Cultures and traditions, outside of Europe, between the 15th to 19th centuries, were roundly dismissed as primitive. Whatever intellectual property native people possessed, in the soon to be exploited New World of the post Columbus era, and on the African continent, were regarded as paganism, idolatry, immoral and against the natural law.

It was all a convenient justification for slavery and genocide.

(From the book Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, Page 10. Authors Desmond and Moore illustrate the European planters thinking in regards to African slaves.)

What was more important during these centuries of European world domination, was the injection of what was considered advanced cultural norms and traditions, into what was seen as sub-culturally primitive people. European ways of life, its religion, its ideals, its institutions, its economic goals, its language, its laws and physical spaces were all brought into the psycho-social mind space, which was once occupied by a thousand years of First Nation Indian and Negro African traditions.

The Negro, in particular, represented not just an intellectual and physical problem, as they related to slavery, as time went on, however, the Negro also represented a scientific and socio-political problem as well. In order to justify slavery, the negro had to be portrayed as intellectually and morally inferior. But there were free Negroes, once educated, making incredible strides. They were writers, thinkers, business people, educators and inventors. White intellectuals in the late 1800s were left scratching their heads.

In short, the negro was a significant problem on every level imaginable.

From the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, a century of thought and ideas emerged on the subject of the Negro. A rush of books, pamphlets, academic papers and letters were published seeking to answer the question of the post emancipation negro problem in white society.

It wasn’t long before geo-social research began to take shape, in the form of what we now call, anthropology. Deciphering and decoding the folklore and folktales of the negro, as a way of understanding the being Western culture created through enslavement, soon became an entire field of academic study. For stories underscored beliefs.

Beliefs were the building blocks of attitudes.

Attitudes impulsed emotions.

Emotions gave way to actions.

Actions in society, can either be beneficial, or destructive.

In the late 1800s white societies needed to determine decisively what was in the mind of the formerly enslaved, segregated and marginalised negro. Was he to be friend or foe in the white dominated society which had once enslaved him?

The anthropological study of Negro folklore and folk-tales which emerged out of what was termed primitive societies and cultures, suddenly became massively important in the 1800s after the publication of one very important book.

That book was, Charles Darwin’s, “The Origin of Species.” Darwin’s book linking the evolution of humans, all humans, to one common ancestor, sent shockwaves throughout the world, and still does. Darwin’s greatest accomplishment was in reversing the former political implications of race in human evolutionary theory.

White Europeans and White Americans suddenly has to consider the possibility that all humans, regardless of race, shared a common evolutionary history.

The former slave, the primitive beings, the native people, now needed greater understanding, for no other reason than for white society, to begin to understand itself.

After the emancipation of the negro in the West, the field of social science in the mid 1800s, with its untold numbers of then amateur social scientists, emerged with an urgency to do one thing – all sorts wanted to be the first to document the lives and living traditions of the Negro.


THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF TRADITIONAL NEGRO-BAHAMIAN FOLKLORE & STORIES

When one examines, native stories, through a socio-anthropological lens, we must be entirely cognisant of the little and great injections of ‘European’ into Native sensibilities.

Nowhere is this more important than when we examine the post emancipation Negro-Bahamian stories of the late 1800s. The characters, their names and the activities these fanciful characters get up to, all speak to the human evolution of mankind in general, and the Bahamian negro in particular.

Folklore and folktales derived from various cultures, during their evolution, tell the story of a people. The further back the story goes, the further back the window to our human evolution widens.

Make no mistake, man tells the same stories, because man lives the same life. Irregardless of whether he is in coldest Iceland or in the hottest Sub-Saharan hut or wading through a river in a South American rainforest, human beings are human beings, no matter where they happen to be in the world.

Archeological bones can only tell part of the story of mankind. Bones, however, cannot tell of desires, taboos, fears, dreams and spoken life. Only words, turned into stories, can do that.

Folklore represent traditional customs, beliefs, and stories of a community passed through the generations by word of mouth.

Fairytales and folktales are part of folklore.

Fairytales are stories about magical and fantastical events and characters.

Folktales are anonymous, timeless, and placeless tale circulated orally among people.

The main difference between fairy tale and folktale is that fairy tales are stories that involve magic and imaginary creatures whereas folktales tend to reflect the real life experiences of people.

Let us examine two very compelling, if not extreme in their nature, Bahamian folklore stories from around 1890.


1895 – A STORY OF CANNIBALISM IN BAHAMIAN FOLKLORE

Every Bahamian folklore, folktale or fairytale, documented in the 1895 book entitled “Bahama Songs and Stories,” by the American Folk-Lore Society, begins with the following:

“Once it vwas a time, a very good time, De monkey chewed tobacco, an’ ‘e spit white lime.”

Monkey is a personification of the person who would be the storyteller. The storyteller would invariably be one of the older persons in the settlement. People of all ages would gather around to listen to these folklore stories. Chewing tobacco or smoking a pipe was very common with both men and women in Bahamian negro society, especially with poorer negroes, in the 1800s. The storyteller would chew on a wad of tobacco and spit on the ground as they told these stories.

