A few weeks ago, I encountered some friends who brought about old memories – memories of growing up in a peaceful country with functional educational system. One of them reminded me of those good old days when our teachers would take us out under the cool shade of trees outside our classroom to tell us stories. Story time under trees was a time we always looked forward to. It was strategic that our teachers had chosen to take us outside after lunch break because they knew sitting down in class to listen to any lesson was not the best for filled tiny stomachs! Sleep was always the next for us. That was when we were in primary school, Primary One to be precise.
At the time, we would take turns to tell stories with Ijapa, the tortoise, the main character in our stories. Also, Alawiye by J. F. Odunjo was our indispensable companion. We would have memorised stories that we would share during story time from it. The moral lessons were always there for us to learn. Our teacher would swing his cane if anyone failed to state correctly the moral lesson from the story told.
At the time also, we would memorise this famous poem from Alawiye Kini, the first of the book’s series. It was a popular poem whose lines I will never ever forget. They are ingrained in my subconscious forever. It is titled Ise ni Ogun Ise, literally meaning ‘hard work is the medicine for poverty’. It goes thus:
Ise ni ogun ise/Mura si ise ore mi/Ise ni a fi n di eni giga/ti a ko ba ri eni feyintin/Bi ole la n ri/ Ti a ko ba ri eni gbekele /Ka tera mo ise eni/ Iya re le lowo lowo/Baba re si le lesin lekan/Bi o ba gbojulewon/ O te tan ni mo so fun o/Iya un be fun Omo ti o gbon/ Ekun un be fun omo ti n sa kiri/Ma fi owuro se ere ore mi.
At the time, Alawiye was like a cross we all had to carry in primary school. We thought our teacher was taking us through hell because we had to learn all the words by heart. In Alawiye, there was also the story of Ijapa and Ojola and Alade, the man who grew horn on his head. These are interesting stories that I believe pupils in primary schools these days are missing. I don’t know if Alawiye is still included in the list of books for schools, especially for private schools where the American and British curricula are taught today. It is sad if books like Alawiye, Chike and the River, Ade Our Naughty Little Brother, Sugar Girl, This is Our Chance, amongst others are not on pupils’ reading list. These are books written to shape young minds. They help to shape imaginations. I can recall reading the stories of Simbi and Agbo in the Macmillian series and how these stories have shaped my imagination. Simbi, Agbo and Wakama were characters I adored. I used to imagine myself in their shoes whenever I read about them. They were to us then what the Superman was to an average child brought up in Europe and America.
I think it is important that parents should also encourage their children to read these books even if they are not in the school curriculum. Parents should buy them and read them to their children. We must begin to build a reading generation.