Harold Courlander, Ashanti: Folk Tales from Ghana

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Folklorist, anthropologist and writer Harold Courlander was inextricably linked with Folkways — he even gave the label its name. He brought something different to the table; not music, but traditional folk tales from the Caribbean and Africa that he collected. These Ghanaian stories of Anansi the Spider are classic trickster tales, the forerunners and relatives of the Br'er Rabbit stories of American literature.

The forerunners and relatives of the Br’er Rabbit stories of American literature.

Courlander himself isn't a great teller (these sound as if they're being read, rather than told), but this is still an important album, a window into a vital part of West African culture that became part of the diaspora, handed down orally through slaves in the New World. But more than that, the stories themselves are full of a gentle humor and wisdom. Sometimes Anansi triumphs, sometimes his greed leaves him outwitted by smarter heads. It's anthropomorphic, but inside the animals and insects we recognize ourselves all too clearly.