Life is a circle, and stories take us all around it.
© Oke Iroegbu
Life is a circle, and stories take us all around it.
© Oke Iroegbu
“You cannot plant greatness as you plant yams or maize. Whoever planted an Iroko tree — the greatest tree in the forest? You may collect all the Iroko seeds in the world, open the soil and put them there. It will be in vain. The great tree chooses where to grow and we find it there, so it is with the greatness in men.”
— from Chinua Achebe’s NO LONGER AT EASE (1960)
The Pharos of Alexandria was a lighthouse completed in about 280 BC and was used to warn ships of the rocks surrounding the port of Alexandria, Egypt. The building measured over 110 metres to the top. During the day polished bronzed mirrors reflected the sunlight, and at night a fire burned that could be seen up to 50 kilometres away. A spiral ramp led from the ground to the top.
The gigantic lighthouse was a real survivor – it stood for over 1,500 years and survived being buffeted by massive waves and countless earthquakes.
It was built by a man called Sostratus who, in order to get the credit for this Wonder of the World, sneakily carved his name into the stone, and plastered over it. On top of the plaster he carved a dedication to the ruler of Egypt. In time, the plaster wore away and his own dedication, ‘Sostratus of Cnidos, son of Dexiphanes, to the saviour god’s, for sailors’, was left permanently displayed.
In 1994, an archaeologist located huge masonry blocks believed to be from the lighthouse, which was toppled by an earthquake in the 1300s.
Sun set slowly above the wood
Shadows appear, shepherd dreams;
Soft breeze upon evening tide,
Smell of sheep dung,
Slices of malted bread,
Songs from the wine inn,
Situated by the river bend,
Sober men drink their heart fill,
Silent hills, retreating birds,
Sally may sing her radio favourite,
Something to celebrate our countryside,
Scent of marigold and rose,
Sleepy sheep bleat gratefully,
Safe from roaming the land,
Some wish for morning already,
Sops and grapes grow wild,
Sheep love to nibble on those
Smiles bring back what are the shepherd’s;
Sweet darlings are his memories for the day
I heard the Wind tell this story
Gather my friends. It’s time to tell a story. It’s time also to hear a tale. Gather by the fireside, warm yourselves. Bring the little ones to the centre. Keep them warmer, for night and her cold hands is nigh. Sit under the branches of the mango tree. From there everyone can see streaks of moon light on the grassland. As you watch the fire lick those dry wood pay attention to this short tale of mine. I’ve heard the wind and sky tell it in different tongues, styles and climes. Listen, because there may be a lesson or two. If not, it might just be another lullaby waiting to help a good night sleep! A good day ends with a good story. Will you like to tell me the lessons you picked? Ifochakpii!! Waaaa!!!
The Hippo and his seven wives
Long time ago when things were not as it was today, there lived a proud Hippo chief. He had seven wives as was the tradition for wealthy animals then. He had a secret name known only to his wives. They knew to keep it unknown to anyone.
One day the Hippo hosted a party and when he made his speech, he put out a challenge to his village people. “I’m afraid my people, if you can’t reveal my name you have to go home hungry. The dishes here will only be available to all when you reveal my name!” The whole congregation was left aghast. All those mouth watering dishes will be left unattended to. Ah! Well some tried to guess his name but got it all wrong.
The animals dispersed hungry. And they say a hungry person is an angry person. Many weeks passed and he hosted another feast. No one was able to reveal his name. Many animals guessed and was wrong. Then the Tortoise rose to speak. “Sir,” he started. “Since you have shamed us severally, can I ask what we stand to gain apart from the feast you have here?” The chief replied him, “Well, I’ll give you my land and retire to live in the river!” It was a tough challenge. He really believed that no one could get his name right. The crowd dispersed hungry again.
Now the Hippo and his wives had a favourite bathing stream, just by the foot of the great baobab. It was a luxurious and private bathing spot acquired by the Hippo for his household.
One day the hippos went down to the stream for a dip. The Tortoise well aware of their movement dug and hid on the soft sand with his hard shell stuck out but disguised as stone. He waited and waited. At last the hippos started back to the village. The chief led the way and was followed by the eldest wife. They went in a single file thereby leaving the youngest wife behind.
When the last wife came to the soft sands the Tortoise raised his shell a little, so that she struck her foot on the hard shell and yelled: “Nnayi ukwu dim oma my husband, come and help me. I struck my foot on a stone!” When the hippos finally left the scene, Tortoise ran back with joy.
A few weeks later the hippos hosted another feast. They had fun mocking other animals. When it was time for name revealing the Hippo marched majestically to the podium to allow animals guess his name. All the animals tried but none could get it. The Tortoise was the last to try.
“Your name is Nnayi ukwu dim oma!”
There was complete silence. Which was broken by a round of applause and sudden feasting when the Hippo’s face dropped. Without words the hippos marched to the river with their belongings. To this day my friends they lived in water. Never to return to land again!
Retold by Oke Iroegbu
Admitting imperfections are great ways to becoming a better person, people and leaders.
