Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lost Spear-an "African" fairy tale

This fairy tale comes from South Africa. In this post I referenced the issues of African fairy tales being influenced by Westerners, and I think that influence is very clear through this tale.

It starts with a typical Western motif: a challenge set to a group of men to win the beautiful princess. The princess goes for the underdog, the poor herdsman Zandilli. Now, the concept of the underdog rising victorious is pretty universal. But after Zandilli fairly wins the first challenge, the princess' father sets another challenge, since he doesn't want his daughter to marry a herdsman. This is a spear throwing contest, and the father gives Zandilli a faulty spear. He outthrows his opponents, but is told he cannot marry the princess until he returns with the spear.

This starts a journey for our hero, including another very common Western element; the compassion the hero shows towards animals along the way later ends up saving him, as the same animals return to help him accomplish impossible tasks. Eventually Zandilli reaches a fairy cave, and this is the part I scoffed at: "each fairy sat singing as she combed her long golden hair." Later, it gleams against their "snowy breasts." Now often people do seek after the most rare traits as those which are beautiful, but come on, did Africans really value golden hair and snowy breasts independantly of the white men interpreting their fairy tales? Zandilli's speech to the Fairy Queen: "Oh, great Queen! whiter than the sind-clouds, fairer than the dawn..." her eyes were "blue as the lake."

The fairies give Zandilli further tasks before he can go home to his princess; making a black chamber beautiful, which is accomplished by the butterfly he had saved, and filling a hundred boats with the wings of flies from which the fairies' robes are woven-helped by the frog he rescued earlier.

I'm no expert in African culture, and the Princess Zandilli is in love with is called "the beautiful black-eyed Lala," which itself makes sense. Who knows, maybe Africans did imagine white-skinned fairies with blue eyes. The belief in fairies themselves, or at least a supernatural race of strange and powerful creatures, is universal, but these fairies are very similar to the stereotypical fairies of the Western tales. It's possible that some elements of the tale could have been independantly invented in each culture, but on the whole it's too similar. The spear throwing, though, seems to be an authentic African contribution to the tale.

PS-it's really hard to find images to go along with obscure fairy tales, especially when the characters are African...there's Fred Crump, who illustrates tales with African heroes...

No comments:

Post a Comment