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Classic Folktales and Fantasy Books Set In Nigeria

 

  • (Ekwensi, Atuegwu, Okri, Fagunwa, Tutuloa)

 

Good writers transpose their readers to a world where everything melts away and nothing matters except the story between the pages. This could be fiction, poetry, non-fiction, autobiography, or any other genre of writing. Sometimes, that world is a magical, supernatural, or fantasy world constructed from the author’s imagination and lived out between the printed pages by readers. Nigeria has a wealth of fantasy books and folktales set in Nigeria, however, here are our favourite five classics that will make you nostalgic for good old times!

 

1. An African Night Entertainment by Cyprian Ekwensi

 

Published in 1962 by Cyprian Ekwensi considered to be one of Nigeria’s most prominent writers with several short stories, novels, and children’s books to his credit, “An African Night Entertainment” is a classic novel set in Northern Nigeria and told from the point of view of an old storyteller.

 

In this story, the main character, Abu Bakir is after revenge and will not rest until he exerts his vengeance on a rich merchant, Mallam Shehu who married Zainobe, a beautiful girl betrothed to Abu Bakir. Abu Bakir does not take losing Zainobe lightly as he was in love with her.

 

At one point, Abu Bakir despite losing an eye and an ear, still has his eyes set on destroying Kyauta, the son of Zainobe and the Mallam, and will resort to any sort of magic to get this evil deed accomplished.

 

 

Ekwensi does a phenomenal job of exploring delicate topics like child marriage, desire, and vengeance in this story. Although this book was controversial for other reasons, it is still a beloved book.

 

2. The Magic Leaf by Adaeze Atuegwu

 

Published in 1994 by the author considered to be Nigeria’s youngest most prolific writer after she wrote and published seventeen books at the age of seventeen, “The Magic Leaf” by Atuegwu is a true magic realism story set in a fantasy world somewhere in south-eastern Nigeria and was read widely in many schools across the country especially in the late nineties and early 2000s.

 

The main character, Mma, is a beautiful young girl sent away from home by a wicked stepmother. Mma travels far and wide and through many dangerous intriguing lands in the Eastern part of Nigeria.

 

Atuegwu’s talent shines in this book as she adds unexpected twists and turns to Mma’s journey. Mma meets spirits and animals and undertake many risks, all in a bid to find a way home. Atuegwu also does a superb job of adding original folksongs in Igbo with English translations when needed in the story.

 

Toward the end of the story, one would think Atuegwu would simply employ the same wicked stepmother trope of good triumphing over evil and end the story – she does, but in a rather clever way. Mma overcomes adversity and comes out ahead. “The Magic Leaf” is a folktale of redemption, adversity, trust, companionship, resilience, courage, strength, and just the pure magic of experiencing life through the insightful eyes of a teenage Atuegwu.

 

 

3. The Famished Road by Ben Okri

 

First published in 1991 by Ben Okri who is considered one of Africa’s leading poet and novelist, “The Famished Road” is a story of Azaro, a spirit child otherwise known as “abiku” who lived in an unknown Nigerian city. In the story, Azaro is constantly being harassed by the siblings from another dimension who want him to return to their world.

 

Azaro is aware of his spirit ties to the other world but prefers to remain in the current world due to his love for his father and mother. Although his parents are poor, they do their best to provide for the family with limited resources.

 

Okri does an excellent job of balancing the dichotomy between the mortal and immortal world and reveals the story through the eyes of Azaro, the narrator.

 

One cannot but root for Azaro as he tries to make sense of all that is happening around him as well as understand who he really is and who he wants to be at the end of it all.

 

 

4. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

Published in 1954 and written by Tutuola who is known to write books based on Yoruba folk tales, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” is a story of a young West African boy who along with his brother, was abandoned by his family during the slave trade era.

 

The young boy is separated from his brother, and he enters the bush to try to keep safe. Unwittingly, he discovers an entire world filled with ghosts and spirts and ends up with surreal and magical experiences with strange beings in a strange place.

 

Unlike some stories with a linear progression, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” is a collection of related narratives that have the quality of a children’s story along with some gruesome elements.

 

Tutuola brilliantly approaches the book with a language and diction that makes it easy for young ones to follow along, and in 2020, the book was selected by Time Magazine as one of its “100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time.”

 

 

 

5. The Forest of a Thousand Daemons by A Hunter’s Saga – D.O. Fagunwa

Published in 1938 in Yoruba and translated to English in 1968 by Wole Soyinka, Fagunwa was a Nigerian Yoruba author who championed and pioneered the advent of novels written in Yoruba language. “The Forest of a Thousand Daemons” is considered to be the first novel written in any African language.

 

In this story, the main character, Akara-ogun is a Yoruba hunter, son of a brave warrior and a wicked witch. Akara-ogun journeys into the wilderness and encounters different magical and supernatural elements including gods, spirits, and monsters.

 

The book’s title can be literally translated to “a brave hunter in the forest of spirits” and is followed by a sequel.

 

In this story, Fagunwa enthrals readers by immersing them in the reading experience by asking the readers to imagine themselves in the story, living the story. The story is narrated to the author by the main character, thus making it easy to get immersed in the tale. No wonder this folk tale was widely read and described as “a classic of the African imagination” by Ben Okri.

 

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