Cover image for A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller
A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller
Scheub, Harold.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiii, 368 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
"Mdi Msumu" -- Introduction -- Notes on the organization of this dictionary -- The mythmaker as storyteller -- A dictionary of African mythology -- The storyteller as mythmaker -- "The python's shining stone" -- Song of the Mythmaker -- Sources -- Bibliography -- Appendix one: country -- Appendix two: linguistic/cultural -- Appendix three: the grand myth -- Index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
BL2400 .S24 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this marvelous collection of hundreds of fascinating, mysterious, and revealing tales, Harold Scheub captures the immense sweep and diversity of African mythology. Scheub offers an unprecedented collection of 400 stories, arranged alphabetically, that touch on virtually every aspect of religious belief. Here are gods and goddesses, epic heroes and divine tricksters, along with epics of the world's origins, the struggle between the human and the divine,and much more. Scheub covers the entire continent, from the mouth of the Nile to the shores of the Cape of Good Hope, including North African as well as sub-Saharan cultures. Here, for example, is the tale of Abu Zayd (from the Bani Hilal of Tunisia), an epic hero who battles a jinni; and here toois a myth of how the moon and the toad created the first man and woman, from the Soko of Congo. Scheub not only retells each story, but provides information about the respective belief system, the main characters, and related stories or variants. Perhaps most important, Scheub emphasizes the role ofmythmaker as storyteller--as a performer for an audience. He explores various techniques, from the rhythmic movements of a Zulu mythmaker's hands to the way a storyteller will play on the familiar context of other myths within her cultural context. In A Dictionary of African Mythology, Harold Scheub has constructed an invaluable bridge to the richly diverse oral cultures of Africa. In this magnificent collection, he not only provides hundreds of fascinating myths, but recaptures their cultural contexts--in which story and storyteller,tradition and performance, all merge.

Author Notes

Harold Scheub is Professor of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He has spent ten years researching and teaching in Africa, and is the author of a number of books, including The Tongue is Fire, Secret Fire, and Story. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is a sampler of 400 of the many thousands of African myths, encompassing the entire continent, from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope. Entries are arranged by the name of the principal character, from Abasi's messenger is a vulture to Zra creates death. Most are brief, providing cultural and geographical origin and anywhere from one short paragraph to several paragraphs that give the basic tale and a few variants. Fourteen are slightly expanded to allow the author to comment upon some of the themes that run through the myths. Myths from North Africa include tales from the pre-Islamic Egyptian, classical Greek, and Hellenistic traditions as well as from Islamic traditions. Following the entries is a list of sources for each tale that refers to an extensive bibliography. There are three indexes: country of origin, cultural/linguistic origin, and "grand myth," which indexes themes. There are a few illustrations, both photographs and woodcuts, and a map. Within most entries one finds a symbol that is not explained in the introduction or notes. It may have been intended to indicate that text that follows the symbol covers a variant of the myth being discussed; it should have been explained. A map or maps outlining linguistic/cultural areas in addition to the modern political map would be useful, as would a pronunciation guide. This volume will be valuable in large public library collections and larger high-school and community-college collections. The bibliography should be useful for undergraduate university folklore students.

Library Journal Review

African myths are stories--most of them ancient--passed along from generation to generation by oral narrative. They are inexorably linked to religious traditions, tribal customs, and enduring proverbs couched in the continuum of belief systems. Collectively, the 400 stories presented here--revamped by Scheub, who has devoted his professional career to researching and teaching in Africa and has published numerous monographs, e.g., the celebrated The Tongue Is Fire--reveal the unique sweep and diversity of African mythology. Selections from every country, arranged alphabetically by nation, survey the entire continent, including North Africa and Sub-Saharan cultures. Based on careful research, this book includes a geographic index and a valuable guide to sources (French, German, English, etc.). Engaging yet scholarly in presentation, this work is vital to upper-level and professional studies and should be considered for all collections of African research.--Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

These narratives, in alphabetical order by mythological figure or hero, have been gleaned by the author from written documentation of African oral traditions he collected over many years, published in African Oral Narratives, Proverbs, Riddles, Poetry and Song (1977), to which he adds material collected since that time. The book also contains some stories he collected and published in The Tongue Is Fire (CH, Jun'97). It is an extraordinarily rich compilation of origin tales, heroic quests, accounts of benevolent and vengeful gods, and variations on the continent-wide story of the slow chameleon who inadvertently let death into the world. From time to time, the author intervenes to invest insight into the nature of mythmakers and their audience. He finishes with the "grand myth"--an Africa-wide archetype that fits surprisingly well. The book is well documented; names of mythological figures are linked to a section on sources, which leads to a large bibliography--important, since many of the stories are pieces of larger works or conflations of several sources. Indexes by country and culture/language group are included along with a general index. Highly recommended. D. Westley; Boston University