City of Talents and Resilient people
I was born and raised in Ogbor hill, a suburb of Aba, a city in Southern Nigeria. Aba is known for its industry and export of labour to many Nigerian cities and overseas. The city is full of talents and all manner of craftsmen and women live in it. As a manufacturing town, traders and private businesses such as leather works, pottery, brick, electronics, food processing, plastics, metal, cosmetics, distilleries, and fabric call the city home. Most of these factories are owned by private residents. Many foreigners also trade in the city’s large markets and the enterprising spirit in Aba can be likened to none in Nigeria. The city itself is a big market. Aba youth is highly skilled. It’s common to see graduates turn to business as means of livelihood. This enterprising spirit led many to pick up different skills and develop talents to fit in with Aba’s resilient business environment.
Little is done to encourage the budding enterprise which has been in the city for decades. Yet Aba can contribute to Nigeria’s economic growth if her potentials are well harnessed.
Sadly I remember dead startups and factories and even more on their way to moribundity.
Like most African cities, government neglect is common. Lack of proper economic planning and public infrastructure kept the city running in circles. With no visible economic plan on ground, Aba records low growth and decline in economic activities each year. In civilized economies, a city that shows promising private ventures involved in wealth creation and industrialization is aided by the government. When government steps in, it should be to create an enabling business environment. But this is not always so. There are key areas to focus on should the government decide to fix Aba’s unique economic landscape. First and foremost, good road network and stable electricity should be in place. Sadly, Aba’s road and drainage systems are in a state of limbo and contributes to road accidents recorded each year. In Aba electricity distribution is epileptic, or let me put it in milder words: not consistent. This push away investors and increases cost of production as businesses resort to generators for power.
The Way forward?
The two best ways to start government intervention is by bringing uninterrupted power supply and building good roads in Aba. This two can go a long way in encouraging businesses and startups. Providing clean water, markets, tax incentives and holidays, patronising local content will help too.
Not only will good road networks encourage inter state trading, it will enable access and more businesses to thrive in rural places where electricity is cheaper. If steady electricity is achieved, government can work to reduce the electricity rates paid by startups and businesses.
Despite years of government neglect, the city’s people had grown thick skin to negligence and the saying that life must find a way vividly applies to the city’s hustle and bustle. Aba will continue to live because it is a city made resilient and popular by her own people.
Mechanics of Savings and Financial Intermediation
Savings as described by financial analysts are the portion of income which are not used for consumption expenditures. They are referred to as investments, because huge portions of such savings in financial institutions constitute the capital extended to businesses, governments, individuals and other entities as loans. This is done through the process of financial intermediation. Financial intermediation involves three key parties, the Surplus Economic units, the Deficit Economic Units and the Financial Institutions. The SU’s are the economic units that their current income exceed their current consumption expenditure thereby leaving them with more funds. The DU’s are the economic units that their current consumption expenditure exceeds their current income thereby arousing their desire to borrow to supplement their income. The SU’s and the DU’s do not have direct contact, rather a medium or some kind of intercession is provided by financial institutions. Both SU’s and DU’s can be governments, private individuals, businesses or firms etc. Savings is an important factor in any economy and as such its role can not be overemphasized.
What the Bible says about Savings
The Bible teaches that saving money is a wise practice for many different reasons. God is our source and provider for everything we need.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). One of the main ways God provides for us is through money, and it is our job to steward that money well (Matthew 25:14– 27). We are accountable to God for how we use everything He gives us in this life, including money. Saving money demonstrates good stewardship of the resources God gives us. Saving money allows us to be prepared for the future, and being prepared for the future is good. Proverbs 6:6–8 shows us that this principle is lived out even in nature: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and its food at harvest.”
Planning ahead and saving money makes it easier to accomplish goals and allows us to be more effective in ministry (see 1 Corinthians 16:2). When we don’t plan ahead and save money, we are more prone to go into debt, which the Bible tells us is unwise (Proverbs 22:7). Of course, there are plenty of wrong motives for saving money. If we’re saving money out of
fear of the future, it shows we’re not really trusting God to provide (see Luke 12:7; 2 Timothy 1:7). Miserliness is sin, and it’s foolish and arrogant to make money our security. “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale.” (Proverbs 18:11), yet riches “will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” ( Proverbs 23:5). 1 Timothy 6:10 warns against greed, saying, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” To fully understand the value of saving money,
we must remember what the Bible says about giving. God desires His people to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). It’s impossible to out- give God! “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). Sometimes when God gives us things, be it money or something else, it’s intended for us to give away. Other times, He gives us things that are meant for us to keep for ourselves and use in His service and for His glory. It’s wise to hold everything God gives us loosely so that we can give it away if He asks us to.
More Study Texts:
1st Corinthians 16:2
The African Storytelling Tradition
When I, the storyteller say: Ifochakpii! You the audience will reply: Waa!! (Pronounced as ‘War!’) This is Igbo people’s storytelling tradition. There are different ways of introducing a story to the audience. To the Igbo people it starts with a chant-like ranting that tries to capture the attention of all present. So the storyteller greets his audience in that manner as they reply him in excitement. The storytelling mood is a lively one and such introit may play a role in keeping the mood so.
