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Review of  Kabba Folk Tales

Reviewer: Iris F. Levitis
Book Title: Kabba Folk Tales
Book Author: Rosmarie Moser
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Kaba
Issue Number: 21.1756

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EDITOR: Moser, Rosmarie
TITLE: Kabba Folk Tales
SERIES: LINCOM Text Collections 01
YEAR: 2009

Iris F. Levitis, unaffiliated scholar


This book, part of the LINCOM Text Collection series, is an anthology of
traditional folk tales of the Kabba people. Kabba (Kaba) is in the Nilo-Saharan
language family, and is spoken by 72,000 people in the Central African Republic
(C.A.R.) (Lewis, 2009). The volume consists of thirty-four Kabba folk tales plus
296 proverbs. The editor, Rosmarie Moser, elicited these folk tales during her
fieldwork in the C.A.R. The folk tales were told by eight Kabba storytellers and
were recorded in Kabba by six ''young men with an advanced education'' (Moser, p.
ix). Both the folk tales and the proverbs are in Kabba with French, English, and
German translations. This volume will appeal to linguists, Kabba specialists, as
well as to those interested in folklore.

The folk tale actors in these stories are predominantly animals such as the Dog,
Frog, Snake, Lion, Rat, Alligator, Wasp, Bee, Elephant, and Hyena to name a few.
There are human characters as well, such as ''Kerpetu the Liar'' (p. 54), ''Esu''
(p. 30), ''The Fulani Girl'' (p. 75) and ''The Orphan'' (p. 6). Each animal and
specifically-named human has certain characteristics which shape their fates and
so the stories.

''The Fulani Girl'' (p. 75), told by Jean Pierre Dingatoloum, is a short (103
words) story that exemplifies well the cultural importance of folk tales.
Briefly it is the story of a girl who is on her way to sell milk at the market.
On her trip she is imagining the way in which her profit from the milk will
result in riches (p. 76). However, she fails to pay attention to the present and
tragedy strikes. The story in Kabba is slightly shorter (98 words). The moral of
the story is clearly stated at the end, referencing a proverb.

In ''The Lion and the Rat'' (p. 18), told by Wali Baro, a hunter meets the Lion
and the Rat on his way home from a successful hunt. The Lion is hungry and
states that after the man eats his game, he will eat the man. Rat asserts that
he in turn will eat the Lion. Thereupon the three discover who will in fact eat
whom. The story concludes with an explanation that rats live with humans, but
also still live in the bush, which explains the relationship between rats and
humans that exists.

The proverbs are included in the final section of the book. In addition to the
translations there is a column for interpretation (in English). An excellent
example is ''When the rain hits the cheetah, it becomes a leopard'' which is
interpreted as ''With loss and suffering the one who was rich becomes poor'' (p.
22). This clarification of the meaning of the proverb makes insight possible for
those unfamiliar with Kabba culture. In addition to showing the uniqueness of
Kabba culture, the inclusion of proverbs also demonstrates the universality of
certain principles. For example, ''Night is like the skin of a wild pig'' is
interpreted with the common proverb ''Walls have ears.'' Though there is great
cultural difference between these proverbs, the explanation provides a useful
method of interpretation.


This volume can be evaluated according to three criteria: as a text collection
for the Kabba people, as a corpus for future linguistic analysis and also as a
source of folk tales for and about the Kabba.

As a text collection for the Kabba people it is necessary to consider what the
Kabba might consider beneficial. Kabba is one of 72 languages used in the
C.A.R., and is a minority language (Lewis, 2009). Herman B. Batibo (2009)
asserts the documentation of minority languages requires that linguists,
''Develop research projects aimed not only at documentation but also
revitalization and intellectualization of African languages'' (p. 193). This
first aspect does seem to be addressed in that the value of the folk tales and
proverbs of the Kabba people are being recorded and translated not simply for
their corpus value, but also for their literary value. In addition linguists
should ''Consult with beneficiary communities before starting any documentation
project, involve communities in the research work and accompany research
projects with capacity-building in the communities'' (Batibo, p. 193). This
latter aspect is impossible to address based on the information provided in the
book. However, it is an important aspect that linguists in general consider, but
often do not record as it is peripheral to their work.

As a collection of texts for linguistic analysis this volume will be quite
useful. There is only one criticism, which concerns formatting. There are
changes in the font size throughout the book, which are distracting. This
irregularity is annoying, but minor. In contrast, a very helpful aspect of the
formatting is that each section of tales is paginated separately. This makes
comparing a folk tale in the original Kabba with the French, English, or German
version relatively straightforward. The French and Kabba sections have an equal
number of pages (pp. 121). The English (pp. 117) version and the German (pp.
126) versions have fewer and more pages than the Kabba sections respectively.

Though it is useful as a corpus for linguistic analysis, there is no
introduction to the phonology, syntax, or morphology of Kabba. These are
described in Moser's ''Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African
Republic'' (2004). However, as a corpus of stories to which the tools of
linguistic analysis might be applied this is an excellent resource.

As a source of folk tales for and about the Kabba, this volume has no equal.
However, there are several issues that bear mentioning. One is that some of the
proverbs are enigmatic because there is a lack of cultural information with
which to interpret them. For example, ''When your spear too long is, it puts
wasps onto your head'' (p. 19). This could benefit from some clarification.
Another example is, ''If the white calabash of the old woman breaks she takes one
that has been written on'' (p. 10). Here it would be beneficial to know what the
cultural significance of ''white'' as compared to ''written on'' calabashes is.
Ninety-three of the proverbs lack clarification, although for many the
clarification may be unnecessary, e.g., ''The hen that is stupid is not a mother
hen'' (p. 15). The meaning here seems to be that only smart hens live long enough
to become mothers. So despite the missing clarification of some proverbs they
are on the whole generally understandable.

The folk tales are quite enjoyable to read. In the introduction Moser states
that, ''Kabba folktales are metaphorical parables. They are an attempt to come to
terms with the realities of life and such things as superstitions, supernatural
forces or historical events affecting people's lives'' (p. vii). These attempts
are realized in artistic and creative ways. Many of the tales exemplify the oral
tradition from whence they come in that they begin with storytellers asking,
'Are you listening to me?
Are you listening to me?
(p. 10)
As Moser states these folk tales and parables are meant to inform the listener
about essential cultural information and values. In this regard this volume
succeeds in communicating to a larger audience a sliver of the Kabba culture.
According to Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, ''The art of story telling, primordial and
prevalent in all cultures regales and reproduces our imaginative humanity,
filling us with the memories and imaginings of pleasure, pain, pathos, and
possibility'' (p. 379). It is possible to extend Zeleza's statement about story
telling to these static examples of storytelling. This book is an important
contribution to the field of linguistics, folklore and Kabba studies.


Batibo, H.M. (2009). Language Documentation as a Strategy for the Empowerment of
the Minority Languages of Africa. Selected Proceedings of the 38th Annual
Conference on African Linguistics. In Masangu Matondo et al., eds., pp. 193-203.
Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Lewis, M. P. (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition.
Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
Moser, R. (2004). Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African
Republic. Munich: LINCOM Europa.

Iris F. Levitis has an M.A. in applied linguistics from the University of California, Davis. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa from 2002-2005. She currently lives in Rostock, Germany, where she teaches English.