Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Wembi, the Singer of Stories is a 1959 collection of twenty-five African folktales gathered by Alice D. Cobble during the twenty-five years she was a missionary in the Belgian Congo. It is illustrated by Doris Hallas.

The stories here mostly center around animals, and they’re always decent but never amazing. Many of these stories feature shockingly bizarre turns of events, which I can only chalk up to a cultural divide between African and Western culture. In some of these stories, the protagonist does something horrible to somebody else, and is lauded for it; in one, the protagonist, having committed no transgression, gets eaten, and that’s the end.

Cobble’s Wembi frame is in many cases more interesting than the tales Wembi tells. Here the reader will learn about many of the practices and traditions of the native Congolese, and about the concerns and issues of a shift toward Western culture.

Halas’s illustrations are relatively few; they are best described as adequate and unremarkable. I found the cover design, which is not by Halas, considerably more impressive.

Wembi, the Singer of Stories is a nice little look into Central African culture, even if its stories are just so-so.