The President of Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS), Bukar Usman, recently got a surprise visit from two Chinese PhD students, Mr. Chen Jialei and Ms. Wang Yubo, from Zhenjiang Normal University (ZJNU), China, who were in Nigeria to research on “Philosophical Thought and the Contemporary Development of Nigeria” and “The Inheritance and Development of Nigerian Folklore”, respectively.
The President of the Nigerian Folklore Society recalled that, when he started writing folktales, he realised that the culture or tradition of storytelling, which he experienced as a child, was no longer the case because of modernity
He told the visitors in Abuja, “You find nowadays most of our children are watching foreign films and cultures. They are forgetting our own. They know more of the outside. They don’t know our own. Our old people who used to tell these tales are dying. But when I started to collect tales, first, I wrote about 14 books in Hausa. Then I put all the 14 together, making 15 in Hausa. Then I wrote some in English. They are also available.” Right now, Usman has collected over 3,000 tales from all over Nigeria, which will be published anytime from now.”
Asked how he collected and how he chose the stories, Usman told the researchers, “I sent people to the country- side and gave them guidelines. Some were professors in the university. They sent their students to collect some of these tales. Some, like my staff, you will meet them in my house here. I commissioned them to go and organise the tales collection. They got people to do so.
“Some submitted about 50, while some submitted 100 tales; they wrote them down, whether in Hausa or in another language, like Fulfulde, which is Fulani or Tera; then they translated them into English. So, any of the stories, which we felt should be produced, we made them into a book. But the 3,000 which we collected all of them will be published in two volumes because of the quantity, almost over 1,000 pages per volume. They will be published early next year.”
The role played by old people as a major source of the stories cannot be underestimated. Said the cerebral
folklorist, “Old people have very good brains. They will remember. If you go and sit with your grandmother, you will be surprised. I heard there was a time that, it is not always that strong people will win, even a tortoise will out run you. The stories are varied to teach children not to be foolish, not to steal, not to disobey people, but to be kind, to be brave. All these stories were there before formal schools started. It is our mothers who are the first school.”
On the role of folk stories in traditional education, Usman recalled that, before the advent of western education, they were the first form of education. “We had no electricity; we had moonlight. When our parents came back from the farm in the evening, there was nothing else but storytelling. That was the time for lessons for children. Our grandmothers would sit outside and tell us this story and that story. The following day, it was repeated again and again, so every one of us looked forward to the evening, because it was time for lessons.”
But, these days, parents go to work early in the morning, and by the time, they have returned from work, the children have slept. He illustrated with his six-year old daughter, Zara, “She is busy watching Tom and Jerry and other cartoons. I have no time to tell her folk stories. That is why I am producing these books so that she can read.
“If I cannot tell her, she should be able to read. That is why we are producing these books so that people who cannot have the time to talk to their children, the children will read the tales in books.
“Our challenge now is to see that some of these tales we collected are utilised to produce cartoons and animations instead of tales of foreign countries. We hope the animators and cartoonists will use them to produce for people and for our children who when they say hyena they know, not like reindeer or something else which they never see.
“But, if they talk of a rat or monkey or something they are familiar. We want to see films being produced using
these tales. But we don’t have the technology in Nigeria now. But they are trying to do it. People are acquiring the knowledge. Recently, Japanese and French Embassies in Abuja mounted a joint exhibition of films which were
made from local stories.”
With more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria with different folk stories, the researchers wanted to know how our folk stories could be turned into nation building, to which Usman responded, “If we exchange, like what we have done now, is to collect tales, not only from the northwest, from northeast, south-south, southeast, north central but also from southwest, these will be put together. So, people will read and know the stories of other people.
“If they would see that this thing which we are teaching, other people too are doing the same, they can understand one another better. We share the culture, the tradition and everything of the people.”
Balancing tradition with the modern society is no lon- ger a big challenge. Said Usman, “What we are trying to do is to use modernity to help preserve or promote the tra- dition. Because computer has made things easy, ICT has made things easy. You can preserve this in books. You use the modern tools to preserve the tradition, because, before you don’t have where you preserve –everything was in somebody’s head. But, now, you can preserve that.”