The Tiger's Whisker Critical Context - Essay

Harold Courlander

Critical Context

Although Harold Courlander has published far more on African, African American, and related oral traditions and noticeably more on the Hopi of the American Southwest than on Asian oral traditions, he was based in Bombay, India, with the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, and is conversant especially with Indonesian folk tradition. His acquaintance with Arabic tradition is complemented by his knowledge of Somalia, Ethiopia, Mali, and the Hausa peoples, where Arabic and specifically Islamic influence is significant.

This compilation is one of comparatively few English-language collections of Eastern folk tradition, one of which is Courlander’s own Kantchil’s Lime Pit and Other Stories from Indonesia, published in 1950. The Tiger’s Whisker and Other Tales and Legends from Asia and the Pacific lies approximately in the middle of his most active publishing career of forty-six years (from 1936 to 1982). Like other of his collections, it enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990’s, being republished by Henry Holt in 1996.

For those interested in the folklore and legends of Asia, this collection offers an eclectic introduction to a wide variety of lands. As a basic element of ethnic tradition, folklore is also the beginning of understanding different cultures, both their similarities to others and their unique characteristics.