A Review of Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s Novel, Once Upon a Village Tale | Zakiyyah Dzukogi

Title:             Once Upon a Village Tale

Author:         Su’eddie Vershima Agema

No. of Pages:         90

Publisher:         SEVHAGE PUBLISHERS

ISBN:                  978-978-56265-0-6

Reviewer:         Zakiyyah Dzukogi

Introduction

Tales are a major fabric of the traditional African communities. In Nigeria, every community has tales peculiar to them. Some are about their epic heroes, myths, magic, animals and a rich oral tradition of songs, chants, poetry, tongue twisters and proverbs. Similarly, tales serve as a way of recording history in the minds of children, shaping their character and giving them a course of life that is worthwhile. Such is the birthmarks of this book.

This book, Once Upon a Village Tale by Su’eddie Vershima Agema, leaves the reader flipping the pages non-stop; a book that moulds images, tales in the reader’s soul. In this book, stories are used to fill the lips with happiness; the book creates happiness from “just” stories. The themes in the book are: traditional beliefs, happiness revealed through mainly tales. The book is “unique” because it is a story of stories. Once Upon a Village Tale is a book of many stories in one, a story that tells eight stories, two untold (How the Animals Gathered to Elect a Leader, Tarfa the Drummer and the Rats, Mfa-Iyongo-Go and the Special Grains, Alom, Kpev and the Revenge Plan, Iywa and the Animals’ Plan, and lastly Begha (the lion and the Porcupine).

The story revolves around a man (his name wasn’t mentioned in the book) whose joy sleeps on the magic of stories, a father of two children, Gbende and Terdoo. The story opened with Gbende’s father who visited the village with his children for holiday all in the sake of making his traditions alive. It opened thus “the moon was as big as a giant gourd, shining brightly against the blanket of the night’s skies. The children and I had come to the village for the holidays.”

The first story (How the Animals Gathered to Elect a Leader) provided reasons why the animal kingdom has no real leader till today. According to what they were made to believe, all the animals claimed with their different powers that they’re qualified to be the leader of the animals. The lion (Begha) and the tiger (Anyam) claimed with their strength, the elephant (Nor), with his great size, the tortoise (Kulugh) and the hare (Alom), with their cunningness, the horse (Nyinya) and the cheetah (Ayem), with their speed. These animals broke into a fight and protested on their powers with the argument of “this is more qualified more than this” which at the end convinced the animals that strength, speed or size are not of good measures for leadership and that is why till today, the animal kingdom has no real leader.

After that, Gbende’s father went further to tell more stories to the children. The next story which he told is that of Tarfa the Drummer and the Rats. This particular story teaches that people should keep and fulfill promises. The story is about Mbayem village whose peace has been eaten by the rats. Many people tried different tips on how to keep the rats away from Mbayem village but all their plans faded in white. It reached a stage where the king of Mbayem, Tor Mvihii, promised to reward the person that gets rid of the rats. Almost all the people tried but it was as though their plans fed the rats, making them gain weight. Then, Tarfa the drummer came with his drum and his melodious sound that made the rats fall for his beats. With this, he went to the king for his reward but the king denied him. Tarfa again, with his beats, made the king a man of his word.

The third story speaks on humanity, truth and lies. The fourth is about forgiveness, forgetfulness and taking no revenge. The fifth talks on how the chicken and other eatable animals became a meat to humans. (Two of the stories are untold in the book). And lastly, the sixth is about the bitter lessons of greediness and selfishness.

Gbende’s father made all his words stories for the whole night. As for the children, the tales moulded them like sleeping pills. Gbende’s father with all other children retired home. The night grumbled as Terdoo closes her eyes, it was as though the night planned to make Terdoo stay up all night. Terdoo woke in the night with a sick scream telling she was having a fever. Her father took her to the clinic by trekking, the far distance stretched as they trek. Terdoo was in a severe pain that made her ask awful questions about death. To block her ears, her father took over with a healing tale. As his lips moved, it showered Terdoo with spells and made her fine again.

The way the writer occupied the book with astonishing stories coated with mild poetry is worth acknowledging. The language and style which include a projection of the Tiv language and culture added colour to the tale. The cover of the book is also fascinating as it is a children’s book. The pictures and illustrations in the book also made the book a priceless gift for the child. The stories may be for children but truly with each story comes a massive lesson for everyone.

Bio:

Zakiyyah Dzukogi is a member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation who loves poetry and spoken word. Her poetry book CARVED won the 2nd position in maiden edition of Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors. Also, she was the winner of the December 2019 edition of Splendors of Dawn Poetry Prize, Abuja. Zakiyyah has two videos of spoken word entitled Ramadan and Will it Come? She wants to be a Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, traveling around the world to share her ideas and works.