Folktales in Nigerian Literature

Folktale is a very important form of oral literature especially when it relates to literature in Nigeria. Folktales are narrative or traditional stories constructed from the imagination of people over time. They are popular stories handed down from generation to generation used for several purposes, ranging from accessing morality to educative purpose, to relaxation and entertaining purposes.

Folktales are as old as the culture of the people who tell them and these stories are readily accessible but in no fixed form. They may hinge on human beings, animal community or both in mutual interaction. They are mainly fictitious and depict the cultural background of the people. Most folktales were designed and intended to teach, especially children. Some of the moral principles that a child received in the traditional society comes from folktales. The Predominantly didactic or moralistic nature of folktales combined with entertainment make them the most popular form of oral narrative. Sometimes they come handy with a particular traditional song that makes them stick with the audience for a long time, especially children, stories and songs stick with them still adulthood.

An example of a folktale with a music almost every adult remembers is ‘John bull open the door.’

Johnbull open the door,

Johnbull open the door,

It’s me your mother open the door,

Johnbull open the door.

If you were told lots of stories when you were little you probably might remember this or maybe not.

The major characteristics of these folktales is that they were usually told orally. Due to this reason, today’s tales might have several variations in telling just one particular story, but however it is told, the moral is usually clear to the audience.

Folktales have it’s outstanding characteristics;

Characteristics of folktales


The characters of folktales are fictitious and can be humans, animals, plants, spirits, a mix of human and spirits, animal and humans or spirits etc. There are many Folktales with animals as the main character. Some of such stories depict in animals, human endeavors, Man’s virtue and vices, his successes and failures, wisdom and follies. And through such stories man explores his life in the society as he listens and imagines the interaction among animals, Among men, spirits and animals and man and trees, birds, fishes, insects e.t.c.


Folktales are usually moonlight tales, stories told at relaxation. Stories that are used to keep children and others on their seat. Sometimes teachers use this techniques in schools to keep the class quiet and undivided. Some folktales come with songs that the audience sing along with, most especially when told in other Nigerian languages aside English. Folktales could be funny and make you laugh, sing or clap, whichever it is a sure way of entertainment in Oral literature.


The main purpose of most Folktales is not to entertain but to teach. They intend to pass one or two moral lessons to people. They have hidden wisdom in them and one example of this is the famous tortoise story that comes in different versions. It could be a trickster tale but at the end of the day, the moral of the story would be fully exposed and one need not ask what the moral is again.


Folktales are not real stories. Everyone, for instance knows animals don’t talk in this present age neither do they have the might of humans. Sometimes we forget all we know about a particular story but the moral alone stuck, this is the purpose of the fiction.


Finally, since folktales are out to teach and is being told orally, it is usually short and can be narrated in a short while , and if peradventure it should be long based on the story it is usually episodic and this is dependent on the story teller.


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