How to Read a Folktale: The 'Ibonia' Epic from Madagascar - cover image

Book Series


Lee Haring

Published On





  • English

Print Length

163 pages (x + 153)


Paperback156 x 9 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.35" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 11 x 234 mm(6.14" x 0.44" x 9.21")


Paperback530g (18.70oz)
Hardback905g (31.92oz)



OCLC Number





  • JFHF
  • JHMC
  • DC


  • SOC002010
  • SOC011000


  • GR357


  • Ibonia
  • Madagascar
  • folktale
  • Malagasy people
  • anthropology
  • folklore
  • literary criticism
  • World Oral Literature Projec

How to Read a Folktale

The 'Ibonia' Epic from Madagascar

How to Read a Folktale offers the first English translation of Ibonia, a spellbinding tale of old Madagascar. Ibonia is a folktale on epic scale. Much of its plot sounds familiar: a powerful royal hero attempts to rescue his betrothed from an evil adversary and, after a series of tests and duels, he and his lover are joyfully united with a marriage that affirms the royal lineage. These fairytale elements link Ibonia with European folktales, but the tale is still very much a product of Madagascar. It contains African-style praise poetry for the hero; it presents Indonesian-style riddles and poems; and it inflates the form of folktale into epic proportions. Recorded when the Malagasy people were experiencing European contact for the first time, Ibonia proclaims the power of the ancestors against the foreigner. Through Ibonia, Lee Haring expertly helps readers to understand the very nature of folktales. His definitive translation, originally published in 1994, has now been fully revised to emphasize its poetic qualities, while his new introduction and detailed notes give insight into the fascinating imagination and symbols of the Malagasy. Haring’s research connects this exotic narrative with fundamental questions not only of anthropology but also of literary criticism.


Haring's work is important for its preservation of some fascinating textual versions of verbal arts, for his contextual and analytical commentary, and for newer and broader approaches than the ones that characterized the earlier volume. It is a fine addition to the scholarship, in several European languages, of this epic hero and his socio-cultural and political roots.

Robert Cancel

University of California, San Diego


The exact text of the story, its place in society and its literary context which are given in Haring’s book are a sure first steppingstone to further research. [...] The scholarly community is grateful to Haring for this present!

Heda Jason

Fabula (0014-6242), vol. 56, no. 3/4, 2015. doi:10.1515/fabula-2015-3-407

Full Review

Additional Resources

The original versions of many of the texts translated in this volume are available below.

[website]Text 0

Flacourt, Étienne de, Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar (Paris: Gervais Clouzier, 1661) 62-63.

[document]Text 1

Dahle, Lars, Specimens of Malagasy Folk-Lore (Antananarivo: A. Kingdon, 1877) 108-155.

[document]Text 2

Dahle, Lars, Specimens of Malagasy Folk-Lore (Antananarivo: A. Kingdon, 1877) 154-163.

[document]Text 6

Renel, Charles, Contes de Madagascar (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1910) 1:168-74.

[document]Text 7

Renel, Charles, Contes de Madagascar (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1910) 2:32-34.

[document]Text 9

Renel, Charles, Contes de Madagascar (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1910) 1:196-200.


Lee Haring

Professor Emeritus of English at City University of New York