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Interview with Uchendu O. Eronini

Eronini, Uchendu
Foster, Marshall
Date of Interview: 
Storytellers and stories; Cultural identification; Relationships with people and places; Childhood adventures
Uchendu Eronini starts by explaining the origin of his name, and then tells some traditional oral and written Nigerian stories and cultural facts. He also talks about his favorite authors and some books he likes to read.
Nigeria, 1900-2000
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Marshall Foster interviewed a variety of people currently residing in North Carolina for a class project at UNCC.
MF (Foster, Marshall): Hi, I'm Marshall Foster and I'm here today conducting an interview with Uchendu Eronini on the subject of stories. Uche, could I start by asking you, what is your full name and is there any story behind your name?
UE (Eronini, Uchendu O.): Uh, my full name is Uchendu Ogubie Eronini. Um, I'm originally from Nigeria. Um, I was born in Port Harcourt in Nigeria and my first name actually means, uh, source of life, and my middle name means, let the war end. I was born six days before a civil war started in my country in 1967, so that's pretty much what my name stands for. Then my last name um, I got from my grandfather so I don't quite know the meaning.
MF: OK. Is that a custom in your country to have your grandfather's last name?
UE: Yes. Uh, in my area, yes in Imo State, the Ibo speaking part area of Nigeria. Most uh, people are dubbed their grandparents', grandfather's last name, and in some you adopt your grandmother's last name and some areas that are more or less matrilineally focused.
MF: All right, excellent. My next question has to do with the first story you remember ever hearing as a child? Do you know what that story is?
UE: Well, that's been a while ago, but a quick short story comes to mind. I recall the story of a, my mother told me, when I was, I was about five. It had to do with the grasshopper and the ant. And pretty much it was a story where the grasshopper was playing all the time all through the rainy season, and the ant was busy collecting food, preparing for the dry season. And later on after all the partying, by the grasshopper, when it got to the uh, dry season there wasn't enough food for the plants, for the animals to feed on. The grasshopper was now without food and had to turn to the ant and the ant [laugh] refused to help him out because during the rainy day season, when there was much food, the grasshopper did nothing but party on. So pretty much died out from hunger; so more or less make hay while the sun shines.
MF: That's interesting. Um, was this your favorite story as a child?
UE: Well yeah, kind of, because of the several stories I heard. Now that particularly stood out because it was very instructive and had a lot of meaning for me.
MF: I think you said your, your mother told you that story, is that correct?
UE: Yes I did.
MF: Did your mother tell you most of the stories or were you read to as a child? And who read to you?
UE: Pretty much most stories were bedtime stories about you know, when you were naughty and didn't want to go to bed early. Those stories were kind of soothing they weren't read but they were just told to you to get into the world of make believe and gradually go to bed and sleep. So, I wasn't read to as a young kid. No.
MF: OK, very interesting. Is uh, is reading to children common in your culture? Is it something that was done?
UE: No, not to a great extent, but gradually now with, you know, much emphasis on uh, reading in schools you have a lot of reading years at home.
MF: I was going to say with the stories, are the stories that are read, are they mostly oral stories?
UE: Yes, most are folklore and oral stories, you know, depending on your age when you're very young like say about five, four, five or four most of the stories are folklore. Then as you get older most stories will be real stories about modern day life, about everyday life.
MF: Right, so there was a moral behind the stories your parents or your culture was trying to get across to the children?
UE: Yes, in most cases when you were much younger you had lots of stories that had, like uh, fables, like fables, that had moral underlines and were designed to more or less guide you right. So I guess to a great extent, most of those stories were more or less made up [laugh] they kind of molded you on the right path.
MF: Were any of the stories religious uh, in, in any matter?
UE: No, not really.
MF: Let's see, I was going to ask, [pause] what, what story from your childhood appealed to you most?
UE: Um, if I can recall there was one, um, I was told when I was around seven. Uh, this guy, this old man who had like five kids, five boys, and the sons were always bickering amongst each other and fighting all the time. So, he got you know, tired of making peace. So he one day, he called all the kids together and he brought out a broomstick. He gave each of them a single broomstick and told each one of them to break it. So they could all snap it and break it up. Then he collected like a hundred broomsticks, and tied it up and gives to each one, and none of them could break it. So he said, "Well, just here to tell you something, that, you know, singly, on your own, you could only achieve so much, but all five of you, for you to break that big bundle of broomsticks, you all have to work together as a team." You know, in unity. So, more or less you have to put aside your bickering and come together as a family and work towards a common goal. So that kind of stood out. Yeah.
MF: Who told you that story? Do you remember?
UE: Well I can't really recall now, either in school or something I read, yeah, but more or less based on folklore too, but written.
MF: You said uh, a lot of the stories that had to do with morals were told to you when you were very young. Were those stories that were also taught to you in school or was that just something that was just with the family?
UE: I say pretty much within the family, because in school as um, one got older and got into school I started reading like comics and cartoons and um, you know novels. As I got into my teenage years, so into my teens, I guess um, more of the moral stories were at home when you were pretty much about five, six, seven.
