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Inkathaso Tales



Southern Africa

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Inkathaso Tales includes a range of stories that originate in Southern Africa. South African

Folklore is firmly rooted in an oral, historical tradition. It is tied to the region’s landscape and fauna, with fantastic creatures playing an important role in these stories. Music and song is often used to tell the story and the tales' values are usually firmly African, with community and sharing being key.

Most of the sources that I have access to stem from the great tradition of the 19th century collectors, anthropologists and philologists, with much of the literature focused on the San people (Bushmen), nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in South Africa and in the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Their focus is typically on animal stories and, in particular, stories about the jackal, a dangerous and comical trickster figure.

We also have some significant entries in this collection from the later tribal communities that formed in advance of European colonisation in the south.

There are also many stories about the lion and his family, along with tricky little rabbits, and other familiar animals such as doves, tortoises, and snakes, plus distinctively African animals like the ostrich and the eland. There are tales of tiny animals too, like the many different kinds of ants who live in fear of the dreaded anteater, or the little ‘tink-tinkje" (finch) who has always wanted to be king of all the birds.

As in most folktales, there is a strong supernatural element where animals, reeds or trees take human form or assume human characteristics, gods take human women as brides, and thunder can deliver messages. Because the stories spring from an oral tradition, they often feature music, song and dance as an integral part of the plot, meaning that the refrains would have been known to the audience, who would have joined in with the storyteller.

The stories can, of course, be brutal and often contain death and disaster. In this, too, they reflect a certain African reality, although collectors and regular readers of folklore and fairy tales will recognise that brutality as a common theme in cautionary tales the world over.

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