Once Upon West Africa: A Collection of Liberian Folk Tales
by Phillip Martin
This project spent a few decades gathering dust in the far distant corners inside my computer. It's kind of a miracle that I didn't lose them. I gathered these tales when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia in 1988 and 89. And, that was an incredible experience. I located old collections of tales that had been previously written, received stories that Liberian students wrote down, and wore out my tape recorder as I traveled the very dusty red roads of Liberia. I recorded tales from fellow teachers, friends, friends of friends, strangers, my tailor, and even a drunk policeman or two at an inspection point along one of those dusty roads. Then, I added my own spin, touch and humor to the stories. Over the years, I edited, expanded, reviewed, rewrote and improved the stories. Finally, I illustrated the fifty tales as well, which was no small feat.
African folk tales do not end like stories people usually read to their children. There are not many tales that end "and they all lived happily ever after". Usually, the dirty, rotten scoundrel gets it in the end. There are lessons to be learned when you are greedy, selfish and cruel. And, these lessons are usually learned the hard way.
The favorite hero and scoundrel in West Africa is Spider. He's a crafty guy who loves to pull a good prank. Sometimes, he gets away with his pranks and sometimes he learns a lesson. Spider stories came with West African slaves to the New World. They are still very popular in Jamaica (something I learned when I painted murals in Kingston). And, just a little more island information for you ... if you say "br'er" in Jamaica, it's pronounced "burr". When the stories came to the American South, they changed into Br'er Rabbit tales.
My hope is to get these stories back into the hands of young Liberian readers. One possible avenue for this is through an NGO that has already been in contact with Liberian schools and the Ministry of Education. Only time will tell what happens with these connections. Another avenue is with Peace Corps Liberia. The director in Liberia loved the stories so much that she wants every volunteer to have a copy to read to the children who gather around their front porches. I can tell you firsthand that Liberian children do just that. When you live without a television in your home, a Peace Corps Volunteer is extremely good entertainment.
Whether you have a television or not, I hope you enjoy the tales and gain a little taste of Africa life and culture. And, I hope it shows just how much I loved my time in Sweet Liberia.
This product was added to our catalog on Sunday 08 November, 2020.