Orphan Girl and Other Stories, The
West African Folk Tales
collected and retold by Buchi Offodile
5 1/2” x 8 1/4” • 256 pages • maps
ISBN 9781566563758 • paperback • $15.00 •
“Kent State professor and storyteller Offodile gathered these folktales, some familiar and some new, from Nigeria (his homeland) and other West African countries. His goal was to collect the stories of the elders before they were completely forgotten. Offodile introduces the collection with a brief discussion of the varied cultures of the region and the function of both story and teller in these societies. The tales are then arranged by country in alphabetical order, each section beginning with a map showing the country's continental location and a page of basic information on its geography and society. .. A glossary and an index of stories by subject is included. Recommended as a solid edition of folktale collections for public and academic libraries, this is also appropriate for middle and high school libraries.”
“‘The Orphan Girl,’ an Igbo story of a cruel stepmother who forces the orphan Chika to retrieve water from the river on the day reserved for the ghosts, is perhaps the most widely known of the folk tales collected here. But the others, from trickster tales to origin stories, are equally fascinating. Although these tales share a common geographical background, they have not been selected on the basis of thematic similarity but rather as an acknowledgment of the complexity and diversity within West Africa… there is a wealth of cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions encompassed in the stories, which Offodile has effectively rendered in English. In an informative introduction, Offodile explains his desire to preserve a wide swath of stories from a world that may be changing too fast to hold on to its past. Readers will be grateful that these folk tales have been so artfully preserved.”
Once upon a moonlit night, children gathered elbow to elbow, lying on the ground, while the adults sat near by, drinking and snacking. They listened to the storyteller, who held adult and child alike rapt with animal noises and spooky voices, gesture and song, call and response, until the wick of the palm-oil lamp ran down and the storyteller tired. It wasn’t that the stories themselves were over—no, many more were yet to be told: tales of the ever-scheming tortoise, spider, or hare; tales of spirits tempting children; tales of fate punishing whole villages for their folly, or rewarding them for their perseverance. Though almost all the tales have morals, the most popular characters are the tricksters: the tortoise, the spider, and the hare.
The Orphan Girl includes a fascinating introduction exploring the roots of the storytelling tradition in the history and culture of West Africa. History’s boundaries divide this book by nation, from Mauritania into the continent’s interior, to the hinterlands of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, and down the Atlantic coast as far as Cameroon. Each country is represented by several stories, a map and brief information. Invariably though, as all of these countries share common origins and cultures, the stories overlap and play off each other. For example, a Ghanaian story featuring Anansi, the spider, is almost the same tale told by the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria starring Mbe Nwaniga, the tortoise.
To compile these tales, Kent State professor and storyteller Buchi Offodile both drew from his own childhood experiences growing up in West Africa and searched villages for elders who remembered the old stories. These forty-one tales are culled from a lifetime of listening, reading, and researching.
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