It was an innocent request from a little child.
“Mommy, I want you to tell me Ibibio stories,” Abasiofon, who was just five years old, said to her mother as both prepared for bedtime.
Ini Ubong was confused. She was used to entertaining her only child with familiar English folktales.
She racked her brain, thinking of where she could get Ibibio stories.
Mrs. Ubong, who holds a master’s degree in literature from the University of Lagos, recounted her experience to PREMIUM TIMES.
“That night I had to coin a story (Ibibio folktale) to tell her.
“The story was inconclusive. So, the next night she asked me how the story ended. I had to find a way to end the story for her.”
That was all it took to put Ubong on a journey that would eventually end with her maiden book, Ekǫñ Ñke – Our Stories.
After the fascinating encounter with her daughter, Ubong remembered some Ibibio stories she wrote down several years back. She had listened to her old father narrate them to her when she was doing her academic work at the university.
Luckily for her, she found them intact at her personal library.
Then she travelled from Lagos where she lived to her hometown in Ibesikpo, Akwa Ibom State, to see how to get more of the Ibibio folktales from the people from her clan.
But she found out, to her shock, that those in the village couldn’t remember any folktales.
“It then dawned on me that our folktales were dying out,” she said. “It meant that we are losing our language and our heritage.”
Last year, Ubong was finally able to publish the 200-page book, Ekǫñ Ñke – Our Stories. In it, the author acknowledged the inspiration she got from her little daughter who is now eight years old.
She told PREMIUM TIMES that without the girl’s request she wouldn’t have known that there was need for the book.
The stories in the book aren’t just for entertainment, and the teaching of Ibibio language, but they also pass on moral values to children.
There are 10 stories in it, told in Ibibio language and then translated in English. The English translations still retained some simple Ibibio words.
“Why I didn’t want to write the entire book in Ibibio language,” Mrs. Ubong said, “is because I didn’t want to deny a lot of people access to the book.
“I (also) took into consideration that a lot of people who ought to understand the language didn’t even know how to speak it in the first place.”
The author said the book has been well-received even by readers who don’t speak nor understand Ibibio language.
She said it was unfortunate that many parents in Akwa Ibom were denying their children the joy of knowing and speaking Ibibio.
“I would say maybe we are not aware that language is what defines a people. Our people think that our own language isn’t good.
“They have a way of not being proud of who they are.
“Sometimes you could see a young girl from Akwa Ibom when she travel out of the state, she will change her name from, let’s say Enobong to Gift, or from Emem to Peace.
“If you ask of her name, she would tell you ‘Aaah, my name is Happy’, just because she doesn’t like to be called Inemesit.”