MF: OK. You said when in your teenage years that your reading patterns changed. Being from Nigeria, did the readings actually come from Nigerian authors or were you reading um, English from all over the world, or where was your focus?
UE: Um, pretty much, the main focus were on books, English books. Um, that ranged on so many variety of topics, you had books on the Second World War, fighter planes. Um, you have some books also written by Nigerian authors, you know, just short stories and stuff like that. Then, not so many novels that you could actually read. Then cartoons and comics.
MF: Were some of these your favorite stories?
UE: Yeah, some of them were, but not really favorite but you know, there were so many novels I really liked.
MF: So there were, were stories you read on your own time?
UE: Yeah, pretty much on my own time.
MF: And, as you obviously got older did that pattern change, do you read materials now that are much different than what you read as a child?
UE: Uh, yeah [laugh]. At times I crave to read things I read as a kid, but now I read mostly serious books like, uh, more books like John Grisham and Robert Ludlum or any of the spy stories--
MF: And these are mainstream American authors?
UE: Yeah, mainstream American authors and, you know, pretty much everyday life, but at a more advanced level. Then I also like reading biographies about important people so to see how they live their lives and how they got to their present status where you know of importance.
MF: Do you have a favorite author?
UE: Well, yes. I like John Grisham, his books.
MF: Is there a prominent Nigerian author that you might be a person that you read?
UE: Yes um, I read um, when I was in school. You know in my teens I read Things Fall Apart. Written by a Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, and it, it was widely acclaimed. It was written in the 50's and it was based on, you know, the uh, experience of Africans in the 19th century.
MF: Oh, really?
UE: Yeah. The experiences with the colonial powers, with the English in the 19th century. So I'm sure there were the gradual transition from an African, pure African culture to one where they accepted Christianity and then gradually into modern day life. So, you know, losing along the way some African customs, and so it was very interesting. It was published in like eight different languages. So--
MF: That's fantastic. I was going to say from that [pause] the books that you were reading was there any characters that you identified with, that maybe influenced like what you do now? Or is there anything that, any kind of story that sort of influenced your life?
UE: Well, um, I wouldn't, per say, say a story, but recently I liked reading uh, The Firm, by John Grisham. I liked how the main character, the lawyer, [laugh] pretty much influenced--
MF: Could you explain why that, why you identify with that character?
UE: Pretty much, because I'm presently working as a lawyer in a big firm now [laugh]. So, I've seen the character in that book was more or less. How the firm was controlling everyday aspects of his life and his family life. So, and then he kind of discovered that it wasn't all they weren't all doing legal stuff, they were doing illegal stuff but masking it with, you know, legality because they were lawyers. But um, it influenced, I mean it's like putting you in a large firm but most of the things written in the book don't come they are, they're not real, because law firms are not like the author makes it to be. It's not like one huge old-boys network, or things like that. Pretty much open. [Laughter]
MF: I was going to say, getting back to childhood stories, were there any stories that um, influenced you as a child? Or were there any characters that you, you really loved or identified with?
UE: Well, um, like the story I told you about the old man and his five kids. That really um had an impact on me. Coming from a family of six um, the emphasis was more or less um, have a unity with your brothers and sisters and making sure you know, you all bond, bonded together as a family and watched out for each other as you grew up.
MF: Right, that's great. So these stories from Nigeria are they, are they mostly all along that same focus?
UE: Well--
MF: Type of a, kind of like all moral stories--
UE: Well, at a, at a younger age, most, most, most have a predominately moral themes and pretty much [laugh]--
MF: So would you say these stories pretty much take the place of, sort of like morals and ethics that uh, western culture are taught sort of by, from the religious aspect?
UE: Well, um, I wouldn't say they take the place totally of you know they take the place of the ethics you learn. But I would say they kind of supplement you know in addition to all Christianity, moral values and all that, you have these stories told and hammered into you this moral theme is about how to live your life and you know--
UE: The basic focus is on morality, in most uh, folklore.
MF:All right excellent. OK. Let's see is there any other question [pause]? Was there ever a story that from your childhood that you didn't like?
UE: Well um, there was one based on the book I read, the book I told you about ( ). Um, in that you know, back in the days, in the 19th century, there was an abomination to have twins.
MF: Really?
UE: Yeah. The culture then was to put to death twins. The traditional view, they never understood why a human being could have twins.
MF: Oh, exactly.
UE: It was always um, the norm to have a single child. So up to, up to like 1910 or 1911, you know with the advent of Christianity, all those practices stopped. So uh, there was a story my mom told me way back about her cousins, well they're more or less her grand, her uncles, they were the very first set of twins that were spared being killed.
MF: Oh really?
UE: Yeah, because of Christianity. So their names were, one, one's name was, of them was ( ) and that means change of heart. So more or less ( ) there was a change of heart when it came to ( ). And these are very successful people today, one is an engineer and the other one is a medical doctor.
MF: No kidding.
UE: Yeah, they are pretty much ( ) like 70 or almost 80 today. But, if you think way back, that these two would never have survived because of culture.
MF: Yeah.
UE: So, it had a great influence on me.