Okot p'Bitek | Critical Review by Robert L. Berner

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Okot p'Bitek.
This section contains 397 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Robert L. Berner

SOURCE: A review of Hare and Hornbill, in World Literature Today, Vol. 53, No. 3, Summer, 1979, p. 550.

In the following review of Hare and Hornbill, Berner states that p'Bitek is uniquely qualified to translate a collection of East African folktales and comments on the tales' themes and subjects.

The ethnographers and missionaries who have produced collections of East African folktales have worked at a disadvantage because of their imperfect understanding of languages, narrative conventions and cultural contexts. Inevitably they have produced collections flawed by artificial texts and extraneous elements. As p'Bitek explains in his introductory note, this oral literature derives from the close relation of the storyteller and "a live, responsive audience, taking up the chorus, laughing and enjoying the jokes." p'Bitek is particularly qualified to deal with these tales; he has already produced a collection of renderings of Acoli oral verse [The Horn of My Love]; and his own poetry, such as the Song of Lawino, reveals a thorough understanding of African folk materials.

The population of these tales [collected under the title Hare and Hornbill] is about evenly divided between human beings and animals, and the plots reveal similarities with motifs which are widely observable in other oral literatures. One tale is a carefully structured parable about the process by which a poor man gives the "gift" of poverty to a rich man. Others have to do with the origins of institutions—for example, of a particular chiefdom. The animal stories often concern ten-eyed Ogres, who are associated with natural forces and who must be subdued by trickery. Several of them account for the origin of natural phenomena—why Leopard is spotted, why Tsetse is always killed, why Owl flies only at night, and so on. The Trickster figure, which is universal, appears frequently in these stories as Hare, who tricks and is tricked in return and who thus serves to educate the human audience. The moral of one really funny story, for example (about Hare's tricking his mother-in-law into sexual intercourse), is that "Even if you take your mother-in-law under the lake you will be found out."

The field of African folklore is vast, and extensive recording is necessary before the task of comparative study can begin. p'Bitek's collection, though he has made no attempt to exhaust his subject and though this edition lacks scholarly apparatus, is a model for this enormous task.

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This section contains 397 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Robert L. Berner
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