"The Path is Open": The Herskovitz Legacy. In African Narrative Analysis And Beyond.
Olabiyi Babalola, Joseph Yaï
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An unresolved tragedy is inherent in the task of translation. The translator knows that translation is at once impossible and necessary. That tragedy attains heroic proportions with anthropologists insofar as they are translators of entire cultures. Thus, anthropologists, at least the most honest and perceptive among them, are tragic heroes. This proposition became crystallized in my mind as an aphorism as I read the last sentence of Melville and Frances Herskovits's lengthy and challenging introduction to their Dahomean Narrative: “As spoken forms, the stories should preferably be read aloud.” It is not by chance that this sentence concludes 122 pages of substantial analytical discourse in cultural anthropology. I see it as an impassioned call upon readers to displace themselves, as an invitation to leave their own world and inhabit the Fon cultural world. We are invited to read aloud, in English, Fon texts of various genres that were supposed to have been performed orally, then translated into French by Dahomean interpreters, and finally translated into English by the anthropologist authors. Only a hero indeed could cross so many borders.