Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tales by Moonlight on NTA

This was one of my favorite TV shows on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) when I was a little girl. I looked forward to watching Tales by Moonlight every Sunday evening when ‘aunty’ told folktales to a group of boys and girls perched on the floor listening intently to her story. Each tale was enacted by actors (and some of the kids) where they played many animal roles (the folktales were full of tortoise stories) and the acting may have been poor (as someone pointed out to me recently) but I loved it. At the end of each tale, the kids took turns to tell 'aunty' what they learned from the story.

I went looking for information about the program, perhaps there is a story archive somewhere. Instead, I ran across this forum where someone alleged that the Tales by Moonlight videos are lost.
“I recently spoke with a family friend who says when he went to visit, he went to NTA to ask to buy the Tales by Moonlight videos. They told him they were all lost.If true, as they say then, only in Nigeria”

However, with some more searching, I was able to buy a Tales by Moonlight book published in 2002 from the African Books Collective at Michigan State University Press. The book is a collection of eight Tales by Moonlight stories representing each of Fulani, Urhobo, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, Ibibio and Efik ethnic groups (just a few of the many ethnic groups in Nigeria). Now I would like to contact NTA to seek permission to post one or a few of these stories on allfolktales but alas, the Contact Us link on their website does not work and I see no email addresses anywhere. Similarly, the forum is currently unavailable. I hope these are fixed soon.

Monday, October 23, 2006

African history and a fable by Jomo Kenyatta

In search of books on early African history, I came across “A corpus of early Arab sources for West African history”. It looked like a good source since the Arabs had the earliest (recorded) contact with West Africa but I suspected it may be a difficult book to read. I went to Barnes and Noble, hoping to glance through a copy before purchasing but it was not in the store, so I ordered it in, waited a couple of days and went to check it out. A quick glance confirmed my suspicions – only those with scholarly intent and ability could succeed in deciphering the text, it obviously is not meant for a leisurely evening read after a hard days work.

Already impatient to read something, I strolled to the history section in the book store to see what I might find and ended up with a copy of Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader. The book covers African history from the formation of the landmass (referencing archeological evidence) and present day with a huge gulf in between. It is however well written and pleasantly easy to follow however agreement or otherwise with the authors’ conclusions on several points is dependent on a deeper understanding of the numerous scientific and historical facts to which he makes references. I was disappointed that the coverage of Mansa Musa and the Mali kingdom was rather cursory but have learned of others such as Aksum and Jenne-jeno as well as the events and politics leading up to the formation of present day African countries - events which seem to be the essence of the fable below by Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister and President of an independent Kenya.

A Response to Imperialism
by Jomo Kenyatta

Once upon a time an elephant made a friendship with a man. One day a heavy thunderstorm broke out, the elephant went to his friend, who had a little hut at the edge of the forest, and said to him: "My dear good man, will you please let me put my trunk inside your hut to keep it out of this torrential rain?" The man, seeing what situation his friend was in, replied: "My dear good elephant, my hut is very small, but there is room for your trunk and myself. Please put your trunk in gently." The elephant thanked his friend, saying: "You have done me a good deed and one day I shall return your kindness." But what followed? As soon as the elephant put his trunk inside the hut, slowly he pushed his head inside, and finally flung the man out in the rain, and then lay down comfortably inside his friend's hut, saying: "My dear good frien d, your skin is harder than mine, and as there is not enough room for both of us, you can afford to remain in the rain while I am protecting my delicate skin from the hail storm.

The man, seeing what his friend had done to him, started to grumble, the animals in the nearby forest heard the noise and came to see what was the matter. All stood around listening to the heated argument between the man and his friend the elephant. In this turmoil the lion came along roaring, and said in a loud voice: "Don't you know that I am the King of the jungle! How dare anyone disturb the peace of my kingdom?" On hearing this the elephant, who was one of the high ministers in the jungle kingdom, replied in a soothing voice, and said: "My Lord, there is no disturbance of the peace in your kingdom. I have only been having a little discussion with my friend here as to the possession of this little hut which your lordship sees me occupying." The lion, who wanted to have "peace and tranquility" in his kingdom, replied in a noble voice, saying: "I command my ministers to appoint a Commission of Enquiry to go thoroughly into this matter and report accordingly." He then turned to the man and said: "You have done well by establishing friendship with my people, especially with the elephant who is one of my honorable ministers of state. Do not grumble any more, your hut is not lost to you. Wait until the sitting of my Imperial Commission, and there you will be given plenty of opportunity to state your case. I am sure that you will be pleased with the findings of the Commission." The man was very pleased by these sweet words from the King of the jungle, and innocently waited for his opportunity, in the belief, that naturally the hut would be returned to him.

