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Mobile App's Creator Seeks to Preserve African Folk Tales

Elizabeth Kperrun says she learned life lessons from the folk stories she heard as a child, a tradition she says should be kept alive. Her AfroTalez app for children offers narration, full-screen animation and quizzes.

For centuries, Africans have preserved their history through storytelling. But communication is evolving rapidly as more and more Africans use smartphones.

So Nigerian tech entrepreneur and fashion designer Elizabeth Kperrun decided to adapt African folk tales to the 21st century by focusing on children’s stories that teach moral lessons. She created AfroTalez, a mobile application to preserve some of the stories told to her when she was a child sitting around the campfires at her home in eastern Benue state.

“Sometimes," she said, "you can’t teach a child something by telling the child, ‘Don’t do this.’ But in the context of a story, a child can learn that somebody stole something and then something bad happened to them. Alternatively, someone did something good and they ended up really happy or really rich.”

AfroTalez is designed for children ages two to 10. The voice of “Aunt Liz” narrates the story, while a full-screen animation appears; an arrow indicates when it’s time to move on. There are also quizzes on object recognition and counting throughout.

Kperrun relied on her older relatives to help collect Tiv stories — from an ethnic group of 4 million people in southeast Nigeria and northwest Cameroon. Eventually, she would like to include folk tales from other parts of Nigeria in various local languages.

“I want to keep it centered around folk stories," she said. "I don’t want the popular ones that, let’s say, Walt Disney has made really popular. … I think it’s only fair and respectful that we keep certain cultures alive, because most of the folk stories are part of the tapestry that keeps cultures together."

Kperrun is responsible for voicing and scriptwriting. Her partner and husband, Idamiebi Ilamina-Eremie — their relationship was sparked during their creation of the app — does the animation.

AfroTalez is available for Android users and can be downloaded for free from the Google Play store. So far, AfroTalez has more than 50,000 users.

Funding has been a major challenge, so Kperrun hopes to capitalize on the popularity of the first installment with a crowdfunding campaign.

Kperrun said technology doesn’t have to destroy or replace traditions. Her mission is to blend the two to keep African culture alive.

“Africa is our home," she said. "I think we are so in a rush to become Western that we are forgetting things that are really important, things that should be passed on of who we are, and I don’t think that’s right.”

The second AfroTalez is due to be released early this year.