When asked about this story, Gaiman has said that he did some research on African oral tradition, and then went out and made this story up from beginning to end. The Gaiman statement is from an interview which appeared in the Comics Buyer's Guide, a trade journal. To me, the story sounds absolutely authentic as an example of oral tradition. Little seems to make it essentially "African", however, except the clothes, hair, and skin color. I see here two of Gaiman's best traits as a writer: primarily, storytelling ability (and I mean storytelling as an art, not technical skill); secondarily, the ability to sound right even when he's making it all up. One correspondent has noted a great deal of similarity to Australian Western Desert Aborigine tradition. In particular, the manhood ritual and the sacred sites are quite close. However, the story, from context, is quite clearly meant to be African; for example, page 1 refers to apes and lions, page 14 panel 1 to gazelles, and so forth.
The Trickster is a cross-cultural archetype, most familiar to modern audiences in the form of Bugs Bunny.
It is impossible for a tale to only be told once as described in this issue, because attrition would eventually cause it to be lost, as people died before they could tell it. However, twin births are common among Africans, and it is likely that the tale is told to both twins at the same time, which would help alleviate losses. I suspect that the tribe is willing to forego custom and have a storyteller repeat the story if no other appropriate teller is available. But none of this really has any relation to the story.
Circumcision as a rite of passage is common in many societies.
The piece of glass is heart-shaped; the significance of this will be indicated in the opening of the next issue.
Grandmother Death: This is the same Death we saw in issue 8.
Throughout the telling of the story, the top 2/3 of the page shows the story and the bottom 1/3 of the page shows the teller and the listener.
We saw Nada in Hell in issue #4. We will see her again in later issues.
The King of Birds appears to be either an all white ostrich, or perhaps some sort of moa (moas being a now extinct line of giant flightless birds of approximately that bodyshape).
This has the flavor of one of Kipling's Just-So stories, although it is a lot more general.
These are Cain and Abel (see #2 of this series); the dispute is approximately the same as is given in Genesis.
Kai'ckul is what Nada called Dream in issue 4.
First reference to Dream and his siblings as the Endless, who are not gods (but who have occasionally been worshipped as gods; Dream is L'Zoril to the Martians, "a very old god", and Oneiros, the god of dreams, to the Greeks).
The threefold repetition of a word like "coughed" is a common motif in oral tradition. It provides rhythm and reinforcement.
It is not clear why mortals cannot love the Endless.
Desire is one of the Endless; this is the first characterization of Desire as "always cruel".
Nada turns into a gazelle and Dream into a hunter. This is not unlike the reality game played by Dream and the demon Choronzon in issue #4.
Virginity is often a requirement of a bride.
More Just-So stylings, although most myths would have specifically named the flowers. Flowers spring from spilled blood in several stories from Greek mythology, most notably the myth of Adonis, a beautiful youth beloved of Aphrodite. He was killed in a boar hunt, and anemones sprang from the drops of his blood. This particular myth was probably adopted by the Greeks from nearby Syria, where maidens mourned each year for the death of the fertility god, whose blood brought forth anemones or violets. Edith Hamilton's Mythology says these stories are probably remnants of primitive rituals where the blood of human sacrifices was used as a fertility charm.
Dream does not care about virginity; this sounds to me too much like a 20th century character speaking.
So what could be the differences in the women's story?
Greg Morrow wrote the first version of the Annotations. William Sherman and Mike Fessler commented on the traditional nature of this story. Michael A. Stoodt, and others, confirmed the contents of The Doll's House. Chris Siebenmann thinks that Dream came off pretty well in this story, but in the women's story is portrayed as a real bastard. Greg Morrow was under the impression that Dream was a bastard in the men's story. David Hawkins noticed the similarity between Dream hunting Nada and the reality game. Katie Schwarz commented on the Kipling connections, the flowers springing from blood, and a few other things.