Today's post, An African Folktale was originally published on 16 February 2009. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


A story that seems to point to some major cultural differences.

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

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Few useful conclusions about the history and future of the entire African continent can be derived from one story in one collection from one group of people. Perhaps no useful conclusions. The lack of similar stories in Aesop and the existence of similar stories in the Grimm collections do not reveal much about Greece or Germany.

But I liked the story.


The story is also badly misinterpreted; like, "I read 'A Modest Proposal' and I just can't understand how he thinks eating babies would solve anything, besides it's monstrous!" levels of misinterpreted. EDITED: And the analysis he draws from his reading of it is roughly similar to concluding, on the basis of A Modest Proposal, that not just English but European people in general are all innately sociopathic and cannibalistic to some degree whether by culture or by genetics, and that this explains why they were so driven to conquer foreign countries. (I mean, look at this map of all the countries Britain has invaded... )

So how would you interpret it?

The first interpretation you link to seems particularly sensible. I don't think Eliezer spent enough time generating additional hypotheses for why this story looks different from stories he's used to.


The first interpretation that Novalis links to below.

Like, without any ambiguity. I had a fair bit of exposure to traditional storytelling in Native American communities growing up and while the style of the West African narrative is a little different, it's eminently comprehensible. I'm doing language study now in another Native American culure, one not my own, and their story traditions feature the same theme even more prominently: a trickster figure demonstrates bad behavior by example, usually with tons of scatalogical humor (it gets the kids' attention by provoking laughter; plus many cultures have fewer hangups about discussing the human body and its byproducts in very frank terms so the humor isn't strictly aimed at kids either). The consequences for the social order are explored; a moral is suggested. This is VERY often accompanied by pantomime; I just attended a public performance where an elder of my acquaintance did a few such stories; there's a reason skilled storytellers are so prized even today in that culture -- point is, it's better to understand this tale as something performed rather than simply told, and where the most-literal surface reading is manifestly not the interpretation that would be suggested in context.

I remember reading an ancient Roman folktale where a lamb convinced a wolf to drink at a certain part of a river to stop him eating the lamb, but the wolf got annoyed and just ate him. So there are some comparably gloomy tales in 'western' canon.

The story tells you - Do not listen to the snake under any circumstances! All the evil will come out from it, if you will!

The Bible agrees.