African Roots

In the 1800s when there was no television to watch, movies to see, or video games to play people had other ways to entertain themselves. African slaves brought with them a strong oral tradition of storytelling, especially trickster tales, and told them in the evenings when the work was done. In trickster tales, the smaller and weaker character always manages to get the better of his larger, stronger protagonist by using his wits. These folktales were recorded by Joel Chandler Harris and known as the Uncle Remus stories when published. Popularized by Walt Disney in the 1940s, the tales feature a rabbit who uses his cleverness to escape from danger and get his way. Storyteller Akbar Imhotep entertains visitors to Joel Chandler Harris’s Atlanta home, Wren’s Nest, with trickster tales. His storytelling is interspersed with a dramatization of the story of Buh Rabbit, Buh Elephant, and Buh Whale from Gullah Tales.

Teacher tip: After watching this dramatization, discuss how the trickster theme has been used in today’s animated cartoons. Ask students to summarize a cartoon storyline they have seen that illustrates how a smaller or younger character exhibits strength by using his or her wits.