Slavery brought a negative connotation to the association of the monkey and the negro. The comparison on the darkness and perceived ugliness of the animal was juxtaposed with the negro.

The funny thing is that in pure African culture however, the monkey, like the gorilla, are fiercely strong, highly intelligent creatures, who could kill a man in seconds. These animals were respected for their strength and stealth if met in the wild.

“B’RABBY HAD A MOTHER”

B’ Rabby would be Brother Rabbit (rabby translates to rabbit).

The story surrounds a B’ Rabby who has a mother but the father, the breadwinner of the family, is dead. Instead of B’Rabby, a young man, trying to find honest work, he is lazy, and looks to easy ways to obtain the food he needs. B’ Rabby resorts to trickery. B’Rabby convinces his mother to help him to do something that is an unforgivable act in their community. At the request of her son, the mother plays dead. As the other B’ Rabbies, their friends and neighbours of the settlement, come to pay their respects, B’ Rabby locks the door to the room preventing their escape. B’Rabby then takes a club and beats as many to death as he can. He eats what he manages to kill.

“Him an’ his mother had plenty of meat to eat.”

After this dirty unforgivable act B’ Rabby commits on his very friends and neighbours, he is despised and shunned by all. No one would have anything to do with him and his mother after that.

B’ Rabby’s response is he really doesn’t care because he had meat to drink and water to eat.

STORY EXPLAINED

Cannibalism in ancient culture based stories are not uncommon. Cannibalism, in folklore, can be literal, figurative or illustrative. The most famous story of cannibalism is Hansel and Gretel, where the witch eats children. In the Christian bible, cannibalism is mentioned several times.

Jeremiah 19:9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.

Ezekiel 5:10 Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.

Leviticus 26:29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.

The Bahamian folktale “B’ Rabby Had A Mother,” is illustrative of a type of social cannibalism, which destroys trust. It is one of those timeless tales that is altogether quite common in all culture based norms. It is the story of someone who cheats or steals or commits some sort of crime or wrongdoing in his own neighbourhood, or on his own friends, and family.

Consider that in the 1800s, in the post emancipation era of the Bahamian negro, they lived in very segregated, separate, depressed communities. On the Out Islands, negroes lived in small settlements isolated from whites, if there were any white people at all. If there were whites living on the Out Islands, they would have been church missionaries or the one island Commissioner, sent by the Governor, to deliver law and order.

Negroes by and large had little, if any, education. X was still used to make ones mark. Social rules were passed down through stories. Small negro Bahamian communities survived on implicit neighbourly trust. If you couldn’t trust your neighbours, there really could be no community.

B’ Rabby, a young man, not disabled in anyway, out of sheer laziness or desperation commits a crime against his own friends and neighbours, in his own neighbourhood or village. Stealing or killing or any crime in ones own neighbourhood, in the old days, would mean ostracism. Criminals were shunned. No one would speak to them or have anything to do with them. They would never be trusted again.

“Some ‘e kill, some ‘e cripple, an’ de balance get clear.”

B’ Rabby and his mother manage to eat and drink (symbolism of money benefit, able to buy nice things), from the awful crime they committed; but of course, their gain will not last forever.

B’ Rabby is defiant when confronted with his crime by the neighbourhood when he says at the end of the folktale,

“I did n’ ker about it; had meat to heat an’ vwater to drink.”


1895 – A STORY OF INCEST IN BAHAMIAN FOLKLORE

Every Bahamian folklore, folktale or fairytale, documented in the 1895 book entitled “Bahama Songs and Stories,” by the American Folk-Lore Society, begins with the following:

“Once it vwas a time, a very good time, De monkey chewed tobacco, an’ ‘e spit white lime.”

A rather surprising story of incest arises in the compendium of 1895 Bahamian folklore.

In the folklore story “A YOUNG LAD AND HIS MOTHER,” a brother has three sisters. He wants one for his wife. His mother tells him no, he cannot have his own sister for a wife.

The son/brother, builds a small boat and angrily says to his mother that he will sail away, never to come back, if he cannot have a sister for his wife.

At this point, with the son being the only male in the house, or in the vicinity, the mother offers herself as wife to the son.

The mother waits until night, dinner time. The mother makes a plate of food, taking it to the water’s edge, calling her son home.

She sings to her son—

U sang – e wi – ley, come home, U sang – e wi – ley, come home,

Come, come, come, come, come, ketch you yi – a – mah.

The son sings back to the mother—

Me no del – e – wah, Me no del – e – wah,

My moth – er, We know you, you ain’t the one.

Despite the mother’s pleading to the son to come back, the son does not. He is not interested in taking his mother for his wife. He tells her he will not deliver himself to get. He tells the mother he already knows her. She isn’t the one he wants.

The mother then sends the eldest daughter with dinner to entice her brother back. The eldest daughter sings the same song. The brother sings the same song back. It isn’t her he wants.

