Category Archives: Folktales


“When a lion wakes up, it prays just one prayer. Lord, show me the animal I’ll eat today. Then leave us alone.”

High-pitched bird calls echo around the forest bouncing off tree trunks and leaves dripping water. Sunlight cuts little paths through the canopy of leaves, tracing a delicate pattern of light and darkness on the leaf strewn floor.

Twigs and dried leaves crumple and crackle as tiny life-forms continue their busy schedule of eat or be eaten. Which in all fairness isn’t much different from what we larger life-forms do. We just happen to be better at that eating part.

A deer steps out nimbly from behind a tree. Wary, she looks to the left. Then to the right. She raises her nose to the air to sniff daintly, and satisfied, takes a few steps to her objective. A small, crystal clear brook. Gently, ears active for the slightest warning, she lowers her head to drink. This is how it is to be prey. 

A wary life. Always watching, always looking, always ready to run. A moment’s hesitation would be the difference between deer and venison. 

Not to far away, hidden in the undergrowth, lies one of the biggest predators known to nature. His muscles taut, he readies himself for his moment. He knows the perfect time to strike, it is that moment after the deer has had that first sip of water, where the thirst almost drives her mad and she hurries to take even larger gulps.

At that moment, hopefully, she would be temporarily distracted. At that moment, she would be easy. But not a moment before.

Here it is, a slow, careful sip, and… Now!

Ogunjimi releases the arrow he is aiming at the deer, and the breath he didn’t even know he was holding.

The arrow flies true and sinks into her head like a knife into butter. She falls to the ground. Quickly he leaves his place of concealment and goes to fetch his prize. She’s a good, big one. More than enough meat for the next few days. And perhaps he could sell some body parts for extra cash. Chuckling softly, he drapes the corpse round his shoulder.

Hanging from his belly are two dead squirrels, not too far away, attached by means of a rope to a low hanging branch of a tree, is a fat, juicy, bush pig.

All in all, not a bad day. As he gets to the place where he tied the pig, his hunting dogs come running to greet him with yelps and barks of joy. He pats all three on their heads and tells them what a good job they have done today. Then he adds the boar to his burden and slowly, they make their way through the forest, heading for home, rest, and a warm meal to end the day with.

The sky is brightened by a flash of lightning and thunder rumbles in response, the forest going quiet. Dark clouds block out the sun and it becomes impossible to advance further. Rain drops, fat and heavy, begin to fall, splashing lazily against his hunting gear, the meat, the dogs. With the light from a torch, Ogunjimi finds a place to hide to keep away from the rain till it subsides. He drops the carcasses a short distance from where he and his dogs huddle together to keep warm…

To be continued…



In Yoruba folklore, the tortoise was a wily trickster. Lazy, always up to no good and especially fond of porridge, he often got himself into one  misadventure or the other. This is a story of one such misadventure.

A long, long time ago, when the world was young and animals walked on two feet, Ijapa the tortoise was terribly hungry. Really, really hungry.

He had severe hunger pangs. And this was entirely his fault. You see, during the farming period, while other animals went to the farms to plant crops, he lazed about, whistling tunes and chasing fireflies. He always had one excuse or the other for not working.

“The sun is too hot”

“The ground is as hard as iron.”

“My hands hurt, and handling farming implements are torture.”

Previously, he sold out portions of his farmland he inherited from his late parents, from time to time and from the proceeds, fed himself with food he purchased from the market. But eventually, the farmland was exhausted, leaving behind only a small, miserable plot that no one wanted to buy.

And these were the circumstances that led to the situation he found himself in. He had visited for a while, eating at friends’ places during mealtimes till they grew weary of him and began to avoid him.

He had run through his entire bag of tricks and come up dry. So he went wandering to the forest, perhaps he would be fortunate enough to discover some fruits and nuts to eat.

He walked the length and breadth of the forest and turned up just a few palm kernels and one ripe mango. He sat below a palm tree to eat them. As he was eating, he remembered a spell he had learnt during his travels ( he was well travelled and had gone to places on land and in the sea that no one else had) and decided to try it out. It was a spell to animate palm trees.

