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Reviving Igbo language, folktales with Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo

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Folklore is one of the pillars of Igbo culture and informal school through which children get inducted into the society. But due to lack of vocabularies, documentation, wide travel, as well as the incursion of Western education, it has started going extinct, like others spoken by prominent ethnic groups of the world.

Yes, the Igbo language lacks vocabularies; hence some Igbo words are just transliteration or outright foreign. Words like uncle, nephew or cousin do not have a particular word in Igbo. Also, some foreign items like blanket and table do not have real Igbo names.

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In documentation, originally, the Igbo were not known to be writers, but they have embraced Western education and applied their inherent ingenuity, which shot them to prominence. You cannot discuss African literature without a mention of great writers like the late Chinua Achebe.

Igbo ingenuity is appreciated even by personalities from other ethnic groups. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo stated in 2019 that the Igbo are the most intelligent, technically-gifted and smartest ethnic group in Nigeria.

Maybe they think themselves very smart that they pass their custom and tradition normally by word of mouth, which, in itself, introduced ‘Chinese whispers’ into the messages.

With the Igbo’s nature of travelling wide, they pick up the languages of their hosts and, in the process, drop their mother tongue for reasons not related to this review; either to be accepted or for career reasons. There is no part of the world today that the Igbo man does not live.

Western education came and drove the last nail into the Igbo language and tradition coffin. Today, it is common to hear what Zigima exponent, Bright Chimezie, tagged Engligbo – the admixture of English and Igbo language to form a word. As a result, the language started fading away. Chinua Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, tried to justify the universal use of English by the Igbo to the wide-scale spread of colonisation.

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But efforts are being made to revive the Igbo identity. The yearly Ahajioku Lecture, which gave birth to the first official Igbo dictionary, is a case in point. National television programmes such as Icheoku and The New masquerade in the 20th century suffice. Also, Igbo cultural centres in the United States and other countries, where the Igbo domicile, are doing their bid.

When talking about Igbo folktaling, highlife king, Mike Ejeagha, cannot be ignored, as he turned some of the folktales into sweet melodies that many Nigerians and foreigners still enjoy till date.

The latest of the efforts is the publication of Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo (Klamidas Communications Ltd, Abuja; 2020) by Nke George Chijioke Amadi. It is published in collaboration with Dr. Bukar Usman Foundation On 240 pages, the seven-chapter book contains 317 folktales, with about two to three stories per page. Though some of the stories are identical, e.g. ‘Why Lion eats Goat.’ Each ended with a moral from the story. There are also pictorials.

The book started with ‘Mbekwu na Nwunye ya’ (Tortoise and his wife) and ended with ‘Umu ewu na osisi ukwa’ (The billies and the African breadfruit tree).

Like other African folktales, the Tortoise (Mbe or Mbekwu) and his family took the centrestage in the book. He is very prominent in African folktales for his craftiness and wisdom. Other characters in the book include the Lion, characteristic of brawn; and dog for gluttony.

There are glossary and index pages, for better understanding of some key words.

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However, Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo has its flaws. In spoken Igbo, there are dialect (olu onye) and standard Igbo (Igbo izugbe). Most Igbo books are written in the standard language, which is the mixture of Old Anambra and Old Imo languages.

The writer/compiler, George Amadi, hails from Orji in Imo State, but the book is written mostly in Anambra dialect. For example, even the appreciation started with “Ekene julu anyi onu…” instead of “Ekele juru anyi onu” (meaning ‘Our mouth is full of thanks’).

As someone from Imo, it is expected that even if the writer wanted to use a dialect, it should be his mother tongue. He is in the position to explain his reason for such, which could be considered a flaw of the book. Could it be from the translator, Mazi Igwegbe Lawrence Emeka? But the buck stops on his table. He should have told the translator what to do or look for another.

In all, the book is a collector’s item, as it will teach children, scholars and even parents the art of story-telling and help revive the Igbo language, which is fast going into extinction.

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Nchikota Akuko Ndi-Igbo
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