The elephant, obeying the command of his master, got busy with other ministers to appoint the Commission of Enquiry. The following elders of the jungle were appointed to sit in the Commission: (1) Mr. Rhinoceros; (2) Mr. Buffalo; (3) Mr. Alligator; (4) The Rt. Hon. Mr. Fox to act as chairman; and (5) Mr. Leopard to act as Secretary to the Commission. On seeing the personnel, the man protested and asked if it was not necessary to include in this Commission a member from his side. But he was told that it was impossible, since no one from his side was well enough educated to understand the intricacy of jungle law. Further, that there was nothing to fear, for the members of the Commission were all men of repute for their impartiality in justice, and as they were gentlemen chosen by God to look after the interest of races less adequately endowed with teeth and claws, he might rest assured that they would investigate the matter with the greatest care and report impartially.

The Commission sat to take the evidence. The Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant was first called. He came along with a superior air, brushing his tusks with a sapling which Mrs. Elephant had provided, and in an authoritative voice said: 'Gentlemen of the jungle, there is no need for me to waste your valuable time in relating a story which I am sure you all know. I have always regarded it as my duty to protect the interests of my friends, and this appears to have caused the misunderstanding between myself and my friend here. He invited me to save his hut from being blown away by a hurricane. As the hurricane had gained access owing to the unoccupied space in the hut, I considered it necessary, in my friend's own interests, to turn the undeveloped space to a more economic use by sitting in it myself; a duty which any of you would undoubtedly have performed with equal readiness in similar circumstances."

After hearing the Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant's conclusive evidence, the Commission called Mr. Hyena and other elders of the jungle, who all supported what Mr. Elephant had said. They then called the man, who began to give his own account of the dispute. But the Commission cut him short, saying: "My good man, please confine yourself to relevant issues. We have already heard the circumstances from various unbiased sources; all we wish you to tell us is whether the undeveloped space in your hut was occupied by anyone else before Mr. Elephant assumed his position?" The man began to say: "No, but_" But at this point the Commission declared that they had heard sufficient evidence from both sides and retired to consider their decision. After enjoying a delicious meal at the expense of the Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant, they reached their verdict, called the man, and declared as follows: "In our opinion this dispute has arisen through a regrettable misunderstanding due to the backwardness of your ideas. We consider that Mr. Elephant has fulfilled his sacred duty of protecting your interests. As it is clearly for your good that the space should be put to its most economic use, and as you yourself have not yet reached the stage of expansion which would enable you to fill it, we consider it necessary to arrange a compromise to suit both parties. Mr. Elephant shall continue his occupation of your hut, but we give you permission to look for a site where you can build another hut more suited to your needs, and we will see that you are well protected."

The man, having no alternative, and fearing that his refusal might expose him to the teeth and claws of members of the Commission, did as they suggested. But no sooner had he built another hut than Mr. Rhinoceros charged in with his horn lowered and ordered the man to quit. A Royal Commission was again appointed to look into the matter, and the same finding was given. This procedure was repeated until Mr. Buffalo, Mr. Leopard, Mr. Hyena and the rest were all accommodated with new huts. Then the man decided that he must adopt an effective method of protection, since Commissions of Enquiry did not seem to be of any use to him. He sat down and said: "Ng'enda thi ndeagaga motegi," which literally means, "there is nothing that treads on the earth that cannot be trapped," or in other words, you can fool people for a time, bu t not forever.Early one morning, when the huts already occupied by the jungle lords were all beginning to decay and fall to pieces, he went out and built a bigger and better hut a little distance away. No sooner had Mr. Rhinoceros seen it than he came rushing in, only to find that Mr. Elephant was already inside, sound asleep. Mr. Leopard next came in at the window, Mr. Lion, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Buffalo entered the doors, while Mr. Hyena howled for a place in the shade and Mr. Alligator basked on the roof. Presently they all began disputing about their rights of penetration, and from disputing they came to fighting, and while they were embroiled together the man set the hut on fire and burnt it to the ground, jungle lords and all. Then he went home, saying "Peace is costly, but it's worth the expense," and lived happily ever after.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Adapting tales: posted folktale of the Tortoise and the Princess

A long while back, while searching for West African folktales, I stumbled across The Internet Sacred Text Archive where there is have a collection of old books online. Amongst them are two books, Yoruba Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa by A.B. Ellis (1894) and Yoruba Legends by M. I. Ogumefu (1929), both of which contain a nice collection of folktales. I remember some elements from several of the folktales but some are unfamiliar.
I thought about posting the stories here but hesitated for long, after all, the stories are already online. However, I have decided to put hesitation aside because:

  1. I remember some of those stories a little differently and would like to rewrite it as I remember
  2. There are some comments I would like to add to some of the stories
  3. I need to stop creating excuses that lead to inaction

Here’s a story about the princess who never speaks from A.B. Ellis’s book. I remember hearing this story (even tried unsuccessfully for the part of the princess for a school play in primary school) but always thought it was an adaptation of Christian Andersen’s fairytale about the princess who never spoke until a stranger (I believe he had a duck) came along and formed a long train of people (people joined the train and became glued together), the princess saw them and could not contain her laughter. The stranger won half the kingdom.

Technorati tags: