VI
SONGS ABOUT ANIMALS

IN Africa the Negro had many songs and stories about animals. These were, of course, jungle creatures and were soon forgotten in America. The only African beasts found in American Negro folksongs are the elephant and the monkey, and these are very plainly not from the jungle, but from the "animal fair," whence also the Australian kangaroo. The Jamaican Negroes, mostly of different racial stock from the American Negro, preserved many of their native annansi (spider) stories; but such stories and songs as the American Negroes preserved were transferred to animals native to America. Thus the Uncle Remus stories, dealing with American animals, have many African analogies in which jungle beasts are the characters. It should be noted, too, that the Uncle Remus stories, with their interpolated songs, correspond in form to the song-interpolated animal story of Africa and Jamaica.1 The significant fact is that the American Negro retained his African interest in animals, in accord with the deep conservatism of his nature; but he showed his equally deep tendency to adapt himself to the white man's world by promptly substituting American animals for those of his ancestors.

The animal songs are among the oldest and most conservative of all the Negro folk-songs. In slavery times they must have been especially suitable to the Negro's need, for they were a familiar channel of expression, and they were nonsense to the white man. They were not nearly so apt to get an ignorant slave into trouble as comment upon people or events. Comment upon people, unless of the flattering sort that Fanny Kemble, Bishop Andrew, and others have quoted was dangerous.2 Nonsense was the quality of antebellum Negro folk-rhymes on which most observers commented; and a very sensible nonsense it was. The necessity for nonsense in the Negro song has long since vanished, but the white auditor still

____________________
1
Such interpolations, however, are also common in European folk-tales, probably the best-known example being the tale of "Jack the Giant-Killer."
2
Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation ( London, 1863), p. 106; and C. F. Deems, ed., Annals of Southern Methodism for 1856, chap. 9.

-224-

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American Negro Folk-Songs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Foreword v
  • Preface xxi
  • Contents xxv
  • I The Negro Song in General 3
  • II Religious Songs 31
  • III Upstart Crows -- The Reaction From Religion 130
  • IV Social Songs -- Dance and Banjo 148
  • V Social Songs: Narrative Songs and Ballads 185
  • VI Songs About Animals 224
  • VII Work Songs--Gang Laborers 250
  • VIII Rural Labor 281
  • IX General and Miscellaneous Labor 290
  • X Songs About Women 311
  • XI Recent Events 341
  • XII The Seamier Side 356
  • XIII Race-Consciousness 376
  • XIV Blues and Miscellaneous Songs 387
  • APPENDICES 403
  • Bibliography 467
  • INDICES 481
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