Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/255

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THE researches of students of folklore in Africa have been directed to all branches of popular literature, and a rich collection has already been accumulated of proverbs, enigmas, songs, national legends, religious traditions, stories, animal fables, and other works. The literary merit of all this production is not very great, but it is. interesting in that it exhibits certain peculiarities in character. Proverbs are especially noteworthy in this respect. They express general and simple ideas in concise form, under familiar figures, and truly represent the first instinctive effort of man in search of a literary language. The thoughts revealed in these proverbs indicate a state of mind in the blacks quite similar to ours, while the greater part of them find their counterparts in the proverbs of other races. For example, there is a saying of a tribe of the Bantu, "He who goes into a strange country will not sing a solo but a chorus," which corresponds with the European, "He who goes with the wolf will learn to howl," or, "When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do," and nearly with the Mussulman Arabian, "If you find yourself in a country where they worship a calf, pull grass and feed it." The English and French say, "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb"; and the people of Nupe, where the ox has no tail, "God keeps the flies away from it." We say, "Don't sell the skin of the bear before you have killed it"; the Suaheli, "Don't cut the gown before the child is born." While speaking of the Suaheli we may mention one of their adages that is full of sadness and resignation: "The poor man's hen lays no eggs; if she lays them, she does not sit on them; if she sits on them, they do not hatch; and if chickens are hatched, the hawk catches them."

It is sometimes said that slavery, polygamy, and the custom of purchasing the wife have destroyed the family feeling among the negroes. The following proverbs of the Suaheli prove that this affirmation is too absolute: "Thy mother is thy second God"; "A son, even if he be deformed, is the joy of his parents"; "Who is not willing to hear his son cry will cry himself." The enigmas or riddles of the negroes are simple, like these, among many, which have been collected by the German missionaries at Hohenfriedberg, in Usambara: "There! there it is! catch it! What is it?" (answer, "The shadow"); "What house has no door?" (answer, "An egg"). Sometimes, however, riddles are presented in such an allegorical form as to become fables, like the following, which an English writer

  1. ↑ From an article in the Bibliothèque Universelle et Revue Suisse.