Storytelling is a unique culture in Africa. Storytellers are revered across the land. We may compare them to the present day actors because they actually act. I can compare storytelling to the modern day stage drama. Storytelling is respected because it passes ancient knowledge and wisdom from one generation to another. It’s a time when everybody, young and old gather to listen and learn about the tradition of a place and life’s virtues through stories told by their ancestors. Though much of these stories have been lost or modified with time, the morals, which is the crux remain intact. Sometimes they act as bedtime stories meant to aid or lull people to sleep. All over the world storytelling precedes reading.
Tortoise: Main Villain & Hero
Growing up in West Africa I came to learn that Tortoise is the dominant character in most stories. He is called Mbo or Mbe in Igbo. Some clans gave him, his wife and children other names. His wife is called Alibo in Ovim. I can’t remember his son’s name but it may not matter for now. The Tortoise play funny and shrewd roles. He is generally perceived as a cheat who goes about causing mischief for others. Sometimes he gets to win, other times he is a loser and a lesson for the little ones. The Tortoise has been featured in many stories, few I can remember myself. He has duped the Boar in one story, deceived the host of birds that lent him a feather each, cursed the spider that saved him from the ghost town and dealt with spirits. In fact he is a star in the African folklore scenario.
Yet why he was chosen for these wonderful roles is what I have not been able to understand. We have bigger, faster, smarter and funnier animals but the Tortoise was picked to play lead roles in most of West Africa’s traditional folklore. Naturally the Tortoise is a slow, lazy and seemingly dumb animal but in tales he is a kingmaker, a genius or the wise one. Looks are truly deceptive in African folklore.
Why should we preserve stories?
Apart from the Tortoise that fell from the birds’ firmament party, no one in reality and fiction had the privilege of falling from the skies. What I mean is that nothing just happens. Every story serves a purpose, be it fact or fiction. And no society is complete without a history, a story. So stories are careful documentations, written or oral. We have histories and traditions to discuss today because people had kept accounts and details of them. I’ll write more on this topic in a separate blog post.
For now, can you tell me which African story is your favourite?
When twilight came
I took a walk, for some air
And down the roadside I went.
There a young man stood
Bearded heavily unlike myself
Throwing corn seeds into his mouth
And grinding them with such relish
That his brown teeth showed off
He stood a little close to my fence
And I decided to go chat with him
He smiled when I came close
He doesn’t look like someone from here
Yes, I seen those tribal marks somewhere
He must be from the North,
‘Sannu!‘ I hailed
‘Sannuku!‘ he replied
Eying me carefully
‘Do you wanti some agwado?’
‘No thank you.’ I replied
I saw his garment flow up,
Sailing with the mild breeze
Like a kite on rampage
The dress leaned deep into his flesh
And his muscles exposed
‘Kai, do you speak Hausa?’ he asked
‘No, very poor in that regard,’ I answered
‘Okay oh,’ he turned to call his cattle
Then I realised he was a shepherd
I relaxed a bit, wearing a new smile
My new friend must have something
To tell me about his travels and animals
He saw my smile and grinned
‘Tell me about your best and worst times,
Of shepherding and your herd’
I started without thinking…
‘My best time is when my herd feed
On a valley full of healthy green grass’
He said in nearly perfect English
‘When the sun is high above the firmament
When cows give birth in the dead night
And when I hear my favourite calf moo,’
He closed his eyes to remember more
‘What about your worst moments?’
It seemed I shoved him back from his dream,
For he suddenly opened his red eyes
And shot a blazing stare at my mouth
‘Why are there wars in Africa?
Why men kill each other?
Why are streams dry
And oceans rising?’
He asked with a frown.
‘I was born into such society
That settle disputes with violence
There’s hate, tribalism and distrust
Tribe against tribe, people against people
And hate is substituted for love…’
He pulled a twig off the long grass
‘How can we live in a society without love,
Without faith and trust for one another?
Why fight and not dialogue to achieve peace?
Why bomb a land already stricken with drought?
And cause lack of food and drinking water?’
The air grew colder…
‘I tell you I have seen things. It is time to go home…’
He said painfully, holding his stick back
‘Well as for my worst moments
I see people suffer, Yes I have
For nothing sake, I hate to see children suffer
And people suffer for other people’s crimes and atrocities
It makes little sense to me but that is the world,
We love and live in. Injustice, inequality, intolerance, ignorance…’
I could see through his pain…
‘It is only love that can save us all,’
He said as his flock gathered together
Tssski-ing, he called them, making a clicking sound from his tongue,
Hanging his long stick and hat behind his back,
He waved heartily and marched off, leading his cattle away,
I realise that the world still have some beauty and good in it
Sannu… Hausa salute
Agwado… Corn in Hausa
The Hausa/Fulani is a tribe spread across West Africa and predominantly in present day Northern Nigeria. They are known for their unique culture, tradition, arts and food.
Onye aturu ilu kowaa ya, ego eji luo nne ya efuola ohia.
Before I start this post permit me to greet Igbo people; those who own the proverbs I’m about to explore; Ndi Igbo kwenu! Ekelem unu o. Ndewonu.