.
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