Friday, June 30, 2006

A different tortoise

I found this interesting Central African folktale about the tortoise and the eagle accompanied with nice illustrations too. The folktale described Tortoise as kind and generous - a different Tortoise from the West African folktale depictions, but not too different as this tortoise still kept his cunning ability.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kiigbo Kiigba - a stubborn man

Kiigbo Kiigba is a Yoruba phrase meaning, "one who neither listens nor obey". That's the name of the main character in this popular Yoruba tale. In some versions of this story, he is simply known as Kiigbo. It is a tale that illustrates the importance of obedience.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How the chipmunk got its stripes

Just posted a folktale about the Chipmunk and how it got its stripes. I was told the story last week as the story of Edun in Yoruba. I asked, what is Edun and was told it's the squirrel-like creature that's got stripes. I thought "that's a chipmunk but we don't have any in West Africa" but apparently, I'm very wrong. It's a pity that all my knowledge of chipmunks came from Alvin and the Chipmunks. Anyway, I digress.

Like with every folktale I hear, I try to identify the moral of the story if there is one. I was initially simply amused that the chipmunk got away with what he did and still got to keep his pretty new stripes. Later on as I was writing the tale, I realized that the other animals reaction to the chipmunks new do was disdain and clearly not envy. So I concluded that the moral is this:

Ill-gotten wealth ends up wasted on superficial things without obvious benefit to anyone.

The ancient Yoruba (from whom this folktale originated) must have believed the chipmunk's stripes to be completely useless. Which makes me wonder..."why does the chipmunk have stripes?". Time to google...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The defeat of African folktales in a picture book world

Here I am, an individual actively (a couple of moments a month) trying to collect West African folktales (at least the ones from Nigeria), yet whenever my two and a half year old asks “mummy, tell story” I instinctively begin to narrate the three little pigs, goldilocks and the three bears, snow white and the seven dwarfs or any of a myriad of fairy tales I read as a child. All of these I remember with great clarity including the colorful illustrations in the books.

Two nights ago when my daughter reached another milestone and told me a story instead, I basked in silent glory as I struggled to pick out her words “wolf knock on the door”, “little pig said”, “chin chin chin”, “huff and puff”, “blow down house”. I was not surprised that this would be the first story she would narrate considering how often I have told it to her. But I did begin to wonder why these are the stories I always tell her even after I started out on this West African folktale collection which I should be championing. The obvious reason is that I know these fairy tales better and can tell them well. But why is that?

My first conclusion was that the human mind remembers more vividly what is seen rather than what is heard. But then, I read African folktales and stories too just like my friends who also no longer remember most of the stories, so what was different?

Maybe it was the fact that I read fairy tale books before I was introduced to folktale books. I had fairy tales read to me before I could read (just like I now read to my daughter).

This sequence occurred probably because there were several fairy tale picture books with great colorful illustrations that a child could spend hours musing over while one had to be older to enjoy books that lacked illustrations. I cannot say the same for the books on African folktales which I read when I was a little older but I hope there are some great ones out there today.

My final conclusion as to why I can hardly remember African folktales is that the culprit is a combination of:

  1. lack of colorful illustrations, leading to
  2. reading these books later after developing memorable favorite stories
  3. smaller book selection

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Magic Cellar reviewed, folktales wanted

I expressed a simple wish to see Magic Cellar which since my last post has won two bronze Telly awards in the “Children’ and “Use of Animation” categories. The producer, Firdaus Kharas granted my wish by sending me the first three episodes in the series. Thank you. He also let me know that he is interested in featuring West African folktales in future episodes and would welcome story suggestions from readers of and this blog. So here is your opportunity to promote West African culture internationally.

Stories or story suggestions you submit as comments here may make it into Magic Cellar. Imagine that! Of course I cannot give you any guarantees being totally clueless about the selection criteria and entire movie/animation production process, but I can guarantee you that Firdaus Kharas is reading your comments. Read my Magic Cellar review over at

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The chimp's swollen butt

Here's a folk tale I posted about how the chimpazee's bottom became swollen and red. It's a story translated from Yoruba and provided a challenge in writing about fecal matter without sounding disgusting. The Yoruba version never seemed that way whenever the lion shouted "Su dundun", but how do you translate that into English? I had run into a similar situation with the folk tale of the three brothers and the pot of porridge but I did not hesitate in replacing any unpleasantness with stones. I couldn't perform a similar replacement here without losing the main elements of the story, so after testing alternate words and several hesitations, I thought "let's just do it".

But I wonder if I'm thinking way too much about this.