By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
EDITOR: Moser, Rosmarie TITLE: Kabba Folk Tales SERIES: LINCOM Text Collections 01 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH 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? Yes! Are you listening to me? Yes!' (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: http://www.ethnologue.com/. Moser, R. (2004). Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African Republic. Munich: LINCOM Europa.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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