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Reviewed by:
  • The Forgotten Bride
  • Christine Goldberg (bio)
The Forgotten Bride. By Sigrid Schmidt. Afrika Erzählt no. 10. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, 2009. 535 pp.

This volume begins with sixty-two folktale texts that the author collected in Namibia from Nama-speaking informants from the 1960s through the 1990s. The tale types they represent are all of international provenance; for example, there are representatives of the popular female-centered folktale cycles of the Forgotten Bride, Substituted Bride, and Cinderella, along with male-centered hero tales such as "The Three Stolen Princesses," "The Dragon Slayer," and "The Helpful Horse." For each text, the narrator and the tale type are identified in part 2, and analogs in other volumes of the series, Afrika Erzählt (Africa Narrates), are listed. The volume includes indexes (tale type, motif, subjects) and a bibliography.

Part 3 establishes the international importance of Namibian tradition. First the history of European folktales in southern Africa is sketched. Beginning in [End Page 345] the seventeenth century, immigrant settlers came to South Africa, bringing their folktales with them. The early settlers were largely Dutch (now Afrikaans) along with some Belgians and French and a smattering of other nationalities. This "ancient," predominantly oral, tale tradition largely predates the Grimms' tales. European tales were eventually adopted by the African Nama-speakers for family entertainment. Forty-eight of the most popular of the complex tale types (magic tales, religious tales, and novellas) are discussed individually on the basis of the author's lifetime collection and her research in folktale collections from Namibia (beginning in the eighteenth century) and elsewhere.

Part 3 is full of interesting discoveries. For example, the names of the seven-headed dragon; of the hero's fantastic, loyal dogs; and of the boy Thumbling come from Afrikaans. For two interesting versions of ATU 329, Hiding from the Princess, Schmidt identifies Czech, Austrian, and French analogs. There are two different forms for ATU 302, The Ogre's Heart in the Egg, each with foreign examples. Some of the complex tale types are represented in as many as three or four redactions, each corresponding to a different ancestral nationality. AT 313C, The Forgotten Bride, includes a curse that is also found in southern Europe. This remarkable ability to match up details of the Namibian texts with those of foreign countries works like archaeology: old forms of the traditional tales are reconstructed and corroborated. In contrast, other Nama tales (e.g., ATU 533, The Speaking Horsehead) come directly from Grimm versions. Some types have two forms, one international and one identified as ancient African.

The native people (Nama, Damara, and Hai||om) consider the international tales their own rather than seeing them as imported or borrowed. While from a comparatist's point of view these narrators have preserved an "ancient" tradition, they have also made some interesting changes. For example, witches become ghost women or man-eaters, and a goblin is turned into a devil. The "grateful dead" helper is a bird. Some changes result from forgetting or misunderstanding, while others seem more constructive. Of course these people also have African and indigenous folktales. Volume 9 in Schmidt's Afrika Erzählt series, Children Born from Eggs (2007), concentrates on African magic tales, and earlier volumes were assembled based on other genres (volumes 1-7 are in German and 8-10 are in English).

In 1989 Schmidt published Catalog of the Khoisan Folktales of Southern Africa (2 vols. Hamburg: Buske). (Nama, also called Khoekhoe, is the official language of Namibia, spoken by about two hundred thousand people there. It belongs to the Khoisan language family.) Tale types in that catalog can have local, regional or African, or more thoroughly international currency. In the next two decades, through her Afrika Erzählt volumes, Schmidt has repeatedly augmented and updated this catalog. Because, unlike many collectors, she [End Page 346] recorded "European" folktales from her African informants, she herself has greatly added to the evidence available.

Part 4 of The Forgotten Bride gives abstracts and references for tale types numbered ATU 300 and higher, up through the cumulative tales. For example, five variants of AT 313C are listed in the 1989 catalog...


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