Continuity and Change: Storytelling Performance in Igbo Society

Author: Chinwe Irene Otuego
Department: Theatre Arts
Affiliation: Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka

The popularity of the folktale among the Igbo is apparent in the varying dialectal nomenclature with which it is associated. Some of these include ita, ifo, ufe, akuko, inu, ihwe, and ihwo. The folktale in Igbo culture enjoys this popularity for some reasons: it has an entertainment value, it serves a didactic purpose for child-rearing, and it is a vibrant artistic genre with educational and socializing functions. This practice flourished when written literature was sparse and large families were needed to support the agrarian way of life. Storytelling theatre (oral performance) is an integral part of the Igbo society and as a genre covers folktale, which is the art and craft of imaginative verbal expression. This has transmitted the Igbo culture, norms and values through generations by orally narrating the memorized landmarks of their history, beliefs, ethics, traditions, codes and culture, values and practices. However, the art of storytelling is almost extinct in Nigerian homes and schools. There is evidence that the Igbo folktale tradition is seriously on the decline, due in part to the influence of modernization, about which the Igbo have shown much enthusiasm. Equally true is the fact that modernity has to a considerable extent taken education and entertainment away from the family and the folk community and given these functions to such formal social institutions as the school and the popular media. This study investigates the trend in its various dimensions and evolution with the aim of understanding its dynamic character, highlighting its utility value and redefining the technique of storytelling performance in the Igbo society. Hence, it studies the tradition and nature of Igbo oral folkloric performances as obtainable in the eastern parts of Nigeria and its evolution into today’s world of digital technologies. Since indigenous storytelling appears to dwindle, succumbing to the explosion of the social media and Western influences, this study also investigates how cultures through the use of storytelling make impact on children and youths. The research method used is survey and the instruments are the questionnaire and in-depth interview. An additional method of data collection is observation. It was found that amongst others, the reason for the decline lies in urbanization and the rise of the social media. The study recommends that every family and school system should embrace the storytelling tradition to rescue it from obscurity back into the contemporary needs of social existence. City dwellers should also adapt the medium into urban storytelling forms to suit the demands of modern environments. It also suggests that agencies such as the Ministry of Education and learning institutions should inculcate folktales and storytelling performances into the scheme of work for the subject, Cultural and Creative Arts, (CCA) recently introduced into the Universal Basic Education (UBE) curricula.

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