By Ntombovuyo Ngaphu
Do you think folklore is still relevant today, where technology has taken over the attention of most children? Do you think that children’s stories that are broadcast on television channels can take the place of folktales and that movies and TV games steal their attention away from the real world?
My answer to all the above questions was ‘YES’. But that was before I went out to interview children around Grahamstown about their interest in folktales and to find out whether they had any favourites.
My pre-assumption was that children do not see the value of folktales because they can access legends, myths, cartoons and many other interesting stories on television and the internet and therefore do not see the point of sitting around listening to their grandparents or parents telling them about incidents that took place ‘once upon a time’ and which are merely not true.
Clearly, my assumption was wrong because out of the six children that I interviewed, none of them underestimated the value of folktales and each one of them had a favorite indigenous story that they were once told, either by their grandmother, older siblings or friends.
I discovered that folktales still play a vital role in children’s lives as much as they influenced me when I was a child.
I went to the Makana Public Library where I came across three beautiful learners wearing their Mary Waters High School uniform. They were kind enough to allow me to join their study table and chat about folktales.
When asked about her experience of folktales, Asemahle Mqina said, “I’ve heard folklore being told by elder people and sometimes they are not true.”
“Folktales are very funny and I always laugh when I hear them from some of my friends,” added Lisakhanya Nquru, a friend of Asemahle.
Not only did the learners think that folktales were entertaining, they found them educational too.
“I think they teach us to be careful and to not do dangerous things. The purpose of folktales is to make you scared so that you don’t do bad things such as stealing and disregarding the rules of your parents,” Asemahle said.
“They also teach us to be careful in everything we do,” she added.
“Folktales contain our culture and they teach us about significant events that took place in the past. As a person, you want to know where you came from,” explained Lisakhanya.
All three girls laughed as they told me how they sometimes struggle to pronounce English words that they find on the internet during a presentation in front of their class. They went on to say that isiXhosa folktales simplify things for them because they are told in their own language and they relate to their own culture.
“The internet often uses big words that we can’t even pronounce correctly let alone understand their meanings,” Siphosihle Mzalala said.
She added that “folklore helps us to increase our language skills and those that are recited in isiXhosa help us to better understand our mother tongue.”
After talking to the three learners from Mary Waters, my heart melted when I turned around to see Nontombi Somke, the mother of a three-year old pre-schooler, searching for a story book to read to her child.
“I read stories to my child because I want to open her mind so that she can concentrate and understand things easily,” said Somke.
“Folktales will never stop being important because they help children to be able to communicate with their peers and teachers at school… It does not really matter which language you use to recite tales to your child just as long as the child can understand that particular language,” added Somke.
Okuhle Makapela and Emihle Makapela are twins and grade 5 learners from Samuel Ntsika Primary School who recite folktales to each other all the time. “We think folktales are exciting because they make us laugh and have fun,” said Emihle.
“I especially like reading story books that are written in isiXhosa because I can understand them easily. I read isiXhosa very nicely and I’m very proud of myself for that,” said Okuhle.
Asenathi Thwane is the younger sister of the twins and enjoys reading English story books. Her mother, Nokulunga Makapela, agrees. “I’m proud of the fact that my daughter likes reading because I don’t get the chance to push her to read as I work night shifts at Rhodes and come back in the morning sleepy and exhausted,” she said. Makapela works as a Rhodes University security guard.
“Folktales keep me occupied when I don’t have any school work to do,” Asemahle said.
Below is a video of the children reciting their favourite folktales: