Book review • Book review ~ Compère Lapin Tales By Jacintha Lee

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, story-telling – 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.

 Jacintha Lee enjoying tea and conversation with Compere Lapin.

Jacintha Lee enjoying tea and conversation with Compere Lapin.

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.

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