No thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the world has been on indefinite holidays. Economically and socially, it has been a string of losses as humanity comes to terms with an unusual global threat and the need to stay at home and maintain social distancing.
Nigeria isn’t an exception. On Monday, March 30, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari announced an initial lockdown of two weeks in Lagos and Ogun states and the FCT, Abuja, before he extended it for another two weeks on Monday, April 13. Other states in the country adopted the same proactive measure to curb the spread.
Before then, schools nationwide had been shut down to limit the possibility of students contracting the deadly virus. But as cases keep rising nationwide, it seems the lockdown might still linger in the weeks to come.
Expectedly, the ongoing quarantine period has given rise to echoes of boredom by many Nigerians, especially children. Sometimes there is no electricity to power computer games, televisions or interesting phone apps for children. Sometimes monotony sets in from doing the same home routine over and over.
Sadly, folktales have been relegated to the background at many homes. In the olden days, it was a child’s first informal education. Morals embedded in tales by moonlight made children easily draw a line between good and bad, while also learning virtues that they would take into adulthood.
This isolation window in the country, however, presents the best opportunity to regale children with African folktales. One of the major proponents of folklore restoration in Nigeria is Dr. Bukar Usman, the President of Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS).
Echoing the relevance of folktales across generations, in his book, Folklore and History: The Twin Rivers of World Heritage, he says: “On the vast continent of Africa and other continents, folktales and myths served as a means of handing down traditions and customs from one generation to the next. In Africa, especially the storytelling tradition that was used to prepare young people for life has continued to thrive over the ages.
“Just as the oral tradition was dying against the advent of other forms of communication, the intervention of the printing press, fortunately, facilitated their production in a written form and their preservation and circulation on a wider scale” (p.8).
Interestingly, characters in folktales are imbued with diverse qualities. While some exhibit wisdom, cleverness, bravery, strength and nobility, others manifest characters of cruelty, foolishness, selfishness, cunning and sluggishness.
According to Usman, “The clash of the contradictory qualities of the characters in folktale is geared towards moulding the character of the child during his or her early education in the informal setting” (p.22).
In recent books — A Selection of Nigerian Folktales: Themes and Setting, People, Animals, Spirits and Objects, and Gods and Ancestors — published in 2018, and edited by the scholar, we have a reservoir of Nigerian folktales, myths and legends which today’s parents and guardians should leverage on to keep our cultural heritage embedded in the consciousness of their children and wards now that they have the time to tell the tales.