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Friday, February 23, 2024

Jones - The Old King and the Young King - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

When I was a child I was a very good and fairly voracious reader.  One type of book popular then that I didn't like were stories told in a heavy dialect.  Since these stories were often folktales, it's ironic I now find myself hunting them up sometimes.  Modern folklorists seem to have found a better way to convey the sense of stories while giving the flavor of their teller's dialect.  An apt comparison might be foreign dishes where the spices are toned down a bit to give a hint of the original culture without overwhelming the taste for a new audience.  

This year's Black History Month theme is “African Americans and the Arts", exploring the key influence African Americans have had in the fields of "visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression."  Since Public Domain with all its legal limitations means I'm not free to reprint more recent stories, I must look among those stories recorded in a heavy dialect or vernacular.  Then to make it understandable, I must attempt a translation into more typical English.

This story in an election year when people are worrying about the age of presidential candidates seems extra appropriate.  It comes from Negro Myths from the Geogia Coast and the 1888 book of stories recorded by Charles C. Jones, but the subtitle warns us it is "told in the vernacular."  The book's dedication gives us the location: "In memory of Monte Video Plantation, and of the family servants whose fidelity and affection contributed so materially to its comfort and happiness."  The preface notes Joel Chandler Harris, but cites the importance of recording tales from the "largely untrodden" Georgia coast and the Carolinas -- "myths and fanciful stories, often repeated before the war, and now seldom heard."  Like Harris's Br'er Rabbit tales, the majority are animal tales, so this tale stands out both for its brevity and view of human government clearly going back to African roots.  (It also reminds me of the Biblical story of Solomon's son's unwise leadership due to his poor choice of young advisors.)

Another excellent help the book provides is the Glossary at the end to help understand the "vernacular."  I will give the story and  after each section my attempt at putting it into standard English.  I highly recommend, at the very least, that Glossary which begins on page 185 if you find yourself similarly facing that dialect.

The Old King and the Young King

The old King heard it said they were going to put a young King in his place.  This thing worried him and made him vexed.  He wanted to keep the throne; so he gave an order to his head man to make his soldiers kill all the old people in the nation, so the young King shouldn't have any wise person for help in carrying on the business of the kingdom.  The soldiers took guns and clubs and massacred all the older people in the land.

Then the old King sent word to the young King, who the people have picked out to rule over them, that he must fetch a fat hog, but it mustn't be either a sow-hog  (a female) nor a boy-hog, but it must be a fat hog.

When the young King got the message, he returned this answer: "Tell the old King I say I have a fat barrow (a castrated male pig) in the pen, and he must come for him; but he mustn't come in the day, nor he mustn't come for him in the night."  The old King, when he heard this message, made up his mind (and ) said the young King must have a heap of sense, or else some wise man must have helped him; and he couldn't see how that can be, because all the old and the wise people in the nation were killed.  He didn't know that when the order to destroy all the old people in the kingdom, the young King hid his father in one hollow tree, and so he escaped from the soldiers, and (?) gave his son sense.

The young King returned such a smart answer, with the help of his father, that the old King couldn't make out what time to go for the fat hog; and so he gave up, and the young King, before long, came and turned him out and took his office. 


Whether it be Ebonics or Hip-Hop, or other linguistic changes, may the stories survive and enrich us all!


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