Compared to the other major Nigerian languages —Hausa and Yoruba — literature in Igbo language hasn’t gained the popularity it deserves since Pita Nwanna blazed the trail with his classic, Omenuko. Today, many Igbo speakers barely read works written in Igbo language once out of school for lack of such materials or their promotion by the authors and publishers to attract readership.
Enters Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo by George Chijioke Amadi, a collection of Igbo folktales drawn from different parts of Southeast, thanks to the sponsorship of the Bukar Usman Foundation. Featuring 317 stories, this book has achieved what no previous collections of Igbo folktales have achieved in terms of diversity and volume.
Some of the stories in Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo explain certain mysteries about our existence and interpersonal relations in the days of yore. There are animal versus animal stories, animal versus man stories, animal versus spirit tales, and what have you — each laced with didacticism. The lesson drawn from each story is explained briefly at the end of the story by Amadi. Guiles, humility, redemption, comeuppance for evil, reward for good, etcetera, resonate in the tales.
The 317 stories in the collection are structured in seven parts. From the ultimate prankster, the Tortoise, to the vagrant extraordinaire, the Elephant, and the King of the Jungle, the Lion, we have some of the most exciting dramatis personae in the animal kingdom whose antics make us laugh, cry or reminisce about ourselves and living in today’s unpredictable world.
Take for instance the story, “Tortoise and Pig”. The former borrowed some money from the latter, promising to repay the debt on an agreed date. The Tortoise reneged to pay, and, in anger, the Pig threw away his wife’s precious grinding stone. The Tortoise went to report the matter to the King, claiming that the stone thrown away by the Pig contained the money he wanted to give his buddy. The Pig had to embark on a futile search for the missing stone. Till date, he hasn’t found it. That explains why the Pig has kept nosing around for objects everywhere. The lesson here, the author tells us, is that it is not the same humility used in borrowing money that is used in repaying it.
What about the contest between the cunning animal with a carapace, the Tortoise, and man’s best friend, the Dog, in the story, “Tortoise and Dog” (p. 37). Here, the King had a beautiful daughter that the Tortoise and the Pig were interested in marrying. For he didn’t wish to be accused of partisanship, he set a date for the two parties to run a race, of which the winner would marry the Princess.
To the Dog, it was a walkover. He even bragged about it. In response, Tortoise told anybody who cared to listen he had a chance, so he hit on a plan by stuffing a bag full of cow bones, a night before the race, and dropped the bones at different points where the race would take place.
As the race began, the Dog breezed past the Tortoise, but he stopped on his track when he spotted bones here and there, and began to crack them for food, making the crawling Tortoise to overtake him and win the race. The King had no option than to hand over the Princess to the victorious Tortoise. Pride goes before a fall: it is self evident in the story.
From the word go, folktales have served as a child’s first informal education. It’s hard to find a tale in Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo that doesn’t impact on the morality of the reader. “Nkemjika and the Spirit” is one of the man versus spirit folktales in Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo. Nkemjika was a well-behaved child, but a moment of disobedience came with grave consequences. He defied his mother’s advice not to go to the bush to fetch firewood alone only to encounter a spirit who transformed him to their disgusting breed. It took the intervention of his mother before the spirit could reverse the spell. The lesson here, says Amadi, borders on the need to take wise counsels.
However, anybody accustomed to reading Igbo literature in the fancied Igbo Izugbe orthography will raise an eyebrow on the author’s preference for Onitsha dialect. But that doesn’t detract from the merits of Amadi’s well-researched Igbo folktales. The author and the sponsor of the publication deserve our accolades for resuscitating writing in Igbo language.