ONE of the ways we were taught the tenets of ethics and sound societal values in childhood was through story-telling. There were no television stations and the wired radio called Rediffusion came some years later. I recall the master story-teller, Alhaji Buhari Jogbojogbo who would not only tell stories but clearly state, at the end, the morals in each story.
Then there was Macaulay John, with his interesting riddles and jokes, full of wisdom and morals. At other times, mom and dad would be the story-tellers. Sadly, the special opportunities for blending and bonding between parents and their children provided by this medium of interaction have disappeared. Children watch their own, often immoral, movies while parents are glued to theirs which is often opposite in content and appeal.
The African Magic is probably the nearest thing to the olden days, but instead of teaching morals, it is nearly always pure entertainment. I can see that it is doing great damage to the psyche of the patrons by encouraging and reinforcing beliefs in witchcraft, superstitions, the supernatural and returning us to the ancient times! I summarise all the episodes in one phrase – Juju and armed robbers.
The nostalgic feelings of my childhood days were aroused when, not too long ago, I attended to three boys, almost in a row, complaining of severely impaired vision. Two of them had come several times before. The third was coming for the first time. The two, who had come before, were more resolute in proving their symptom that they could not see distance clearly and could not read.
As usual, I listened attentively to their story and betrayed no emotions despite its absurdity. I examined them meticulously and by distractions and skilful manoeuvres, was able to prove to them that they were malingering. Having been cornered, they admitted that all they wanted was to wear glasses like some of their peers. “Why do you pretend to have a problem when there was none and made me go through all the diagnostic tests before telling me your real intention? You should simply have told me that you wanted a pair of glasses!” I narrated to them the story of “The boy who cried wolf.” This story held a special attraction for me, not only because of the moral it taught about telling the truth but also because of its close relationship to the popular game we used to play, “Hide and Seek.”
“There was once a young Shepherd Boy who was entrusted by his father to tend his sheep on the wide field at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. Wolves usually lived in the forest but prey on sheep while grazing. It was the boy’s duty as a shepherd to ensure, not only that the sheep had good quality grass to eat and water to drink but that no harm came their way. As the days passed by, it became dull and dreary so he thought of a plan by which he could get some kicks and fun. He rushed down towards the village, calling out, “Help! Help! wolf, wolf” and the villagers ran out to meet him. They combed the area, but found no wolf. Some stayed behind for a considerable length of time to give him support.
“The boy was excited at his ingenuity and a few days afterwards tried the same trick. Again the villagers came to his help but after a while went away disappointed when there was no wolf. But shortly after this, a pack of wolves actually came out from the forest and began to attack the sheep. The shepherd boy could not cope alone. He became frantic and cried out louder than before, “Wolf! Wolf! Help! Help!” But by this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before thought the boy was again deceiving them and ignored his call. So the wolves made a good meal of the boy’s flock,
The third boy brought out the moral of the story. I was startled by my findings. “Why haven’t you brought him much earlier?” I asked the distraught father. “I have spent a small fortune taking him to hospitals for one complaint or the other when he was much younger. All the doctors said he was malingering. How would I know that this time, it was real? He cried wolf when there was no wolf; when the wolf came along, I didn’t believe him,” the father said, sobbing.
Facing the young man I said to him, reinforcing the import of the message, “A liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth.” To the disconsolate father, I said reassuringly, “Don’t be despondent, all is not lost. He will regain his sight.”