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THE ZEBRA’S STRIPES (article first published : 2005-02-25)

Most children born in Africa were introduced at an early age to the wonderful tales and fables of African folklore. These stories have been circulating for many, many years, and were not only exciting and educational, but also inspirational to the way we eventually lived our lives, whilst growing up and during our adulthood.

Dianne Stewart, an award-winning author of The Zebra’s Stripes and other African Animal Tales re-tells these fascinating children’s stories, which originate in tribes from all over Africa, and each story is followed by interesting facts about the particular animals involved. Most of the stories also show the relevant Zulu proverbs and I am sure that many a born and bred African will remember these words as those valued by our peers and firmly instilled in our lives.

There are short stories in total. Some are happy, some sad but most focus on human characteristics such as friendship, kindness, pride, greed and stupidity; and many trickster tales are told. A number of the stories have been translated into various European, African and Eastern languages. It must be remembered, however, that folktales are fictional because they only originate in the mind of the storyteller.

Tales like How Lion and Warthog became Enemies, Baboon’s Revenge on Leopard, The Marriage of Elephant and the Rain and many others are an absolute delight. The monkey stories were so true, showing how cowardly most monkeys are when faced with a difficult situation.

Unfortunately I cannot agree with the author that these stories are for children. I am closely involved with my young grandchildren and I feel that some of the stories would either scare them or cause them to have nightmares about the way the animals either “got their stripes” or lost their life.

Some of the stories would also instill doubt into the minds of slightly older children between the ages of eight and upwards, especially as to the validity of an insect actually getting the better of a large animal, as in Spider deceives Lion. Most children learn about these animals at school, and are taught the hierarchy of the different African animals. This story, for instance, may well be a fable but most children of Africa would know that a lion could easily destroy a spider and would carefully question the validity thereof, knowing that it would virtually be impossible for this situation to occur.

Kathy Pienaar illustrates each story wonderfully although in some instances the animals seem to have normal sized heads and bodies but the limbs of their young. While the bodies are not proportionate, the detail to the animals’ facial features is cleverly drawn.

I feel that this book would interest overseas tourists who do not know about the African cultures and those children who have never had the opportunity of growing up, knowing and seeing the wonderful wildlife that we have here in Africa.

The Zebra’s Stripes and other African Animal Tales is published by Struik and is available at a retail price of R99.95. – Sue Holloway




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