Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth, Volumes 1 & 2 by Chinedu S. Agu; Triatlantic Books Ltd, New York, USA; 2008
Stories set man apart from animals. According to Chinua Achebe in his novel Anthills of the Savannah, “It is the story that owns and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours.” The pivotal importance of stories in the development of the human race makes it crucial that every race must insist on the rights of telling its own story. Achebe goes further to stress: “It is only the story…that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.”
Chinedu S. Agu in the two volumes of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth digs deep into the everlasting stories of the local lore to teach relevant lessons to the modern world. Her enlightening preface to the first volume deserves to be quoted at length: “In the days when we were children, societal norms were somewhat taken for granted, because they were just there. They were there in the way your parents looked at you, the way your granny talked, in her sagely chiding, punctuated with appropriate riddles and proverbs, in her folktales, rendered each evening around the fireplace. They were also there on your way to the village stream where tender feet created shapes through the familiar sandy paths passed by many long before you. Each footstep, as it fell in tune with wisdom-loaded singsongs, chanted to ease off the burden of long trekking, was a constant reminder of one’s identity. However, in these days of stressful living when parents are more occupied with what to eat and how best to stay alive, this natural way of imparting formal education, especially the norms and values of the society, is being forgotten. This small collection of education and entertaining folktales is an attempt to catch up with that past that is fast fading away; a recap of that rich lore that we once cherished. It is an attempt to showcase to our children, the heritage that makes us a people; to make them benefit from that which kept us on the narrow path of decency and discipline.”
The two volumes of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth by Chinedu S. Agu come highly recommended from the beginning with the first volume having a foreword by the Sub-Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Dr Charles Ogbulogo who states: “Our age appears to be in so much hurry that our cultural heritage and our cherished values are at the risk of extinction. Our successor generations are denied those veritable avenues for cultivating enduring life styles. Perhaps, more that (sic) any other form of our cultural legacy, our people’s folk tales and mores are neglected. This neglect may explain the rapid incursion of adulterated foreign ideals which breed a hybrid of people who cannot lay claims to any standards of behaviour. One major way to enrich the education and socialization of children is to expose them to the cherished values of our people. This is one of the objectives of this collection. Mrs. Agu has made a selection of tales which may have a universal appeal to different children.”
The current Commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, Professor Hope Eghagha wrote the foreword to the second volume, inter alia: “Owing to the strong presence of television, the tradition of ‘shortening the night’ through storytelling has virtually disappeared from city life. Even in the villages we wonder whether the young ones still show any interest in stories from the past. Global culture has become a threat to the oral forms of literature of small ethnic groups. Cable television with cartoons and other children programmes are more interesting to kids. Besides parents themselves hardly have the time to tell stories. The culture of working from 8am to 5pm and returning home just in time to prepare dinner and go to bed has not helped the tradition of storytelling. Indeed we can say with some certainty that the new generation of parents themselves may not know many folktales to tell their children.”
In Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth, Chinedu S. Agu has filled a very gaping void. She literally reconnects African youths and adults alike to their roots. Her stories are short, sharp and always didactic. In Story 1 entitled “Egwuatu, The Talkative”, the eponymous boastful lad Egwuatu ends up being eaten by the animal known as “The Big One of the Forest” unlike his obedient brother Nwamara. The liberation of the beautiful Mima is a lesson-laden tale to behold. In the story “Ada Agu, Daughter of the Tiger” we learn that Omenka should not have been too difficult to satisfy by choosing from the available girls in his village only to end up getting married to an animal. “Why Babies Do Not Talk” offers the lesson that it is important to be very careful about what we do when children are around because of their innocence which impels them to always reveal the truth. “Mma Yili Ona (Beautiful Like A Ring Of Gold)” warns on disobedience to parental instructions against the background of flattery and pressure from peers. The dictatorial king of the village in the tale “Fufu For The King” gets his comeuppance due to his inhumanity. “Udara And The Stubborn Girl” showcases how a Kite and Hawk saved a girl’s life, thus teaching us that too much of sweetness can do much damage. Of course the Tortoise gets into his usual escapades with the Lion and the like in much of the arresting stories.
As a thrilling author Chinedu S. Agu somewhat ups the ante in Volume Two of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth. In the tale “Aka Aja-Aja (No Pain, No Gain)” the cunning Tortoise is caught up amid his antics only to learn that one needs to patiently work hard from bottom to the very top. “Uwa Alu, The Mystery Prince” tells the story of the great king with seven wives who hated one with a passion only for the tables to turn dramatically. From the story “Why Humans Have Grooves At The Centre Of Their Backs” we learn how the girl Onyeoma got the groove at her back and we are instructed that character matters more than looks in choosing suitors. The importance of the girl-child is at the heart of “Nwangworo, The Cripple”. Kindness and lending a helping hand to others round up all the tales through the story “Mmiri Nworie: A Stream Called Nworie.”
Chinedu S. Agu has through her delightful book Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth given to Nigerian folklore a major boost. A graduate of English and Mass Communications, the author worked at Classique magazine, Galaxy Communications, and lectured at ESUT Business School before becoming a banker. She is definitely a writer to cherish, but the American publishers of her book made many editing errors such as spelling “Foreword” as “Foreward” in both volumes. The book needs to be re-edited and published in Nigeria where it should be recommended reading in primary and junior secondary schools. Both volumes will equally serve the needs of Africa and the African Diaspora where our lore is in need of revamping. The catchy illustrations and elaborate glossary make Chinedu S. Agu’s Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth a well-rounded package.