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Book Review

Hausaland Tales From a Nigerian Marketplace
Selected and Retold by Gavin McIntosh
Linett Books (a division of Shoe-string Press)
North Haven, Connecticut, 2002
Reviewed by Robert Rodriquez

During his sojourn as a school teacher in rural northern Nigeria between 1981 and 1983, Gavin McIntosh became quite familiar with the lore, traditions, and traditional folk stories of the Hausa, one of the two dominant ethnic groups in Nigeria's northern region. Using the framework of the weekly traditional marketplace, where news and gossip, commercial transactions, and the storytelling art are carried on with equal enthusiasm, McIntosh retells a dozen charming and delightful Hausa tales, using as his tellers five fictional vendors within the larger context of the marketplace. The fictional tellers notwithstanding, the depiction of the Hausa marketplace in retelling these tales is still accurate, valid, and true to the actual ongoing traditions of the Hausa, even in the face of modernization and changes to centuries-old life styles.

Of the dozen tales retold, many fall under the category of origin, or porquoi, stories, and the majority of them involve animal characters. Thus we learn why the lizard moves his head up and down constantly, why the leopard and rat are eternal enemies, why the vulture has a bare neck and head, why man and dog are best friends and constant hunting companions, along with other stories explaining other animal characteristics and why certain phenomena have come down to us in nature.

The Hausa love to tell trickster stories and several are included, such as how clever frog outwitted arrogant hippopotamus in a water race and how tortoise outwitted millipede to get back his eyes that millipede had stolen. Several of the tales reflect the Hausa belief in other-world denizens and spirits who can shapeshift, as in the tales of how tortoise encountered a powerful river goddess, the carver and the panther, and the deer woman.

Throughout these tales Hausa family customs, marriage rituals, and daily work habits are constantly referred to, and, thanks to a helpful glossary McIntosh has included, the reader is able to understand and enjoy these Hausa stories even more, McIntosh even has provided a traditional Hausa proverb at the end of each tale, appropriate to the story's plot. Although primarily designed for younger readers, this Hausa collection can be thoroughly enjoyed by young and old alike, and it will be a real boon to teachers, librarians, and others involved in the ongoing study of cultural groups far beyond the familiar western context. Much thanks to Linett Books for this latest volume in their ongoing world folklore series. This one gets a resounding three cheers, and comes very highly recommended: no brag, just fact.

—posted September 2003

 

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