For reasons still not clear to me, my mother did not have a wall clock in the house when I was a child, even though only two homes had a television on the entire street and ours was one of them. Therefore in the mid-60s ,after school and after getting the nuisance of homework out of the way, I would often in the evening , sit on the edge of the concrete flower trough in front of the house , sometimes to amuse myself by noting whether the number plates of any of the passing cars matched the list of kidnappers’ vehicles to beware of , which mischievous teachers had given us at school. More importantly, I would intermittently ask passers-by who had a wrist watch if it was yet six-o-clock, so that I could switch on the television.
The first show on TV was often a chlidren’s storytelling programme where in those days, Uncle Jimi Solanke would tell you stories and lead children in folktale chorus songs to the accompaniment of his acoustic box guitar. He was my most trustworthy source of exciting storytelling .Otherwise , an adult or the other would sometimes call the frisky children around him together and to keep them engaged and off the street, tell them some tales until they became weary enough to drop off to asleep. My mother, having a full time job looking after six little children all by herself after the early demise of my father, neither had the time nor energy for such nocturnal niceties , so the task would sometimes fall on my live-in grandma or a visiting aunt from ruraldom, of which I inexplicably had very many. And from those tales of the night we learned important moral lessons which would guide most of us through life . Between Uncle Jimi Solanke , my more proximitous storytellers and dozens of books regularly borrowed from the local British Council library, my constant urge for a trip to fantasy was regularly addressed.
Sadly these folktales of our childhood are disappearing, our storytellers are being killed by technology and social media. They are dying with the treasures handed down from centuries still locked away in their dead memories. Maybe these stories continue to be told in the rural places not yet blighted by technology. But it is only a matter of time before the last folktale would be told by the last griot, as the rural child now fully grown, goes away to the city and finally the tales of our folks will disappear forever. Where then would the children of the future go for moral guidance?
This was the fear and urgency which created the African Night Entertainment project – to preserve the stories of our folks from extinction. Thus did I begin a fervent hunt for folktales of the many tribes and regions of Africa , an effort which has so far produced four volumes with a few more getting ready for the printing press . Nevertheless, I must say that the few dozens of tales, that I have yet put into print do not at all represent all nor even the best of the people from which they came . This would have been nearly impossible because most of these priceless stories, having been never before written down, have become irretrievably lost. The stories in those books are merely the ones I have yet chosen to publish becaus the project costs a great deal of money, of which I did not have much of.
One astounding but equally expectable discovery from the project is the similarity of tales right across the entire continent of Africa. A folktale originally thought to originate from a region of specific tribal group could be often found told by another tribal group thousands of miles awa, with barely any modification of the storyline beyond a localisation of names of the characters in the story. This points to the expectable migration of stories together with migrants as well as traveling traders . There may therefore not be many folktales which are unique to any people except for the way each has chosen to tell their stories.
From “Notes to African Night Entertainment” , a part of my coming compilation of excerpts from some of my published books , pubished essays and new autobiographical notes