Mummy, read: Mayowa and the Masquerades by Lola Shoneyin

In Celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day

(I use the Mummy, read… series to highlight books that my preschooler is currently enjoying)

There are lots of  Ghanaian festivals between early August and November.  I’ve been dispatching my preschooler to our rural area during the month of August when his school is on holidays.  He can enjoy the weeklong festival and I can take a breather from my mummy duties, especially the never-ending reading sessions every night before he grudgingly goes to sleep.  This year, when he returned home and after regaling me with all that went on, he promptly requested that I read him Mayowa and the Masquerades (2010).

Mayowa is a young boy who lives in Lagos, Nigeria.  One day, his mother scuttles his plans to spend the entire day playing computer games when she announces that the family will visit his grandmother in Ilisan.  By his reaction – “he went to his room and sulked” – Mayowa does not want to go to Ilisan. Presumably there are no computer games there.  When the family arrives at Ilisan,  they find that Granny has arranged a surprise for Mayowa:

“’I have invited  my neighbour’s son to show you around,’ she said to Mayowa. ‘The masquerades are coming out today, so there will be lots of dancing, Denuyi! Denuyi!’ Granny called”

Denuyi, “with a big smile on his face”, comes hopping to greet Mayowa.  Quite the adventurer and educator, he catches and releases a grasshopper.  He then takes Mayowa to a stream where they dip “their hands and feet in the cool water”.  The day’s attraction is yet to come but already Mayowa is smitten by Denuyi and has forgotten his computer games. A couple more antics (tree-climbing and a visit with piglets) follow, after which Denuyi reminds Mayowa about the masquerades.

“They (masquerades) are our ancestors.  During the festival, they return to the world to dance with their loved ones.”

You mean we are going to see dead people dancing?”

“No!”  Denuyi laughed. “Just wait and see.”

There is much drumming and dancing at the festival grounds (in a neighboring village) and boys join in on the fun, dancing with the masquerades in their colorful outfits.  They have so much fun they don’t notice that the crowd has thinned out. They find themselves alone at the park. And it appears that Denuyi has forgotten the way back to Ilisan.  Luckily, a kind man points them in the right direction and they are soon back in Granny’s compound.  Mayowa proclaims that he had a wonderful day and waves goodbye to Denuyi.   He falls asleep, on the journey back to Lagos, “with a big smile on his face.”

Mayowa and the Masquerades is a delightful book.   I love its message because I firmly believe that children living in the urban cities of Africa should visit and experience its rural towns and villages.  There is so much there to excite and delight a growing and an inquisitive mind.  I’m pleased that the Nigerian poet and writer Lola Shoneyin shares this view:).  The illustrations, by Francis Blake, are beautiful and whimsical.  The book is recommended for children, both young and old.  In the meantime and until next year’s festivals, I’ll be reading and discussing Mayowa, Denuyi and the masquerades with a rather demanding five-year-old!

*The book was given to me by the publisher, Cassava Republic.*

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11 comments

  1. I remember in my village in anambra state when masquerades will enter my house compounds and dance and me myself will speed by to the store and hide until they go

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  2. As a child growing up in down town Accra masquerades were part of my experience but I must say I was aalmost always scared of their appearance. They firhgtened me with thier hideous masks and I can remember hiding behind my older brother to catch glimpses of them as they sped buy or danced away on the streets.

    I did buy Mayowa and the Masquerades from Cassava Republics for my 8 year old. And he had fun reading it with so many questions. He is yet to see a live masquerade, which I wll rectify soon. This time, I will not be afraid of them.

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    • I think most of us were scared of the masqueraders, especially those who came round at Christmas time. Alas, we don’t see them much anymore. You and your family are always welcome to jion us around our festival time. All the best.

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  3. That looks like a great children’s book! I love the illustrations. I’ll have to see if I can locate a copy near me for my little nephew.

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