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Akuko Ifo: Folktales

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

In the absence of a widespread literary culture, many sub-Saharan African societies have traditionally employed oral history as a means of perpetuating information across generations and ensuring the memories of their collective pasts remain fresh in the minds of posterity. Unlike in other West African societies in which griots, or classes of specialized storytellers and historians arose, amongst the Igbo the business of keeping history is generally the concern of ordinary men and women.

Women in Igbo societies are major facilitators of historical awareness. From the instance of childbirth, they are engaged in rearing and clothing children in ‘akuko ifo’, or folktales and mythology, which are narratives colored with the adventures of old heroes and heroines and forest animals such as crafty Mbe Nwa Aniga (Tortoise), and serve as anecdotes and insights into the manner in which the Igbo view and interpret their world.

A common feature of village life in Igboland are Egwu Onwa, or moonlight gatherings in which under the brilliance of the moon, entire households would congregate at a central location in their compound, usually under a large tree, to narrate stories and exchange proverbs, sing songs, and play games. With such active reinforcement and education, children grew to become informed, culturally aware, and well-spoken adults, who in their old age, would serve as the custodians of their community’s local history, which they would in turn pass on to younger generations.

Breaking this intergenerational exchange would prove disastrous to the ontological existence of a people, whose collective thoughts, memories, ideas, taboos, traditions, and behaviors are grounded on such vulnerable a foundation as word of mouth. More especially in urban centers and in the Diaspora, the lifestyle change effected by Westernization has threatened to introduce a discontinuity in Igbo history as the younger, modern generations are generally disinterested or ignorant of such traditions.


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