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IN modern times we have begun paying close attention to folklore—old tales, not invented by one man, but belonging to the whole people; not written down, but told by parents to their children, and so handed on for hundreds of years.
The legends and fairy stories in this book belong to the Yoruba country of Southem Nigeria. They relate the adventures of men and animals, and try to explain the mysteries of Nature—Why Women have Long Hair, How the Leopard got his Spots, and so forth. Most of them include very old songs, but these cannot here be given in full.
We must not think that the stories are scientifically true; they grew out of the imagination of the people, and for actual, proven facts we must look in our text-books. We read these folk-tales for their p. iv quaintness and humour, for their sympathy with Nature, and because we find in them the ideas and ideals, not just of one man, but of the race.
The legends express primitive notions of right and wrong, and in this they fall below the new standard which Christianity has set for our actions. As a rule, however, the wicked are punished and the good rewarded; and that, we feel, is as it should be. We may weep at the death of rascally Tortoise, but we feel that he deserves his fate!