Allegories of the Wilderness: Ethics and Ambiguity in Kuranko Narratives

Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1982

Kuranko narratives are not mere fables that present ready-made moral conclusions.  They suggest rather than impose answers to existential dilemmas and anxieties.

In this interpretive study of Kuranko storytelling, Michael Jackson shows that most Kuranko tales involve journeys between town (sué) and bush (fira).  As such the moral customs (namui or bimba kan), laws (seriye or ton), and chiefly power (mansaye) associated with the town are momentarily placed in abeyance, and the wild ethos of the bush, associated with animals, shape-shifters, djinn and antinomian possibilities, comes into play.  Moreover, Kuranko stories are told at night, or in twilight zones that lie on the margins of the workaday, waking world.  There is a close connection, therefore, between the evocation of antinomian scenarios, states of dreamlike or drowsy consciousness, and the narrative suspension of disbelief. Rather than reiterate formulaic moral or legal solutions to existential issues, stories cultivate ambiguity, licensing listeners to imaginatively interpret the world for themselves. 


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