The previous story, a Yoruba folktale published last week, tells the tale of how the tortoise assisted his friend, a human called Ogunyemi in his rise to fame and power through the murder of another animal, the elephant.
Let’s see how things go from there…
After the death of Erin the elephant and Ogunyemi’s reward, the news slowly spread across the animal kingdom that Ijapa the tortoise was responsible for the death of the elephant. Of course his friends and relatives did not take this lying down.
A massive manhunt was set up to capture the tortoise. Unable to bear the constant fear and running, Ijapa packed his belongings and took to the sea.
(In Yoruba folklore, Ijapa is believed to be amphibious, capable of living comfortably, irregardless of his current location either in land or in water.)
With a small bag, clutched to his chest, he swam to the ocean floor and began a new life, free from the reach of his sworn enemies.
However the sea was ruled by a strong and majestic being, “Yemoja” the mermaid, and queen of the ocean.
Yemoja found out of the new entrant to her watery kingdom and paid him a visit.
When she came, she asked him why he relocated to the sea. The wily tortoise claimed to be a craftsman, sick of working on land, who came to the sea for a quiet retirement.
Yemoja asked about his craft. The tortoise claimed to be a brilliant herbalist with a gift for making the most beautiful tribal marks.
This excited the mermaid so much she asked the tortoise to come and give her children tribal marks too.
(Her children were fishes of all sizes and species)
The wily tortoise agreed and promised to come the next day. Promptly, the next day, as promised, Ijapa swam up to Yemoja’s majestic home and declared himself ready for work.
He asked her to set aside the most delicious and smallest of her children for those were the only ones upon whom he could work.
So the mermaid set aside Tilapia, Mackerel and other edible fishes in a room furnished to taste, providing the tools asked for by the tortoise.
He then asked to be left alone with the fishes for seven days during which he would finish his work.
In truth, the tortoise did have a bit of skill in carving tribal marks. So on getting into the room, he set one of the fishes aside and carved into its cheek, beautiful and elaborate tribal marks.
Then he took the others and ate them.
Day by day, he killed and ate the fishes. But every evening, Yemoja would swim past and inquire about his work.
Ijapa would claim it went on fine, holding the one he had worked on to the viewing window for her to see. Then she would swim off and he would resume killing and eating the fishes.
For six days he did this, and on the seventh day, he locked the door and went to Yemoja to demand payment. Happily, she paid him.
He then returned with the payment to the surface with a stern warning not to disturb the fishes as they needed time to recuperate. He recommended a period of two hours before the doors were to be opened.
After an hour and a half, the mermaid got impatient and went into the room.
Alas, it was not as she thought. All that was left were the bones of her children littering the ground.
Even the fish that he worked on, he eventually ate. She started a frantic search to find and punish the murderous stranger, before he slipped out of her clutches.
But it was too late, Ijapa had returned to land.