The eastern part of Nigeria, largely occupied by the Igbo tribe, is rich in culture, customs and traditions and one of the tenets that have survived the rage of civilization and modernization is the art of storytelling. Interesting and educative folktales which have been passed down from generations to generations from the ‘ancestors’ are told to children in the bid to preserve the norms and culture of the tribe, imbibe good morals and instill the spirit of communal love amongst members of their society.
These Igbo folktales which paint colorful pictures of spiritual life and traditional aspirations are regarded as fictitious, incredible, mythical and totally removed from real life situations. However, with regards to their functionality, these folktales exhibit elements of truth that translate into realism.
The 4 common traditional folktales include:
Usually accompanied with a song, this folktale tells of a young pretty girl who meets a great misfortune due to her defiance and decision to disobey her parents.
Set in a time when demons and spirits roamed around villages, the girl called “Obaledo” was instructed by her parent before embarking on their trip, to remain within the confines of their home and eat just yam and snail when hungry. The parents asked that she roast the yam first before the snail, as the snail would eventually quench the fire. Unfortunately, the girl, being greedy and having a strong lust for meat, roasted the snail first and fire went off. Still hungry, she set out of her home, in disobedience to her parents, to get a matchstick from neighbors. On her way, she encounters a demon that steals her beauty and leaves her with his own ugliness.
The King’s Drum
This story tells about a greedy tortoise who ends up trapping himself in his own greed. The tortoise, envious of a rich king who had a drum that would produce food and great wealth each time it was beaten, set a trap for the king’s wife, and when she fell for it, he demanded the drum as his only compensation.
Unknown to him, however, the drum only produced the luxury he has seen on certain conditions and was bound by a juju. Eventually, the tortoise and his children break the juju that was bound to the drum and instead of food and riches, each time he beat the drum, some men will emerge and whip him thoroughly. Defeated, the tortoise and his family made their home underneath the prickly tree, and according to the tale, that is the reason tortoises are always found living under the prickly tie-tie palm, as they have nowhere else to go to for food.
The Disobedient Daughter Who Married a Skull
This tale narrates the story of a maiden who was so pretty she had suitors from around the world. Unfortunately, she was very picky and was never satisfied with any of the offers. A demon from the spirit world in the form of a skull fell in love with her and was determined to marry her. He went around villages collecting body parts and became extraordinary handsome.
As expected, the maiden fell in love with him once she set her eyes on him and agreed to marry him. After the marriage, the demon returned the body parts he had borrowed to their owner and took the maiden to the spirit world where she suffered. She was however very nice and helpful to the demon’s mother and in appreciation of her acts of kindness, the demon’s mother helped her escape and sent her back to her parents. On getting to her parents’ home, the father asked her to marry a friend of his, and she willingly consented, and lived with him for many years, and had many children.
Why a Hawk Kills Chickens
More of a fable than a story, this tale tries to justify or give reason to why the hawk always attacks the chicken or steals the hen’s chicks. The story tells of a love story between the hawk and a pretty hen which was aborted by a desperate cock who was in love with the hen. After the hawk had paid the bride price of the hen, married her and taken her to the land of the Hawks, a desperate cock who encountered her fell in love with her and crowed beautifully when he accosted her.
Unable to resist the sweet sound of the crow, she absconds her husband’s house and returns to the land of fowls with the cock. Angry and feeling cheated, the hawk demanded for a return of his dowry as it was the custom, but since the hen’s parents nor the cock could pay him back, they took the case to the king of animals who then decreed that the hawk could kill and eat any of the cock’s children whenever and wherever he found them as payment of his dowry, and, if the cock made any complaint, the king would not listen to him. And so from that time until now, whenever, a hawk sees a chicken he swoops down and carries it off in part-payment of his dowry.