Western Folklore

Vol. 75 No. 3/4 – Summer/Fall, 2016

A Festschrift for Roger Abrahams


Dan Ben-Amos

In a casual conversation during the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Long Beach, California, Charles Briggs invited me to attend the 75th Annual Meeting of the Western States Folklore Society in April 2016. “This will be a celebratory meeting, the 75th one,” he said. “I don’t have in the work a paper that will measure up for such an occasion,” I answered. He replied, “Why don’t you organize a panel in honor of Roger, our new resident of California?” This was an idea I could not turn down. As soon as word about the plan to hold it got around, and I began to recruit panelists for the session, I had more potential participants than a single, even two panels, could accommodate. Such a response was hardly a surprise. Roger Abrahams is a prominent member of the American Folklore Society. He is a Fellow (since 1970), a past President (1978-1979), and a recipient of the Centennial Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement (1989). In addition, he is recognized nationally and internationally for his scholarly achievements, teaching, and service to humanistic and social scientific scholarship. Upon further inquiry, I learned that the 75th Annual Meeting of the Western States Folklore Society would coincide with the 55th anniversary of Roger Abraham’s submission of his dissertation “Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia,” which he submitted to the University of Pennsylvania in 1961.
Since then, Roger’s scholarship has proliferated in many directions. The present essays deal with only a few of them. Don Brenneis lectured at the meeting, but unexpected hurdles prevented him from preparing his presentation for publication. John Szwed confronted a reverse situation. Because of a scheduling conflict he could not attend the meeting in California, but fortunately was able to submit an article for publication. Tok Thompson invited us to submit the essays for this issue of Western Folklore, a festschrift symbolic of our friendship with Roger Abrahams and admiration for his scholarship by folklorists worldwide.

Roger Abrahams, Creolization, Folklore Theory
Lee Haring

ABSTRACT: Among his other innovations, Roger Abrahams has helped develop the concept of creolization, starting from research in the Caribbean. Creolization does not mean just any sort of cultural change; it requires social subordination as an essential part of the context for creativity. Its applicability shows in folktales from the island of Mayotte. Despite recent attempts to limit the concept, creolization offers contributions to folklore theory. KEYWORDS: Folklore theory, creolization, Mayotte

“The Play’s the Thing”: The Impact of Roger Abrahams’ Folk Drama Scholarship
Thomas A. Green

ABSTRACT: In the second half of the 20th century Roger Abrahams challenged the assumptions that folk plays devolved from an ur-ritual based in an agrarian cyclical year. Turning attention from texts to context, he contributed to the performance-centered approach, illuminated interrelationships among the representational genres of festival, added communications theory to the folklorist’s tool kit, and called for the redefinition of the term “folk.” KEYWORDS: folk drama, performance, British West Indies, creolization, history of folkloristics

Landship, Citizenship, Entrepreneurship and the Ship of State in Barbados: Developing a Heritage Consciousness in a Postcolonial State
Philip W. Scher

ABSTRACT: This essay explores the politics of the heritage industry in Barbados and the ongoing role heritage practices play in the lives of community members. I examine the Barbadian tradition called Landship to highlight tensions between vernacular forms targeted as key elements in state sponsored tourism development strategies and the role such forms continue to play in the lives of community members. I conclude that the ongoing commercial and ideological potential of traditional practices that attracts state involvement may provide unintended yet uneven benefits to the community itself. KEYWORDS: heritage, neoliberalism, Barbados, performance, Caribbean

Roger Runs Amok: the Mule and the Folk
Dorothy Noyes

ABSTRACT: Within the thickly populated scholarship of Roger D. Abrahams, no animal lifts its head more frequently than the mule. This paper traces the corporeal and discursive migrations of this useful but troublesome animal from the Mediterranean to the Americas and back again, emphasizing Catalonia and the American South. Following Abrahams’ conception of “deep stereotyping,” itself drawn from African American accounts of personhood and its denial, I identify the mule as a figure of the folk in the modern nation-state: hybrid, uncanny, imperfectly domesticated, conscripted into forced labor, and ultimately abandoned to run feral: the folk gone rogue. KEYWORDS: Roger D. Abrahams, animals in folklore, domestication, African-American folk narrative, Catalonia, mule, stereotyping, concepts of the folk, personhood, festival bestiary

Snow White and the Trickster: Race and Genre in Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird
Kimberly J. Lau

ABSTRACT: This article considers Helen Oyeyemi’s novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, as a critical integration of European fairy tale and African folk-tale. Reimagining “Snow White” as a story about race and history in midcentury America, the novel unsettles the fairy tale’s color symbolism and its relation to “fairness,” insisting instead on whiteness as racialized and determined by shifting lines of sight structured by histories of slavery, violence, segregation, blood, and passing. Structurally, the novel’s use of African folktale forms exposes the racial assumptions underpinning the “Snow White” tradition while also contesting the cultural hegemony of the European fairy tale more generally. KEYWORDS: Oyeyemi, Snow White, European fairy tale, African folktale, race

“The Dynamic Qualities of Proverbs in Performance”: Roger Abrahams’ Pioneering Contributions to Paremiology
Wolfgang Mieder

ABSTRACT: Proverbs are part of Roger Abrahams’ rhetorical theory of folklore in general and particularly of his theoretical work on conversational genres or so-called “simple forms.” He deals with the strategy of proverb use in actual verbal contexts, he explains the sociolinguistic use of proverbs as signs among various population groups, he investigates the intertextuality of proverbs in literature and art, he explains the difference among proverbs, riddles, and superstitions, and he is well aware that while traditional proverbs survive in their original wording or in adaptations in the modern world, new proverbs are also being created to express different ideas and attitudes. KEYWORDS: Roger Abrahams, context, definition, intertextuality, proverb, rhetoric, sign, simple forms, strategy.

Working with Roger: a Memoir
John Szwed

ABSTRACT: This memoir of Roger Abrahams is an account of his research, writing, and public activism on African American folk culture and language that he undertook with John Szwed during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s through the 1980s, and their return to the same issues with their focus on New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. KEYWORDS: Civil Rights Movement, slave culture, Hurricane Katrina, urban ethnography, creole

A Portrait of a Folklorist as a Young Man: A Chapter in the Urban Biography of Roger D. Abrahams
Dan Ben-Amos

ABSTRACT: As a young man, the multitalented Roger Abrahams faced several choices that were available to him during the mid-fifties and early sixties of the twentieth century. His own will, mentors, and sheer accidents, put him on the path to a very productive and multifaceted academic scholarship. KEYWORDS: history of folklore, folksong revival, African-American folklore

Roger David Abrahams: A Bibliography
Editor: Dan Ben-Amos

Note: Several of Roger Abrahams’ articles, reviews, and notes that appeared mostly in local magazines, the bibliographical details of which could not have been confirmed, even in our digital age, are missing from this bibliography.