If there is one genre that has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life throughout the world, it is folktale. The teachings and lessons in folktales depict the realities of life and the immediate consequences of actions, whether good or bad. It mirrors happenings in society and narrows them down to tales that portray wisdom and warn people. It points out the mistakes committed by people in society and how these mistakes can be corrected. In the folktale, the realities of life are put into a picture of what is expected from individuals to live harmoniously with their neighbours and also be their brothers’ keepers. A folktale is a traditional story or legend that is common to a specific culture and is often passed along orally. Folktales often contain lessons to be learned and can take many forms, such as fables and even ghost stories. On the contrary, tales may also portray guilt, dishonesty, hatred, greediness, and betrayal, as in the case of the tortoise’s journey to heaven with other animals, which reflects the betrayal of trust and strong solidarity among the other animals.
In Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” enriching tales were used to capture the happenings in the community and how those tales render profound lessons and great caution. The character who often tells the stories and folktales is the protagonist’s wife, Ekwefi. She narrated some stories, including folktales that convey cultural values and lessons. Her storytelling serves as a vehicle for conveying the cultural richness and traditions of the Igbo society depicted in the novel. Several Igbo folktales contribute to addressing and curbing social ills within the society. In Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” here are some of the tales from the novel that play a significant role in conveying moral lessons and cultural values:
The Story of the Tortoise:
This tale is a recurring theme in the novel and serves as a caution about the dangers of excessive greed and cunning. The Tortoise, a character known for his trickery, often faces consequences for his deceitful actions. This story reinforces the importance of greediness and honesty. Addressing the social ills of greed, as exemplified in the stories of the Tortoise, involves individual self-awareness, community efforts, and cultural changes. Teaching moral values to young individuals from an early stage will promote good morals in them, both at home and in educational institutions. Emphasizing the importance of honesty, fairness, and sharing from an early age will also prompt an individual towards behaving well in society. Just as the Tortoise stories teach the consequences of greed, stories can serve as effective teaching tools. In the story, the Tortoise is known for his trickery and deceitful actions. His schemes often backfire, and he faces consequences for his dishonesty. This teaches the lesson that dishonesty and deceit are not sustainable and can lead to negative outcomes. Incorporating these strategies can help curb the social ill of greed by promoting values of fairness, empathy, and responsible resource management in society.
The Story of the Mosquito and the Ear:
The tale talks about the dangers of arrogance and overestimating one’s importance. Mosquito’s pride and belief that he could marry Ear, despite his frailty, serve as a reminder that one should not be overly confident or dismissive of others, as even seemingly insignificant beings can have an impact. In this case, Mosquito’s humiliation and repeated reminders of his existence highlight the consequences of underestimating others. Raising awareness about the existence and consequences of pride such as discrimination and marginalization, can help curb social ills in the society. Just as the story of the mosquito and the ear sheds light on pride and arrogance, awareness can spark discussions and a desire for change among young individuals.
The Story of the Snake-Lizard:
In the story, the Snake-Lizard gave seven baskets of vegetables for his mother to cook, which in the end turned out to be just three baskets, for which he killed his mother. He then brought another seven baskets of vegetables and cooked to see that it was finally reduced to three baskets. The Snake-Lizard addresses the social ills of ignorance and unhealthy traits, as exemplified in the story, which involves fostering a culture of collaboration and empathy, rather than glorifying oneself to know it all. This tale encourages individuals to learn from others without assuming their way is the best. The older generation is more experienced than the younger generation. The Snake-Lizard moral lesson emphasizes submission to learning from the older ones and not assuming things on baseless ground. The Snake-Lizard killed his mother without asking why the vegetables shrunk until he cooked them himself before he realised the consequences of his action. “Think before you act” and always “ask questions about things you don’t understand” is a vital lesson in this tale. No man is an island of knowledge, at one point in time we will need others to survive.
In summary, cultivating a culture that values personal growth, cooperation, and mutual support can significantly contribute to curbing the social ills of jealousy and unhealthy competition. By emphasizing the importance of individual self-worth and the well-being of the community, individuals can thrive without feeling the need to engage in destructive rivalries with others. This approach aligns with the valuable lessons learned from the story of the Snake Lizard, where ignorance leads to negative consequences. It’s important to recognize that folktales, such as the Tortoise stories in African folklore, play a crucial role in instilling good morals and values in young individuals. These stories serve as instruments for transmitting traditional aesthetics and cultural values, offering a window into the beauty of learning and preserving the traditions passed down from one generation to another.
In Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” stories and folktales are told to uphold vital cultural traits, such as humility and abstinence from greed and comparison. These narratives serve as a bridge between the past and the present, reminding individuals of the wisdom and values embedded in their cultural heritage. Incorporating these lessons into our daily lives can contribute to creating a more harmonious and virtuous environment for individuals to thrive. Such a cultural shift has the potential to promote a better Nigeria and a more enlightened society. As individuals learn from the stories they are told and the wisdom they glean from literature, they can carry these lessons forward to build a more compassionate, empathetic, and morally upright society for future generations.