Weak with hunger, he began to sing-

“Dance, palm tree dance,

Round and round, let your trunk swirl,

Round and round, let your leaves go,

Dance, palm tree, dance.”

As he sang, the palm tree danced, moving from place to place, and when he stopped, it stood rooted in place, just another palm tree. 

Ijapa smiled. He had a plan. He got some leaves and branches, feathers and twigs, tied them around his palm tree to make it look scary and poured some chicken blood on it from the branches to the roots till it dripped. Satisfied with his craft, he hid himself among the topmost branches and sang the spell, leading it towards the marketplace. He was just in time for the evening market. 

Just as the market women settled down to begin to sell their wares, the palm tree came dancing into the market square. Everyone took to their heels. You must understand, it wasn’t like anything they had ever seen before. A palm tree twirling and spinning, dancing with its roots out of the soil, dripping blood and covered with feathers. 

It looked horrible. It was a sight to put fear into the hearts of even the bravest of men.

When the market square was clear, Ijapa stopped his spell, got down from the palm tree and ate to his heart’s content. Then he took some more food and hid it in the palm tree. Then he sang his spell and spun back to the forest.

He repeated this act, day after day, driving the villagers almost mad with fear and terrorising the the markets. Eventually, they ran to the palace to beg for help.

The king sent his bravest guards to stand by the entrance to the markets. Soon enough, the tortoise came spinning to the marketplace​. He saw the guards and let out a guttural roar that shook the earth and made straight for them. Their strength failed them, their courage shattered and they took to their heels. With the guards gone, the villagers followed quickly after and the tortoise was free to once again, plunder the marketplace.

Tired and desperate, the villagers went back to the king to tell the tale. And he dismissed them, promising to find a solution to the problem. He thought and thought and decided that since brute force had failed, perhaps it was time to try trickery. So he privately called for the best carver in the land and had him create a lifelike statute of a man seated and watching from the strongest iroko tree he could find. Then he made him cover it with sticky tape and set in the centre of the village square. This man he named ‘Sigidi’

Soon afterwards, the palm tree came dancing and everyone as usual, went running. Everyone except sigidi, who sat in the market square watching. The tortoise tried all he could but nothing scared sigidi. At this time, it was almost fully dark and he wanted to eat so he got down and accosted it.

“Why are you not afraid?” He roared. “Are you better than everyone else?”

Sigidi, of course, said nothing. Ijapa saw this as extremely arrogant and so landed it a huge slap. His hand stuck to it. 

“If you don’t release my hand, I’ll deal you an even heavier blow with the other hand.”

Sigidi said nothing.  So Ijapa made a fist with his other hand and struck. It also got stuck.

Now very angry, he kicked the statute. Again, he got stuck. Now beyond reason, he kicked with his other foot. It also got stuck.

“If you don’t let me go, I’ll headbutt you.” He threatened. “I’ll headbutt you so hard, you’d die.”

Sigidi again, gave no response, and so Ijapa headbutted the statute. He was stuck. At this point he realized he was entirely in his opponent’s hands and so he began to plead. He begged and begged, but nothing happened, he was still stuck and that was how he was when the next day arrived and the villagers found him. They went to report to the king who had Ijapa make a full confession. The remaining food items were recovered and returned to their rightful owners.

But Ijapa was left  in the marketplace day after day after day, till the rains began to fall, and eventually the tar softened enough for him to wriggle free.


It was a hot, dry afternoon. Grandpa was sitting outside, on the verandah, wearing  a white singlet and locally made shorts. It was printed of beautiful, brightly colored fabric with twisting patterns. With a newspaper folded neatly in half, spectacles on top of the newspapers, on a small stool bedside him, and an half empty glass cup containing a small amount of palmwine ’emu’ Grandpa was the very picture of contentment as he sat in the shade of the mango tree. He whistled a catchy tune, from the late Christy Essien Igbokwe, the song ‘Omo mi seun rere’ and pushed back the locally made adjustable chair so he could lie down for a while.

