THERE is at the present day a widespread and growing interest in the customs, institutions, and folklore of more or less 'primitive' peoples, even among persons who are still a little shy of the word 'anthropology.' This interest is of comparatively recent growth; but when one looks back over the nineteenth century it seems almost incredible that Moffat could write) in 1842, that "a description of the manners and customs of the Bechuanas would be neither very instructive nor very edifying." Twenty years earlier James Campbell, whom one suspects of a secret and shamefaced interest in the subject, apologizes for presenting to the notice of his readers the "absurd and ridiculous fictions" of the same tribe.
The apology is certainly not needed to-day-witness the collections of folk-tales pouring in from every quarter of what used to be called the Dark Continent, contributed by grave divines, respectable Government officials, and all sorts and conditions of observers. In fact, so much new matter has appeared since I first took the present work in hand that it has proved impossible to keep pace with it. But I have endeavoured to present to the notice of the reader fairly typical specimens of myth and legend from as many as possible of the various Bantu-speaking tribes, confident that the result will not be (if I may again quote Campbell) to "exhibit the puerile and degraded state of intellect" among the said tribes.
I have been obliged, however, to my great regret, to omit some very striking legends of the Baganda, less known than that of Kintu (familiar from several other works, and, moreover, told at length in my own African Mythology). But it would have been easy, given sufficient time, to expand this book to twice the covenanted length.
A word as to the pronunciation of African names. No attempt has been made to render them phonetically, beyond the rough-and-ready rule that vowels are to be pronounced as in German or Italian, consonants as in English, every syllable as ending in a vowel, and every vowel to be pronounced. Thus it has not been considered necessary to put an acute accent over the e in Shire (which, by the by, ought to be Chiri) and Pare. Where ng is followed by an apostrophe, as in 'Ryang'ombe' (but not in 'Kalungangombe'), it is sounded as in 'sing,' not as in 'finger.'
African experts may discover some inconsistency in the rendering of tribal names. One ought, I suppose, either to use the vernacular plural in every case, as in Basuto, Amandebele, Anyanja, or to discard the prefix and add an English plural, as in Zulus (too familiar a form to be dropped); but it did not seem possible to attain consistency throughout. At any rate, one has avoided the barbarism of 'Basutos,' though sanctioned by no less an authority than Sir Godfrey Lagden Moffat, as will have been noticed, was guilty of 'Bechuanas,' and I have not ventured to correct his text.
It may not be superfluous to point out that the person-class in the Bantu languages has, in the singular, the prefix mu- (sometimes umu- or omu-, and sometimes shortened into m-) and, in the plural, ba- (aba-, va-, ova-, a-). The prefix ama- or ma-, sometimes found with tribal names, belongs to a different class. It is probably a plural of multitude (or 'collective plural'), which has displaced the ordinary form.
The titles of works cited in the footnotes have been abbreviated in most instances. The full titles of such works, together with other details, will be found in the Bibliography.
It is a pleasant task to convey my sincere thanks to those who have kindly permitted me to make use of their published work: the Revs. E. W. Smith and T. Cullen Young; Mr. Frederick Johnson (Dar-es-Salaam), for his Makonde and Iramba tales, published in a form not readily accessible to the general reader; Captain R. S. Rattray, who is better known nowadays in connexion with the Gold Coast, but once upon a time did very good work in Nyasaland; Dr C. M. Doke (University of the Witwatersrand); M. Henri A. Junod; the Rev. Father Schmidt, editor of Anthropos, for permission to use P. Arnoux's articles on Ruanda; Professor Meinhof, for matter appearing in his Zeitschrift für Eingeborenensprachen (Hamburg), and his contributor, the Rev. C. Hoffmann (another contributor, the Rev. M. Klamroth, is, unfortunately, no longer living); the Rev. J. Raurn (and Dr Mittwoch, editor of the series in which his Chaga Grammar appeared), for the story of Murile; the Rev. Dr Gutmann, for some delightful Chaga tales; the Rev. D. R. Mackenzie and the late Rev. Donald Fraser, for some very interesting quotations from their respective works. If any others have been inadvertently omitted I can only crave their indulgence.