Title: People, Animals, Spirits And Objects
Author: Bukar Usman
Publisher: Klamidas Communications, Abuja
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Morality tales began with oral tradition. They were designed to be heuristic. Before modern man travelled to the sky, animals had journeyed to other planets without turbo engines via folktales. A courageous tortoise had lifted up an elephant and a forsaken orphan had married a celebrated king beyond her class. In folktales, heroes are made overnight, villains do not think twice before unleashing the dragon, and the greedy can’t stop being venal.
The Bukar Usman edited collection, People, Animals, Spirits and Objects: 1000 Folk Stories of Nigeria, has a surfeit of titillating tales to keep you glued to the tome, drawn from every nook and cranny of Nigeria. Welcome to the world of the bizarre and the credulous, riven by tiffs.
For easy identification, the 1000 tales in People, Animals, Spirits and Objects are divided into eight parts by the editor according to character types. Human Tales, in this collection, are stories that contain human characters; while Animal Tales are stories that contain only animals. But when both animal and human characters cross their paths, the editor classifies it as Human-animal tales. The fourth group of stories in this book is Human-spirit Tales, stories containing human beings and spirits as the only characters.
The rest are Human-object Tales, which contain human characters and inanimate characters; Animal-spirit Tales, which contain only animal and spirit characters; Animal-object Tales, which contain only animal and objects with behavioral and vocal attributes; and Multiple-character Tales, which contains a myriad of characters, usually with three or more dissimilar characters.
There is always a bonus in Usman’s books. The editor ushers you into the world of fictional strange bellows in the third book of the Treasury of Nigerian Tales (TNT) series with a chapter on “Social Values and Symbolic Characterisation in Nigerian Folk Narratives”.
Among others, he reminds us of the social relevance of folktales, which remains one of the most enduring qualities of the Nigerian cultural heritage. They are noted for conveying and stabilising social values. The positions of literary scholars, such as Prof. Emmanuel Obiechina, Saradashree Choudhury, to mention a few, are used to buttress the validity of folk narratives.
“The Two Lovers and Jealous” is one out many stories under Human Tales. Never underestimate anybody, no matter the station of life he or she is occupying, and don’t be insatiable with things of the flesh. The antagonist in the aforementioned story fails to be schooled in these moral precepts when he suddenly cut short the joy of a very pretty girl, Vashi, and her handsome Romeo, Lumida, by imprisoning the lover boy in order to bed his heartthrob.
But Vashi isn’t an ordinary girl: she is gifted with spiritual powers. She held back the rain, following the refusal of the king to free her man, and famine struck the entire village for four years. It wasn’t until Lumida was released that she reversed the spell and rain started bucketing down the earth, forcing smiles and laughter on bemused faces.
Animal Tales are full of cunning creatures on fours, always plotting to outdo rivals and leaving a trail of fatalities. In “The Monitor Lizard, the Rat and the Squirrel”, the squirrel got the better of the rat when the monitor lizards feigned dead in order to apprehend any trespasser out to steal from its stock of food. Duels are a given in the animal kingdom. When the lizard and the chameleon were set up on a duel, a group of rascals close to the lizard beat the chameleon black and blue, paving the way for the lizard to win the race it was bound to lose.
Human-Animal Tales can be intriguing, because they feature two creatures with contrasting intelligent quotients, yet either of them can come tops when the chips are down. Take for instance, “Why Mosquito Cries on the Ear”. Ever wondered why the tiny mosquito can be such a nuisance whenever it buzzes in the ear?. No matter how hard you slap your ears, the tiny killjoy keeps singing a threnody.
This is why: The Ear and the Mosquito were the best of friends until the Body came and lied against the Mosquito, which made the Ear to abandon her first love. Since then, anywhere the Mosquito found the Ear attached to the Body, her husband kept asking her of her promise, and continued to spread sickness to the Body for marrying his proposed wife.
Even as a child reader, don’t despair to read up Human-Spirit Tales. Though some of these stories may keep your hairs on end, they mean a world of good to you, because they contain valuable lessons. Do we blame the inquisitive couple that paddled their canoe to a Castle in the River to find out what was within or the mermaids that killed and ate them up in annoyance?
“King Tortoise and the Animals” comes up as one of the Animal-Spirit Tales towards the end of the folk narratives. Here, in a bid to get rid of the clever tortoise as their king, the animals solicited the support of spirits to stop the growth of any crop that the tortoise decided to it. Sadly, for them food became scarce, and the animals no longer have enough to eat. Everybody, thus, becomes a looser.
The 1000 thrilling tales in this book reflect Nigeria’s diverse cultures. It will not only be useful for today’s children who has lost touch with oral tradition but also everybody with a longing for bewitching tales. This is yet another staggering achievement.