Monday, March 19, 2007

New stories: Olomuroro and stolen aroma

I am trying to catch up on writing folktales I have been told and have just posted two new ones. The first is about Olomuroro and the second about a woman who stole the aroma from her neighbor's soup.

Olomuroro is a Yoruba word that literally translates into 'one with droopy breasts' but I have no idea what that has to do with the story. Olomuroro is a monster who stole a boys meals while the boy grew thinner. The name is perhaps a visual of what this monster supposedly looked like. I had never heard this story before but the person who narrated it to me said she always pictured of an ugly creature with huge breasts that dragged on the floor. As I wrote the story, I also wondered if perhaps this monster represents a disease that afflicted children. One that stumped the child's growth and caused the child to get emanciated. I also couldn't help wondering if the name is descriptive of an afflicted child (or person/woman - maybe it's not even about children). Anyone know a disease that causes such an appearance i.e droopy breasts. If the name meant distended stomach, then the story may have been referring to kwashiorkor.

I also never heard the second story before and I find it to be funny and lighted-hearted. A woman seeks a 'court order' to keep her neighbor from 'eating' the aroma from her soup. I guess the moral of that story is "do not be petty."

One thing I must had on my mind as I wrote both these stories was Egusi soup. Egusi is the seeds from a melon plant. The seeds are dried, shelled, ground and cooked in palm oil with vegetables and tomatoes. Delicious.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Orunmila vs. Orisa Nla in the creation of the world

The creation myth of the Yoruba people is one of the earliest stories I posted to this website as it was one of those I 'remembered'. I always loved the story - the climbing down from heaven on a rope, the chicken (or lizard or chameleon - I have probably heard versions with these) spreading the earth which was contained in a calabash and especially one of the creators (Orunmila) getting drunk on the way and Oduduwa, his helper taking over his responsibilities. But do I have the participants in this creation myth wrong? I would like to thank the reader who wrote today to point out that possibility:

About your creation myth, I've heard this in several variations both in Nigeria and the diaspora, but never has Orunmila been involved, always Orisa Nla. As a bababalwo, I understand that Orunmila is Eleri Ipin (witness to creation), witness, but not the actual creator himself. I'm fair positive you might want to modify this story to reflect that. Can I ask where you heard this version?

In answer to that question, I am unable to cite a source. I wrote the story as remembered from numerous tellings and retellings (with slight variations) from many years ago. It is quite possible that I have the characters in the story switched up. He also suggested a book on the subject:

From a scholarly standpoint, a very good english version is in the book called "Olodumare: god in Yoruba belief" by Prof. E. Bolaji Idowu the former head of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria AND fomer head of the Methodist Mission in Nigeria. Though a christian, he was very interested in traditional thought/practices and did a very good job in the book of presenting the stories without a christian bias.
I will have to update the story as soon as possible and hope I have not mis-educated too many people in the interim. If you know other versions of the Yoruba creation myth, I would love to hear them - you can post in the comments here or send me a note.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

One year of in review

The first two stories were posted on on February 13, 2006 and twenty-two other stories have followed. So it’s been one fun year of and time to look back at the year.

The Beginning
I wanted to share folktales I heard while I was growing up with my daughter. I planned to buy folktale books during a trip to Nigeria in 2005 but did not find any. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a number of published folktale collections/storybooks, but I did not run into any at the few bookstores I visited. I was always directed to one of the larger bookstores in Lagos, but my cramped schedule (lots of family to visit) did not permit a deviation for this purpose. I was disappointed though that these smaller bookstores (which were conveniently located) were teeming with Western fairytale books and novels while African folktales genre seemed to be relegated to a specialty category.

I got back from Nigeria and decided I was going to write all the folktales I could remember. I was going to type them up in Word until I had a big collection then make my daughter her very own collection of folktales. I didn't. But the moment it occurred to me to post them online as opposed to a Word file, I got to work. Obviously, there's a better motivation mechanism at work online than there is offline. Whatever satisfaction I may have derived from sharing the stories collected with my daughter, I now enjoy multiples of it from sharing it online with everybody.

Gathering Stories
I created the site and it was time to post a few folktales. Then I hit a snag - I couldn't remember most of the stories. That slowed things down. Then I started to bug every Nigerian friend, demanding they tell me what they knew. But many are just like me. Initial response was often "Oh, Ijapa and co? I know lots!" and I get excited (digging out my pen and notepad) until I hear "Goodness, I can't remember!" Of course everybody remembers the Tortoise and the Hare, but I think that is thanks to Aesop. In fact, the Tortoise and the Hare was the first story I wrote, but I never posted it on the site because I was confused about its origin - Aesop or Africa? I will talk more about that later.

The first few months of saw me being a pest. I talked about it all the time, I quizzed people on their folktale knowledge. Almost no folktale on the site is a complete recollection from me. Many have contributed - family and friends. And to you all, I say a big THANK YOU! Most of the stories were narrated to me and I did the writing, but some were fully works of others. There are two stories by Caxton Olumide Ohiomoba and two Ananse stories by Reverend Peter Addo. I truly appreciate those contributions.

Ads by Google
You will notice ads near the top of allfolktales pages. These ads are served by a program called Adsense. It's easy to sign up for one, so I did. They are contextual ads which means the program selects ads matching the content of page (by analyzing the words on the page), which is why it may offer ads to buy tortoise shells or buy a wig to someone reading How the tortoise became bald. Early on I thought of getting rid of the ads altogether but every now and then they do serve up relevant ads. Barring any other issues with the ads, I'll leave them in and perhaps I will receive a first check from google sometime in 2008 - something to reimburse some of my hosting costs.

Visitor Tracking
At the beginning, I would stare at weblogs almost every hour wondering why nobody was coming to read my stories, why I wasn't showing up in yahoo and google. MSN was the first to index I submitted the site to several free directories and eventually got indexed.
In April, I added analytics code to the site and was able to learn a lot about where people were coming from, what they were looking for (search strings) and what they did on the site. I have quit worrying about getting people to visit my site because, let's face it, not too many people out there looking for African folktales. And something analytics can't tell me is "who are readers?". And why are they interested in African folktales? Storytellers? Kids? Africans in Diaspora? If you're a reader, please drop me a note.

Existential Confirmation
I read about Magic Cellar - first 3D animation based on African culture - and made a comment about it. The producer, Firdaus Kharas read it and sent me some episodes in response to my wish to see the program. I saw it, loved it, my daughter loved it and I wrote a review. This communication from Mr. Kharas was my first confirmation that somebody read my stories or blog as I would often wonder if any of the few visitors who trickled into my site read any of the stories or the blog or if anyone was interested in West African folktales.

There were a few other communications afterwards which I will expand upon in future posts. Be on the lookout for a post about Ijapa and who he really was - I received a mail about Prof Yemi Ogunyemi who has conducted studies on this popular Yoruba character.

I now own a couple of books on African folktales and will discuss these in another post.

Plans for Year Two

Expect things to be slower around here. No, I do not mean your internet connection, but the frequency of updates to the site and blog. As I mentioned in an earlier post, personal and professional goals for 2007 are taking center stage in my life right now. I still have a few stories that were told to me and are waiting to be written and posted and hopefully soon.

There will also be some spring-cleaning site-cleaning. This will include reading through pages to correct errors (that's something I haven't done), adding songs (where they're missing); include aami (Yoruba accent marks) where the belong etc.

The Folktaler
Me,the folktaler who discovered she could not remember her folktales continues to have fun rediscovering these 'lost' tales along with others she never even knew existed.