- Stars and Keys: Folktales and Creolization in the Indian Ocean
Lee Haring's Stars and Keys is not only a new collection of folktales, but a new way of presenting a folktale collection. Collected over thirty years from different kinds of sources, this book contains a range of interesting stories, some of which will remind folklorists of tales from other regions of Africa and Asia. Above all, the tales reflect the multicultural and pluralistic contexts of the five islands in the southwest Indian Ocean from which they have been collected—Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Reunion, and the Comoros. The islands are known for the creolization that has followed their conquest by colonial European powers, particularly France. Haring's collection of stories shows that the processes of creolization pre-date the colonial period, and that the cultural strains from Africa and Asia are older than those from Europe. This book of folktales, therefore, does not show that the people of these islands are an ethnic group with a single culture; instead, it illustrates the complexities of a creole society, which include tensions between groups, as well as integration and accommodation. It is these complexities that give the collected folktales their unique nature.
This is a book that cannot be summarized in a simple manner. It is divided into five sections ("Land of the Man-Eating Tree," "Diaspora," "Stars," "Keys" and "Postcolonial Seychelles"), and Haring does not offer an explanation of this organization. The first section contains stories about the islands—their flora and fauna, as well as their origin myths. The second section contains stories that seem to be rooted in other continents, but have a distinct identity of their own. There are also stories here about the multiethnic fabric of the islands. The third section is about some master storytellers—the "stars." The "Keys" section has stories that are key to the processes of creolization as they impact both the narratives and social life on the islands in general. The last section, "Postcolonial Seychelles," contains obviously postcolonial stories.
The uniqueness of this book lies in the way the stories are presented, with Haring's commentary interspersed within the narratives themselves. The story starts, and the commentary intervenes, sometimes right after the first sentence, sometimes periodically, and sometimes at the end of the narrative. These commentaries are written in a lucid manner with a sense of humor, and more importantly, they do not have a fixed pattern. The tales come from colonial collections, as well as from Haring's own fieldwork; where they are culled from colonial sources, the commentator gives us valuable information about the colonial collectors, their methods and biases, and the anonymous narrators. In some tales, the free nature of the commentary brings out the issues of tale migration; [End Page 338] in others, it points out how contemporary realities on the islands are reflected in the narrative. In still others, it offers comparative analyses, references to theories of folklore and culture, or commentator's observations about life on the islands.
Haring's remarks show his vast knowledge of theory and of the tales, and the ease with which he moves between the two gives a rare quality to the book and makes for a rather unusual reading experience. The book is not divided into separate sections for stories and for analysis, but the stories and analysis are set in different typefaces, which helps when one wants to follow only the story or only the analysis. Given its style, the commentary becomes yet another narrative and creates a complexity akin to the complexity of a creole society. The colonial narrative mixes with postcolonial commentary, just as contemporary narratives blend with associated issues and contexts.
This style makes for a new kind of experience of reading folktales that does not make the reader a consumer of the tales but rather lets that reader become a part of the process of creolization; however, it also creates...