Since the work of the Grimm brothers, we have known that animals have been present in tales since the beginning of time.1 Studying the links, similarities and differences of the tales observed throughout the world, researchers conclude that the origins of these tales are most likely Indo-European. However, the majority of the tales accumulated in Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries shows that their success extends beyond the Indo-European world. This is why instead of looking at geographic origin of the tales, scholars were more interested in considering how to classify them. Antti Aarne (1910) and Stith Thompson (1961), propose an organization by types. Stith identifies 500 different types of tales. This number continued to grow, and, today, the categorization reaches 2,340, which are grouped into in four categories: animal tales, fairy tales, mischievous tales, and formula tales. In the work of Ancelet in Cajun and Creole Folktales, the tales of Bouki and Lapin become particularly significant especially in the tale: Lapin, chat et les Chestnuts (Rabbit, Cat, and the Chestnuts) for which he makes references to another list developed by Luc Lacourcière and Margaret Low. These characters have also been observed in tales from other countries. For example, the character Bouki, shown as a hyena in West Africa, can be found in the Antilles, which was an active location in the slave trade.
I use the word association because, in fact, the choice of traits incarnation, that is to say the stigma associated to the animal, is only weakly motivated. The assimilation happens because of the constant attribution of a character to a persona. For example, if an animal seems to always have the same role, in the end, it seems that the role will forever be linked to that particular character. In the animal tales, the distribution of the roles is in relation to the collective representation of the associated characters of the animals and that representation actually varies from one society to another. In the La Fontaine tales, the rabbit and the hare are always losers, lazy, full of themselves; but in the Louisiana tales, Lapin always finishes victorious. In the tale Lapin and ver de terre (The Rabbit and the Earthworm), Lapin pretends to help elephant to carry a tree while he is just sitting on the branches, and the vain side of the character is revealed in Lapin and the Whale when Lapin bets with Bouki that he is stronger than an elephant and a whale. The variation between societies is even clearer when examining these animals in the Arab culture: the weasel is a protective animal, versus his role in La Fontaine, where he is only driven by his stomach. In the Weasel in the Attic, we notice the weasel with an extreme appetite.
The tales show definite structure. Even if most of the stories only place two or three actors within the tales, a social organization is recognizable in each of them. This analysis allows for further consideration of Bouki and Lapin. While they are important characters in the Louisiana oral tradition, other characters, such as the macaques, the owl, the lion, the fox, the donkey, the bear create the world around them. The animals are people who are part of a society where contestation is prohibited or frowned upon, and the tale can be a tool of satire which permits this kind of behavior.
The observation in Louisiana tales as Froumi et Grasshopper (The Ant and the Lazy Cricket) is directly influenced by the La Fontaine fables (La Cigale et la Fourmi). However, today, it is still hard to know the origin of fables, while many have tried anyway to offer some hypotheses. La Fontaine was not the first one to tell fables, he collected them in the tradition that surrounded him. When he published his fables in 1668, the immigrants, those who became the Louisianans-Acadians, had already left France. In fact, it is highly probable that they already brought these stories with them. This offers an explanation for the variants found in the original version of La Fontaine. The filiation is, without much doubt, to be found in the popular oral tradition. The association between the animals from La Fontaine is incontestable, but this association is not limited to the animals from La Fontaine, as we find animals from Africa which Louisiana tales combine. The combinations are partial because the Louisiana storytellers have adapted them to a regional context. As previously discussed, the characters in the tales are individualized, but the fables are not. The Grasshopper will play the accordion while Fourmi will work which goes directly with the idea that ants are hardworking insects. The contextualization is an important concept in the cultural appropriation of a tale. Even if we find characters from other cultures, the current version will adapt them.
In conclusion, animal tales are present in many societies. There is a strong presence of French and African influences in Louisiana literary tradition. The similarities of the stories and the use of the name of Bouki confirm these connections. As time move forward, the influence of French and African traditions became a part of these stories until they became uniquely Louisiana animal tales. One facet of the Louisiana animal tales that is particularly interesting is the focus of stories involving Bouki and Lapin. The storyteller in these stories also plays an important role. In fact, one could argue that the storyteller could very well tell a sequence in which Lapin gets tricked by Bouki, as a form of revenge and justice for all the trouble Lapin placed Bouki in the past. The people of Louisiana found these characters appealing because they spoke to them, and the tellers transformed them to respond to the need of the population, of what they wanted to hear, as many of them were illiterate. Compared to Renard, where he is often an ill-intended, evil creature), Lapin is just the funny guy who wants to have fun without really hurting anyone. These characters are significant because it is through them that cultural identity can be expressed. It is the selection and the recurrence of the characters that indicates a crystallization of cultural components. Finally, because the concept of contextualization is important, Bouki and Lapin, make people laugh, which reflects their Louisiana background and contributes to dimension of the Cajun-creole spirit and humor. 59ce067264