Why Ostriches Don't Fly and Other Tales from the African Bush
Why Ostriches Don't Fly and Other Tales from the African Bush by I. Murphy Lewis. Illus by the author. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1997. 145 pp. HC ISBN 1-56308-402-3 $21.50.
The Bushmen are considered the earliest human inhabitants of southern Africa. For over 10,000 years they have lived in the harsh environment of the Kalahari, but now there are few, if any, still living the traditional nomadic life of the hunter I gatherer. Fifteen years of drought has made them dependent upon water from government sources, and civilization has drastically altered their lives.
They are called "the harmless people", more apt to run from trouble than fight it. Indeed, according to the introduction, the Bushmen deplore bravery, choosing as heroes those who use trickery or deceit to win the day. This is evidenced in some of the stories set down here in
poetic verse by author I. Murphy Lewis.
The ideas of defeating power with wisdom, of working out problems verbally and working cooperatively, are part and parcel of conflict resolution techniques. For this reason, teachers and students might find much to discuss in this look at the Bushman life and lore. I do wonder what they will make of the story in which Pishiboro,. the Bushman god who appears as either a man or a mantis,. kills all the threatening elephant by passing wind!
Six of the fifteen stories are about ostrich. My favourite is about the hunters who give up the chase of an eland to watch and take pleasure in the dramatic dance of a mother ostrich pretending to be injured in order to protect her young. Another of the ostrich stories will be familiar as it depicts the race between ostrich and tortoise. Tortoise, of course, enlists the help of his look-alike friends in order to win.
The story of the creation of the world tells how the belly of the pregnant goddess Tumtumbolosa exploded, sending moon, stars, sun, rivers,. and living creatures (listed here Ato Z) bursting forth. There are pourquoi stories explaining hare's split lip and how gemsbok got his horns. Other stories deal with renewal, taking only what you need from the environment, and rituals of puberty and courtship.
The introduction would be accessible to a slightly younger age than that of the book on Nepal – perhaps grades 5 or 6 – and the stories themselves are set in large print, with a lot of white space due to the verse form, making the book inviting to student readers. It is, however, a book for anyone interested in the disappearing world of the Bushman.
Libraries Unlimited's World Folklore Series began in 1991 with Norma. Livo's Folk Stories of the Hmong, and has now grown to include 8 books which cover Tlngit myths, stories from Kenya, legends from the Hispanic Southwest, Thai tales, folklore of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and this years collections from Nepal and the African bush.
Each book includes an introduction to the country or overview of the culture from which the stories come, and they have selections of both black and white and colour photographs. A map of the country is included, as are a glossary, bibliography, and inforn1ation about the author(s).
The Second Story Review, Vol 2 , No. 2, June 1997