Title: Simi Visits Grandma: Folk Tales From Jalingo
Author: Femi Osewa
Publisher: Heart of Words (UK), 2019
Reviewer: Jimi David
Remember Tales By Moonlight, the popular kiddies programme on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Network, which ran from the 1980s through the ‘90s?
Anchored by the matronly lady, Nkem, the programme, which featured mostly children in nursery and primary schools, was an attempt to rekindle and popualrise the art of storytelling under the moonlight, in a typical Nigerian village setting. This was an art adopted by our forefathers and mothers not only to entertain and educate but also to inculcate morals in the young ones right from the cradle. And that was before the advent of the magic box, television, which changed the way we live, relax and entertain.
Today, with the assault of social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, the family story telling culture is practically dead. Ask the average teenager in Nigeria to tell you a folk tale featuring Ijapa (tortoise), the cunning one, he or she would simply draw blank. This is sad and unfortunate. Today’s social media generation neither gives a damn about Ijapa and his antics nor could they recount any of the folktales told after him. Therefore, it is probably an attempt to rekindle interest in the art of reading and telling folk stories with moral fibre that prompted the birth of the book, Simi Visits Grandma: Folk Tales From Jalingo authored by ace writer, Femi Osewa.
Published in the UK in 2019, the book comes in two parts. Part one opens with the story of The Baloguns, a typical Nigerian middle class couple living in the city with their only daughter, Simi, whose name headlines the book. This part focuses on the way the couple relate both within the precinct of their home and outside. And also, in spite of the fact that both husband and wife hail from different parts of Nigeria, they are able to manage their home seamlessly – a boost to inter-tribal marriage. This part climaxes when their daughter, Simi goes to spend her vacation with her paternal grandmother. And thus begins in part two the adventure of Ijapa when grandma, Mama Tutu, begins to entertain Simi with Ijapa stories.
Aptly titled The Animal Kingdom and set in a fictitious animal kingdom, Jalingo, the second part is crafted in a story telling format between grandma and her grand daughter. The adventurous folktale is that of courage and bravery mingled with inordinate ambition and sheer stupidity, starring Ijapa, the sly one as the lead character.
Here is the kernel of the Jalingo tale: there is famine in the land and virtually all the animals are about to die of hunger. But fortunately through bravery, raw gut and luck, providence puts Ijapa in a position to rescue the kingdom when he discovers a fresh farm following an encounter with animals living under water. Known for his wily ways, Ijapa decides to seize the opportunity to upstage the king through a palace coup. But he soon meets his waterloo.
There are lots of lessons in the story. One is that victory often goes to the brave and the bold. Two, the spirit of adventure is encouraged. Three, persistence pays. And finally, there is always destruction at the end of the road for the over-ambitious.
Written in simple prose full of idiomatic expressions, Osewa’s style of writing is didactic. His use of words from diverse Nigerian cultures and focus on tourism and hospitality are highly commendable. Some novels are often inundated with typographical errors but not this one. Also worthy of commendation is the reader-friendly typeface employed in the book, while the cover illustration makes it beautiful and attractive. For children in need of moral compass, I recommend Simi Visits Grandma: Folk Tales From Jalingo.