The youngest sister finally comes down to entice the brother back. This is the sister he wants for his wife. The brother paddles the boat back to shore. He grabs his young sister’s hand and drags her into his boat.

He sails off.

The brother tells the youngest sister that if she doesn’t accept him as her husband, he will sink the boat, killing them both.

The young sister tells her brother “no,” she will not submit to being his wife. The brother sinks the boat.

Magically, the young girl turns into a porpoise. The lustful brother turns into a man-eating shark.

The porpoise beats the shark.

And from that day until this, the porpoise always beats the shark.

STORY EXPLAINED

– Anthropologists roundly agree that women initiated human culture. It was women, females, who opened the door to human history. This is true for one reason, and one reason only. Only women, females, are able to bear children. Without children, there would be no society, no culture.

Anthropological study offers that because of this immense power that women possessed, males in society would pay any price, endure any test of strength or will, to possess that female which would best satisfy his sexual urges and provide him with offspring. Offspring, children, were great testaments to men’s, males, stature in primitive communities. In fact, it still is.

In the Bahamian folklore story, “A Young Lad An’ His Mother” we notice one very striking thing just from the title. “Lad” is a very British word for young man. He is not called boy but lad. During slavery, all males were referred to, as boy. Post emancipation, slave terminology, seems to have withered a bit within negro communities. The adoption of the British word lad appears to indicate this.

The young lad wants the youngest sister to be his wife. He is so consumed with this desire, he is willing to kill himself, and her, if he cannot have her.

From the Nigerian author Chinweizu, in his book “Anatomy of Female Power” we begin to understand the ethnographical implications of this story.

Chinweizu writes that the male’s behaviour to secure sex and a “fruitful womb,” comes to dominate male behaviour from puberty onwards. The male quest to obtain a woman, a fruitful womb for himself, has been known to alter the course of history.

Chinweizu gives the example of England’s King Henry VIII, who defied the powerful Catholic Church, all in an effort to have a fertile wife who could bear him a son. After the wife couldn’t, he had her killed in order that he could choose another fruitful womb to produce a male heir.

Chinweizu goes further back in time to the Trojan War. Menelaus, king of Sparta makes war with Paris, a prince of Troy, for carrying off Helen, the wife of Menelaus.

When the son rejects his mother’s dinner, her possible offering to be his wife or at the least to appease him in some way to coming back home, Chinweizu calls this “Motherpower.”

Motherpower,” Chinweizu proffers, is the least threatening form of power that can be exercised over a man. The mother in the Bahamian folktale attempts to exercise “kitchen power” over the son by offering him food. Chinweizu writes that “the power of the kitchen is also great, for it is the power over hunger. Hunger can break the hardest will; can reduce the headstrong man to whimpering obedience.”

The boy rejects all attempts by the mother. The incest taboo between mother and son is more powerful than that of brother and sister to the son/brother. Also, the mother is probably old. The son is wanting a wife who can bear children. The son sings the mother I already know you. More than anyone in the family, the son knows the mother the longest. Having sexual relations with his mother whom he has known since infancy won’t do. The mother simply won’t do for the young man.

The son/brother also rejects the eldest sister, and the next eldest sister, for probably the same reasons he rejects the mother. Everything changes when youngest sister comes to the shoreline. She is younger, more fertile and he doesn’t know her as long as he knows the mother and older sisters. These are all advantages in the brother’s mind.

In every culture, there is an incest taboo. Incest goes against ancient kinship and blood rules. However, throughout antiquity, we see that even in the bible this social rule is broken. In Genesis 19:30-38, living in an isolated area after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s two daughters conspired to inebriate and seduce their father due to the lack of available partners. Because of intoxication, Lot “perceived not” when his firstborn, and the following night his younger daughter, lay with him. (Genesis 19:32-35).

In the Bahamas, in the post emancipation era of the mid to late 1800s, isolated communities followed their own rules. Incest taboos were ignored. Lack of outside people coming in and small communities wanting to remain isolated from outsiders, we know from the historical record, incest practices happened.

At the end of the Bahamian folklore story “A Young Lad An’ His Mother” we see that the breaking of these taboo practices were not without punishment or penalty of some sort. The male is punished for breaking the nicest taboo because he is now destined to forever be beaten by something or someone less powerful than him. The porpoise (the transformed younger sister) manages to beat, escape, the cub, the man eating shark (the transformed brother).

“She tol ‘im, “No!” an ‘e sunk de boat. She turn to porper, an’ ‘e turn to a cub; and the porper beat the cub, an’ from dat day till now the porper always beats the cub.”


Every Bahamian folklore story ends with story tellers saying the same thing. The documenters suggest that “E bo ban” is a remembered African word. The first three lines are the traditional ending. The fourth, a variety, is added at the whim and fancy of the story teller.

“E bo ban, my story’s en’,

If you doan’ believe my story’s true,

Hax my captain an, my crew,

When I die bury me in a pot o’ candle grease.”

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