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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/845

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PLANTATION FOLK-LORE.

grandson of his former owner. Too much praise can not be bestowed upon Mr. Harris for the manner in which he has executed his task: not only is the representation of the dialect better than anything that has heretofore been given, but he has shown himself a master in the difficult art of collecting popular tales. A glance at the variants of these stories published elsewhere will show the vast superiority of Mr. Harris's. It is not, however, in their literary character, interesting as it is, that we intend to examine briefly these fables, but simply in their relations to the similar tales of other countries.

Mr. Harris does not state the precise locality where he collected his fables. To cite the words of a competent critic ("The Nation," December 2, 1880): "Presumably his stories are all of Georgian origin, though he cites a variant from Florida; and he gives us proof that 'they have become a part of the domestic history of every Southern family.' However widely they may have been spread through our domestic slave-trade, we regard it as highly probable that the Sea-Island neighborhood from South Carolina to Florida was, as in the case of the slave-songs, the focus of the animal fables—an hypothesis which finds its support in the reference of both to an African and heathen origin." We have at present but scanty information as to the extent of the diffusion of these stories—variants have been found in South Carolina and Florida; no locality is mentioned for those given in the interesting article on "Folk-Lore of the Southern Negroes," by William Owens, in "Lippincott's Magazine," December, 1877, pp. 748-755.[1]

These stories narrate the contests of wit between the rabbit, the terrapin, the bear, the wolf, and the fox. The first two, who are the embodiments of weakness and harmlessness, are always victorious; as Mr. Harris says, "It is not virtue that triumphs, but helplessness; it is not malice, but mischievousness." The animals are all dignified with the title Brer, or Buh, as represented by Mr. Owens, who says, "It is generally supposed to be an abbreviation of the word 'brother'" (the br being sounded without the whir of the r), "but it probably is a title of respect equivalent to our Mr." The manners and customs of human beings are, after the usual fashion of fables, transferred to the animals in a way that excites the wonder of Uncle Remus's youthful auditor, and a mysterious Miss Meadows and "de gals" are introduced, with whom the animals are on terms of intimacy, and at whose house some of the most amusing incidents take place. A glance at the contents of these fables will at once reveal many familiar episodes, a few of which we shall note for a specific purpose.

In No. XVI, "Old Mr. Rabbit he's a Good Fisherman," Brer Rab-

  1. There are four stories in this article which have no parallels in "Uncle Remus": "Buh Rabbit, Buh Wolf, and the Pears"; "Buh Rabbit frightens Buh Wolf"; "The Rooster and the Cornbread;" and "Buh Elephant and Buh Lion," which last has a distant resemblance to a story in Koelle's "African Native Literature," London, 1854, p. 177.