Creole Folktales (Contes créoles)

Creole folktales are quite common in Guadeloupe Archipelago. When I was younger, we used to have family gathering every Sunday at my grand-parents’ house. This was the good opportunity for my grand-father to tell us many Creole folktales. Even though the stories were the same, we never got tired of them. It was even better when he was pretending being part of the story by ending with this sentence: “I assisted the entire scene but someone caught me and ran after me, I jumped in a hole in the middle of the forest and this is where I just came from to tell you this story”. I love it! A good Creole folktale is predominantly an excellent storyteller who has a good connection with its audience. I remember, my grand-father didn’t have to ask us if we were ready for a good story, we were begging. This is how I can tell, he was mastering the speech.

Origin & Description

Creole folktales have started in the 16th century during the slavery period, hence the fact that they are multi-faceted. In fact, they are a blending of African, Arawak Amerindian and European influences.

The multiple stories are coming from the elders. These wise men and women were considered as mentors and were always keen to share customs, beliefs, rites, secrets about plants and folktales. Creole folktales were mainly told during funerals as it was a way to comfort those who were grieving during this tough period. Changing their mind with joyful and entertaining stories was the main goal.

The storyteller

The storyteller is generally a wise person who is old enough to inspire trust to the youngest. As a talented artist, he knows how to handle the speech as well keeping its audience engaged. A major part for a successful Creole folktale is the interaction between the storyteller and the audience. Ritualistic formulas at the beginning of the stories are essential to engage the audience straight away. Most of stories are starting with a warm up or some riddles, to establish the connection with the audience but also to check on their engagement or if they make some random comments. Here is typical example of dialogue between the storyteller and the crowd:

– Storyteller: Yé krik!

– Audience: Yé krak!

– Storyteller : Yé mistikrik!

– Audience: Yé mistikrak!

– Storyteller: Est-ce que la cour dort ? (Are you sleeping?)

– Audience: Non la cour ne dort pas (No we are not!)

– Storyteller: Si la cour ne dort pas c’est Isidor qui dort dans la cour de Théodore pour deux sous d’or (This sentence is a succession of rhymes)

The storyteller also needs to have great actor skills to be able to mimic the character’s or animals’ voices. Having these skills make the interaction with the audience even stronger.

Fiction and reality are generally mixed, especially at the end of the story. The storyteller likes to pretend that he is an eyewitness. Making this link increases the story’s veracity as well as strengthening the storyteller’s fame. Sometimes, the storyteller introduces himself has the eyewitness at the beginning of the story after the warm up.

Folktales symbolic animals or Creatures

Creole folktales from Guadeloupe Archipelago are including a certain number of symbolic animals or supernatural creatures. For instance, “Kompè Lapen” (Rabbit mate) is most of the time described as clever and resourceful. Other important characters are:

The Soucouyant which is a kind of blood-sucking hag. As a shape-shifting creature, she appears as an unsociable old woman during the day and during the night she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it on a rock. Then, she flies in the sky looking for victims to sucked-blood.

– The She-devil which is a very beautiful woman. However, she generally has a horse’s foot. As she is really good-looking, she attracts men quite easily. When the man feels comfortable enough with her, she shows her real face and kills them. The She-devil likes to hang out alone close to clubs and balls.

– Manman dlo which is the water goddess. As a gorgeous woman with a mermaid appearance, Manman Dlo can either act with kindness or be bad. According the stories, she has saved multiple sailors but she has also charmed lots of them bringing them through deep water to never come back.

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