As old as the moon
Cuban legends: folklore of the Antillas
|As old as the moon|
This book is offered without apologies. What is sometimes said of the presumption of adding to the number of published works and of inviting a public, already surfeited with every sort of literature, to read something more, does not seem to be reasonable in view of the fact that there is a constant demand for something new to read, something newly published, if not new in thought.
Therefore, in offering something to read each author, however, humble his work, can claim to be serving the public, if what is offered is at all new. In the stories that make up this volume, I have the honour to present something new in that they have never before been set forth in collected form. The myths of the Antillas and Lucayas are to be found only in fragmentary hints of casual allusions running through overlying narratives of the conquerors' adventurers.
Only when a search for them is made persistently does a sentence here, a phrase there, the baldest statement somewhere — the only "brief mention" in the otherwise wordy accounts given by the early Spanish writers — reveal even the germ of a legend. These fragments I have had to piece together bit by bit, feeling for what was unsaid to complete what was given for a consistent whole. Since these myths have not before been separated from historic chronicles or supplied with a key to their probable origin and order, they have had no attention and no individual place. It is in giving them such a place now that this book may claim to be new.
The stories are as nuggets that still have much ore clinging to them but should be placed in settings for safeguarding. The settings, and what- ever burnishing they may have acquired Foreword xi in handling, have been made to suit as nearly with the eras to which the tales belong as is consistent with offering them to present-day tastes.
Those stories that are of provable historic foundation, have been made to follow known conditions. The whole collection will, I hope, be considered with something of that sympathy for the subject that has gone to its preparation. It is because the most important island of the Antillas has become one of the countries to reckon with individually, that attention to Cuba should include not only knowledge of her commercial significance, but of her origin and mental growth.
The early legends of a people are admitted to be a keynote to a comprehension of their development, consequently of their character. No one disputes the fact that trade is the means, as it is the necessity, of bringing people together, or that the exchange of business relations naturally compels inter-course between different nations, but per- haps few realize that commercial motives for intercourse between governments can be aided by understanding the national characteristics of the associates, or that the simple tales of the beginnings of a people's literature will assist that under-standing materially.
The fast-changing conditions in the islands of the West Indies cause the ethnologist and historian and should cause the financial investor also, to feel that no time is to be lost in gathering and preserving everything that will forward an understanding of the people of those islands and their developments up to the era when a statistical report may take the place, authoritatively, of less definite but perhaps quite as real information.
For, as the near future places these regions among the more advanced lands, the spirit of commercial competition will dim the traces of the earlier life and the world will lose the link that could unite, consistently, the unprovable statements regarding the ancient existence with the more definite history of their modern condition, unless that link can be secured before it is too late. If not, the people will be more incomprehensible than they might have been; dealing with them will be more difficult than it need have been, and literature will not gain as it would have gained, that which is truly American in primitive thought.
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