In order to assist the student in this anthropological search they will adhere to the following procedures.
They will read folktales included in the book by Julius Lester,
They will read comparative tales that deal with the same story or with a similar theme.
They will design questions from the stories that will help them in their own search for folktales. For example, when they read “The High John” tales in
they will then read another “High John” tale either from Zora Neale Hurston’s
Mules and Men
or from Richard Dorson’s
American Negro Folktales.
The primary text for this unit is
by Julius Lester. This particular book was chosen because of its simplicity, availability and its style. All of these factors make this book accessible to the student.
is organized with particular regard to origins, human relationships, love, heroes and people. Within these themes there are several other books of folktales and folktales themselves which deal with these themes.
In the Origins section Lester gives four tales “How God Made Butterflies,” “Why Apes Look Like People,” “Why Men Have to Work,” and “How the Snake Got Its Rattles.” These tales can be compared with other tales from other places which share a similar theme. Lester’s tale of “Why Men Have to Work” can be read with Hurston’s “Why the Black Woman Works So Hard.”
In Lester’s tale, men work so hard because long ago everything was given to man. If he was hungry he only needed to reach up and there was a piece of sky for him to eat. When the sky became tired of this it moved out of the man’s reach so that he had to work to eat.
Hurston’s tale says that a black woman was ordered by her master to collect a box that had been placed by God in the middle of the road for thousands of years, and when she opened the box, the only thing she found inside was hard work and that is why she works so hard today.
Explanations providing reasons for men and women working is also the kind of tale a student should be able to collect on his/her own. The question that the student could ask in a student questionnaire would be, “Why do people work?” The question could also be asked, “Do you know a story about why people work or how they work?” In this way they might come up with an interesting tale to be used in class.
The next tale on the origins of men and women in the Lester book explains why men and women look like they do. Lester’s book compares man’s appearance to that of an ape. Hurston’s comparable tale explains, “Why Negroes are black.”
Finding correlations between
and tales by other folklorists will be an important activity for the class. In this case, students may ask the question, “Why do black people look like they do?” They will perhaps come up with a folksy explanation from family or friends which they can collect.
The tale, “Keep on Steppin”’ which is found in
is just about the same tale as “Remember Youse A Nigger,” which is found in the Hurston book.10 There is a great moral lesson to be learned. The lesson and the example are very clear. The kind of tale might prompt a student to make inquiries about tales which deal with strong people who continue on in spite of the adversities they encounter. The question might be posed, “Tell me something about a strong person?”
Using this very simple form of survey allows the student to acquire some expertise at asking questions, it also provides them with a general idea of what they are looking for before they begin.
This method of research for students was developed after several attempts to collect folktales. The method is quite simple because students will undoubtedly meet some difficulty in getting the tales if they don’t make sure that they are looking for specific things. Even though they might discover something quite different from what they expected to find.
Folktales can be educational as well as enlightening and exciting way for students/teachers to learn and grow.
This unit contains an audio tape of several black folktales that were shared by several people from the New Haven area, a Nigerian eleven year old girl, and several other folktales. These folktales can be used in conjunction with teaching this unit. A few tales have been transcribed so that they can be understood when the tapes are used.