There was a time when traditional storytelling was an essential part of family life. Then, the family storyteller would sit on a stool slightly elevated from the mat on which the story-hearers sit. “Once upon a time…,” it usually begins.
As time passed, television and radio took the place of traditional storytelling. With computers, mobile devices, especially smartphones and tabs, in the mix, the traditional once-upon-a-time stories were relegated to villages, supported only by lack of social amenities, especially electricity. The uncles, aunts and parents who retained their storytelling skills continued to gain a lot of children fans, but these too are fast abandoning the skills for instant messaging and social networking apps.
However, in a bid to keep the tradition alive, Genii Games, a proudly Nigerian organization, has created the Àsà brand to preserve and promote the rich African culture of storytelling using technology. Genii Games has a goal of stimulating the interest of kids aged two to12 years in subjects relating to indigenous African culture.
Àsà ─ meaning culture in Yoruba ─ is a brand that includes a collection of mobile apps enhanced with games, colourful illustrations, voice, sound and animation that are packaged within the African cultural contexts to appeal to young people within two to 12 years of age.
Lead Developer of Genii Games, Adebayo Adegbembo, who describes the Àsà team as African Culture’s Evangelists, believes that globalisation is subconsciously eroding Nigerians’ once-treasured rich indigenous cultures, which is why his team is taking the responsibility to keep African culture on course.
“Day after day, as the digital age rolls by, I keep wondering if technology will pay for this or somehow, if it would find a way to bring back story time,” Adegbembo said. “With our range of apps, children would sit again around the digital story teller to hear the same old folktales once told and retold by our forefathers.”
The team thus developed apps like Oluronbi, a popular West-African folktale of trust and attitude with cultural and moral lessons about a pretty young lady who has everything she wanted except a child; The lazy chicken, a story that exposes the dangers of laziness, chronicling the mythical events that led to the use of chicken as sacrificial offerings in some African cultures; and The Monkeys’ Quest, which takes users through a story of how monkeys came about their near-human look. All the apps run on iOS, android and blackberry platforms, complete with corresponding folksong, many reading modes, games and interactive elements for cultural tips.
Àsà also has Yoruba101, Igbo101 ─ interactive language teaching app, which creates a virtual classroom complete with Oluko Àsà and Onye nkuzi Àsà respectively (culture teacher) who take users through topics like Alphabets, Words and Sentence formations using animations, colourful illustrations, voice, sound and text. There is also aHausa an interactive Hausa language teaching app.
“The illustrations are cleanly drawn, depicting Nigerian figures in brightly patterned dress and village settings,” a foremost American book review magazine, Kirkus Reviews said of the powerful storytelling tools employed in the Oluronbi app.
“They are brightened up both by a chorus that sings a song to the Iroko Spirit in one scene but can be heard in the background throughout and by a particularly lively, accented narrator.”
The Genii Games crew promise never to relent in the campaign to keep Nigeria’s culture preserved digitally by developing follow-up apps to the ones they already have.
“Going forward, Àsà’s development efforts are geared towards releasing more culturally oriented apps across board to cater for our diverse and rich cultures,” Adegbembo said.
“With Àsà apps, brought to you by Genii Games (http://www.geniigames.com), we can confidently say that our agelong morals, native tongues, etiquette, fables and other treasured cultural elements will not die.”