By Anote Ajeluorou
YOU could almost say that like Africa like the Irish when it comes to storytelling traditions, a tradition that runs deep in the veins of the Irish with its 5.033 million people and over 65 million immigrants worldwide. And if there’s something they take with them everywhere they go, it is the storytelling tradition, a great cultural heritage they are immensely proud of. That tradition has a unique name just like Africa has its moonlight folktales sessions. Siamsa is what the Irish call it, that tradition of storytelling that also serves as news or local gossip about the happenings next door. Like Africa, Ireland has had an extraordinary amd excruciating history that is steeped in slave trade, the great famine, forced labour, migration and all manners of colonial injustices visited upon her people by her more powerful neighbour, England.
What all these adversaries culminate in is the Irish ability to tell their own stories to any willing ears. In a sense, it’s a means of laughing at themselves and being able to bear their peculiar situation. And this historical remembering has helped in their healing. Now encapsulated in Siamsa, the Irish displayed this storytelling tradition at this year’s Quramo Festival of Words 2023, where ‘Connecting the Dots’ served as theme. Indeed, the Irish connected hugely with Africa, nay Nigeria, at the festival where they shared one important cultural affinity common to them – storytelling! With the Ambassador of Ireland fully taking command of proceedings at ‘An Evening of Siamsa and Tales by Moonlight’, just a few hours after the engaging panel session also curated by the Irish Embassy, ‘Nigeria and Ireland: Commonalities among former Colonies’ explored the nexus between the two peoples.
The Irish left no one in doubt that they are great storytellers, but only equally matched by the ardour of Nigeria’s tellers of tales. The Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, HE. Peter Ryan, a lively man, set the tone with his animated storytelling facility, as he regalled his guests with what Siamsa means and how it came to be a special cultural part of Ireland and why the tradition has subsisted even to the digital age. Ambassador Ryan provided the background to the celebration of Siamsa, as a unique storytelling tradition that enables the Irish people come to terms with the waves of migration that continually hit the country, as more and more people emigrated to the United States and elsewhere to find better living conditions. Just like Nigeria, ‘japa’ has also been a peculiar Irish phenomenon, as people moved away from home to find better living conditions from stifling socio-economic situations.
The Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, Peter Ryan; writer and lawyer, Mrs. Aduke Gomez; a guest and Mr. Supo Shasore (SAN) after the ‘Nigeria and Ireland: Commonalities among former Colonies’ panel session, sponsored by the Irish Embassy at Quramo Festival of Words 2023 in Lagos
There was no order to the storytelling, which explored the personal lives of those who stepped forward to tell their stories. First was a female tale-teller and grand daughter of a former Attah of Igala, who had no less than 150 children, some of who rose up to the highest pinnacle of Nigeria’s civil service, police and many other such high places. Although a Muslim, the king believed so much in education and allowed both his males and female children to embrace education. He educated them all. The mother of this tale-teller was 145 or so in rank among the children of this Igala king, who educated all his children, male and female. That has also trickled down to her own children. Barely a week to her narration was to be marked World Girl Child Day on October 11, 2023; this is to also underscore the significance of educating female children as much as the male, for a better and balanced world order, where both sexes play their roles in developing the world.
An Irish man stepped up to tell his own tale of how his employers scammed him into coming to Nigeria. He’d been working in some remote Australian community and needed a job break that would take him somewhere else. A job vacancy informed that there was such a place that suited his resume in the Caribbean, and he asked his wife if he could try for it. She agreed. He sent in his resume, but was informed that the job had been taken. Not long after, he got a job with similar profile and was soon posted to Nigeria. He would later find out that there was no such job in the Caribbean, but that it had merely been used as a ruse to lure him to Africa and Nigeria!
There was also the Irishman who described himself as an Efik. It caused an uproar in the audience. How could an Irishman possibly be an Efik? He told his story. He had arrived in Lagos for a job that was somewhere in Obudu. He took his connecting flight and landed in Calabar. He was merely informed that his base was just by the corner, but the trip took seven hours’ drive! The fellow driving up had only one music track in the car stereo: P-Square’s ‘Wahala Dey’! And it was kept on encore. For seven long hours, all the Irishman had to listen to was ‘Wahala Dey’; he didn’t find it pleasant at all, as it seemed like a premonition of what was to come. However, he said he’d had the best life living among his host ever since and there hadn’t been any form of ‘wahala’! Instead, he has adopted the Efik as his own people and calls himself an Efik man, too!`
A cinematographer (videographer) also told his own tale, how his humility served him well to rise above the learner his boss took him to be and his boss began to serve him as an assistant. He’d arrived the studio to put his cinematography skills to some use, but his boss mistook him to be a rookie. So he was assigned to merely charging batteries every day. One day the big boss saw his credit on a job he did a few years back and he was called upon to take control of a major shoot. The cinematographer, who’d been onset had some issues and wouldn’t be coming. That was how the big boss assigned his immediate boss to be his assistant, a development he attributed to his humility to learn some more even when he’d grown beyond the level his immediate placed him.
A Nigerian lady also related her first heartbreak as a teenager. She was deeply infatuated by a particular boy, and they got to writing each other letters almost every week. But at a point, the boy’s letters pattered out, but she kept on writing. One day, however, at a chance encounter the boy informed her that they could no longer write each other, as her letters embarrassed him. He was going to the seminary to become a priest and could not carry on with the subject of their previous innocent escapades. This revelation would break her heart to pieces.
Not least among the storytellers was TV personality and actor Mr. Patrick Doyle, whose paternal grandfather was Irish. He related how his own mother did not only show faith in his father even after catching him almost red-handed while on a casual fling with his fellow railway worker friends, she also protected his ego. Meanwhile, the other wives raved about their husband’s infidelity while she remained nonplussed about it. Doyle’s mother’s act of faith in her husband in not exposing him to mockery would also raise the woman’s value in her husband’s eyes and earn her monetary gifts and more endearments from her man.
The Irish Siamsa was an enriching evening and reliving the past from Nigerians as well as their Irish guests and sponsors of the evening proceedings. Festival-goers look forward to it for a re-enactment next year at the eighth edition of Quramo Festival of Words 2024!