8 February 2013

Nigeria: What Happened to Folktales in Our Homes?


Telling folktales used to be a very important activity in the home. The practice started long before the advent of formal education, electricity, radio or television and computers, in this country. Most families sit together to tell folktales to children or both the young or old alike in the household or within the community, particularly after they have returned from work and eaten their evening meals. But telling folk tales which was hitherto passed from one generation to the other seems to have disappeared from many homes.

These days there are both few tellers of folktales and listeners to folktales. Many parents The Home front interviewed either said they used to tell folk tales in the past, or have never told their children folktales. Most children born within the last decade interviewed said they have never been told any folktales in their homes. A few said the only opportunity they ever had knowing about our own indigenous folktales is when they read a book or their teacher read to them in school.

The weird aspect of this, is that many children who cannot tell you a single folktale from their communities of origin not to talk of the whole country can regale you with their knowledge of foreign folktales, myths and legends. They know a lot about Cinderella, Snow white, Robin Hood, King Arthur and his knights , Cleopatra ,Hercules and Greek gods, just to mention a few . How do you reconcile a nursery school child narrating animal tales on the possum and kangaroo and nothing at all about common ones here? Not even the tortoise! .

While it is very good for children to know stories from other African countries and other continents of the world or far away lands, especially now that the world is a global village, it is out of place for them to have a very poor grasp or none at all about ours.

The story is no different even in villages. The practice is rapidly dying there too. Cable television or the acquisition of satellite dishes used to be the exclusive preserve of people in the cities but these days even people in remote villages make it a priority to own one so both the young and old spend all their time watching programmes on them and have no time to tell stories.

According to Mr Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, an Artiste and Culture Advocate, "Storytelling or folk-tales sharing between parents and children or wards may have inevitably become nearly extinct in certain urban settings given the quick pace of living, daily economic struggles and the peculiar stress of living in the cities. The work tradition in such settings is such that parents do not even make it home before the children go to bed. The Nannies and Carers are often the authentic parents -- in that they are usually the constant faces the children or wards see in their wakeful moments. Most parents only see their children and wards on Sundays when they bond to go to church or have their weekly outing.

"Also, we cannot ignore the fact that the television, video games, computer and the blackberry culture have since taken over a huge chunk of parenting and bonding among the family."

He said, "From reports garnered from a 2010 research by my organisation, the Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, I am persuaded to believe that in certain semi-urban and rural settings, this practice may still be in existence. We have had testimonies by some pupils from downtown parts (suburbs) of Lagos, for instance, that they still enjoy such 'luxury,' except that the format has changed drastically. It is no longer the tales-by-moonlight sort of setting but some families still get by such value-adding activities. And of course the content of folk-narratives have changed too, which is inescapable in any society undergoing socio-economic, political and cultural transformation."

Commenting on the issue Mr Bolaji Ojo, a parent and retired civil servant said, "Many parents are really busy these days .So they don't have time to tell their children our indigenous folktales. They just ensured their children watch cartoons, movies and television and these are mostly foreign ones. Some of them are even violent movies and have negative impact on the children. There are also few cartoons or movies on African or Nigerian folktales. More so, many parents don't just value our own stories anymore. They prefer foreign ones. They see no need to tell their children stories they grew up with even when they have the time."

Most of our indigenous folktales always have important messages for the listeners especially children. Telling folktales orally to children or everyone in the home helps in teaching and preserving our cultural heritage. It teaches children morals and wisdom and offers opportunity for relaxation and fun particularly the ones tinged with humor. Many of them even though fictitious or imaginative, and sometimes about animals always teach one or more lessons. They teach lessons on greed, stealing, arrogance, dirtiness , wickedness and kindness, death, the other world or world of spirits among others, as they are passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the other thus grooming better individuals for the society.

Anikulapo who is also a communicator said, "Education of the child does not end with the encounters they have in school. The home should be where the children or wards receive socio-cultural education, learn about the norms and cultural conducts in the society they are born into. Story telling and folk

tales, spotlighting indigenous ideas and practices remain potent sources of inculcating social etiquettes, norms and cultural education in the young ones. The formal school hardly have time for such."

Folktales can still be told today along with the paraphernalia of the modern world. Parents should endeavor to create time to tell their children stories and folktales, it should complement their watching television, movies and browsing the internet.

Parents should not just read foreign bedtime stories on dragons, witches and trolls, to their children but complement it with books on our indigenous folk tales. Those who cannot tell stories off hand can buy books on our folktales and read to their children. Children should also be encouraged to watch television shows based on our folktales.

Writers and publishers should produce more books on our collection of folktales and legends. There is need for movie producers, national and private broadcast stations to air more programmes like the "Tales by Moonlight" we grew up with. They can take their cue from countries in other continents who hold dear their legends and folklores and have continued to tell them over the years in soap operas and movies, even if with different telling and adaptations by each producers or company.

Telling folk tales can also help us regenerate the use of our proverbs. We need to learn our indigenous proverbs, idioms and figurative speeches. There is a serious dearth in their use amongst children and adults today. The aged, parents, and both private and government organizations should help out in this. I attended a function recently and none of us in our group could say even one proverb from our different tribes; even those who knew a few forgot them completely because there hasn't been regular usage. We all started browsing Google for the proverbs. Each tribe or nation has its own rich culture and is required to preserve them.

Anikulapo advises thus, "it is of course important that children are exposed to the histories and ways of their fathers and ancestors as a way of building their character and personality. It is even more significant in the era of globalisation where the question of identity has become a high-networth factor in determining the personal and national positioning in contemporary humanity discourse."

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