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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2438

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Almost every night, just before bedtime, I hear some group of children in the street telling stories to each other. Stories, enigmas or tim-tim, and songs, and round games, are the joy of child-life here,-whether rich or poor. I am particularly fond of listening to the stories,-which seem to me the oddest stories I ever heard.

I succeeded in getting several dictated to me, so that I could write them;-others were written for me by creole friends, with better success. To obtain them in all their original simplicity and naive humor of detail, one should be able to write them down in short-hand as fast as they are related: they lose greatly in the slow process of dictation. The simple mind of the native story-teller, child or adult, is seriously tried by the inevitable interruptions and restraints of the dictation method;-the reciter loses spirit, becomes soon weary, and purposely shortens the narrative to finish the task as soon as possible. It seems painful to such a one to repeat a phrase more than once,-at least in the same way; while frequent questioning may irritate the most good-natured in a degree that shows how painful to the untrained brain may be the exercise of memory and steady control of

imagination required for continuous dictation. By patience, however, I succeeded in obtaining many curiosities of oral literature,-representing a group of stories which, whatever their primal origin, have been so changed by local thought and coloring as to form a distinctively Martinique folk-tale circle. Among them are several especially popular with the children of my neighborhood; and I notice that almost every narrator embellishes the original plot with details of his own, which he varies at pleasure.

I submit a free rendering of one of these tales,-the history of Yé and the Devil. The whole story of Yé would form a large book,-so numerous the list of his adventures; and this adventure seems to me the most characteristic of all. Yé is the most curious figure in Martinique folk-lore. Yé is the typical Bitaco,-or mountain negro of the lazy kind,-the country black whom city blacks love to poke fun at. As for the Devil of Martinique folk-lore, he resembles the travailleur at a distance; but when you get dangerously near him, you find that he has red eyes and red hair, and two little horns under his chapeau-Bacouè, and feet like an ape, and fire in his throat. Y ka sam yon gou?s, gou?s macaque....

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