COMPÈRE LAPIN TALES

By Jacintha Lee

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BOOK REVIEW - By Clau­dia Elei­box

Any­one who grew up in Saint Lu­cia would prob­a­bly have heard about the Com­pére Lapin sto­ries - whether from the older folk or from oral tra­di­tions, at a nine-night wake or at least from your pri­mary school reader. Ac­cord­ing to the in­tro­duc­tion to Compère Lapin, sto­ry­telling - which was one of the main forms of en­ter­tain­ment - is sadly no longer prac­tised in Saint Lu­cia. This small col­lec­tion of folk tales is a re­sult of Jacintha Lee’s pas­sion­ate re­search and ef­forts to keep the sto­ries alive.

Most Compère Lapin sto­ries are de­signed to teach a par­tic­u­lar moral or to ex­plain some of na­ture’s mys­ter­ies. The main char­ac­ters are Compère Lapin and Compère Ti­gre who are some­times best friends and some­times arch en­e­mies, and their wives Madame Lapin and Madame Ti­gre.

Compère Lapin is a cun­ning rab­bit who uses his wits to out­smart the an­i­mals in the land. Most times it’s not for any­body’s bet­ter­ment but for his per­sonal plea­sure or for him to trick Compère Ti­gre out of eat­ing his din­ner. Some­times he is out­smarted too, espe­cially when he is up to mis­chief, like build­ing an oven to cook the vil­lage’s an­i­mals or a school to trap all their chil­dren.

In this book there are ac­counts of how tigers came to live in forests and why rab­bits have such short tails. In a story where Compère Lapin asks for the bless­ing of more sense, he learns to not ques­tion God’s creations. In one tale that I par­tic­u­larly liked he tricks all the an­i­mals into dig­ging him pota­toes! It was bril­liantly planned and I never saw it com­ing. I’m pretty sure I would have fallen for it too!

This col­lec­tion fol­lows as closely as pos­si­ble the orig­i­nal sto­ries and caters to both the young and old. Jacintha Lee’s re­counts are sim­ple and cen­sored enough for young read­ers. There are il­lus­tra­tions on ev­ery page done by Ted San­di­ford, mak­ing it even more fun. The tales are also writ­ten sharply enough for adults to be en­ter­tained, bring­ing back me­mories and call­ing for the pop­u­lar, tra­di­tional di­a­logue: “E di queek!” “Quack.”

This is Jacintha Lee’s earnest con­tri­bu­tion to keep­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture alive in Saint Lu­cia and, after meet­ing her and read­ing her book, I be­lieve it is some­thing very dear to her heart.

Jacintha Lee en­joy­ing tea and con­ver­sa­tion with Com­pere Lapin.

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