Meanwhile I kept sitting and wriggling and moving, were I sat on the rough cement floor, made restless by the heat. After much fuss and stress, I still wasn’t getting anywhere and had only succeeded in rubbing my buttocks raw through the thin fabric of my khaki shorts.
He sat up, looked at me and smiled. And with a crook of a finger, beckoned to me. Quickly I stood up, dusted my short bottoms and walked to him, where he lay in the fragrant shade of the mango tree.

“Ahmed, why are you restless?”

“It is hot, Grandpa. The heat is far too much for me.”

“Yes, it’s hot, but soon it will rain. It’s always hot just before it rains.”

“I wish it rained everyday so it wouldn’t have to be so hot. When will it rain Grandpa?”

“Soon child, soon. In the meantime, how would you like a story? Perhaps, it might make time pass faster. Plus it’s a story about a rainmaker.”

“What’s a rainmaker?”

“A person with the power to call down rain from the heavens.”

“Okay Grandpa, I’m all ears.”

And this is the story he told…

“Once upon a time, there was a prosperous little village surrounded by hills. It was a slow sleepy place, with farmland that was very arable and yielded fat crops. The people were happy and content- maybe too content? One cannot say just yet.

On a particular day, a day that started quite unremarkably, similar in its arrival and existence to the days that came before it, and the days to come after it had passed, an elderly woman made her way to the village square. She wore clothes that were tattered at the edges from long travelling, and had a small satchel of clothes and food. She didn’t look like anybody important.
She hoped to find a place to rest for she was making a long, ardous trek, she just wanted to rest. After looking around, she was unable to get a place to stay. People shut their doors in her face, some were particularly mean, insulting her before sending her away.

And so she went back to the village square and prepared to pass the night on the ground, in the open.

Just as she settled down to sleep, someone tapped her. She opened her eyes. There was a woman standing before her.
“Hello stranger,” she said “do you not have a place to sleep?”

“No,” replied the elderly woman “no one would let me into their house.”

“If that’s the case,then come with me. My hut is not so big, but surely it can contain both of us.”

And so the stranger found a place to stay for the night. The woman who rescued her was a widow named Abeke, a kind soul, and she prepared a meal of porridge with vegetables and smoked fish. The stranger ate till she was full. Then she was given a clean mat and several wrappers, and a corner of the hut was properly swept for her to lie down and sleep.
The widow lived alone, she had no children. The following morning, Abeke prepared breakfast for them to eat, and after they had eaten, she took her hoe and cutlass, ready to go to the farm. But the stranger asked her to pack up everything that was important to her instead and come with her. After much persuading, Abeke agreed. And together they left the hut. The stranger led Abeke to one of the hills and they began to climb. It was afternoon before they got to the summit. There Abeke set down the load she had been carrying and stretched her legs.
“I want to thank you for providing me with comfort, for having mercy on a stranger.”

 “It’s nothing,” said Abeke “I also could be a stranger in need of help someday.”

“True,” the elderly woman replied “and this act of kindness will prevent you from sharing in their fate.”

And she began to sing, softly, barely above a whisper.

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain again and again,

Let the people give their thanks, let the rain fall down in sheets,

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain again and again.”


As she sang, rain began to fall, on the village down below. But she kept on singing, and the rain kept on falling, and soon the words to the song took a different turn-

“Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain again and again,

Let the rain flood all the streets, let the people cry for help,

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain again and again, 

Let the sheep and cattle drown,

Let the crops in farms be ruined.”

And as she sang, her voice rose to a higher volume, becoming louder with every line and so the rain intensified, lightning striking different huts in the village along with a few unfortunates who were unlucky to have been outside for one reason or the other, wind blowing off thatched roofs and the rainfall so heavy that the streets were soon flooded, the water coming up inch by inch until even the biggest huts were covered up. 

Abeke watched in horror as some little figures tried desperately to stay above the water, but eventually failed, slipping in and drowning. The rainmaker continued to sing until there was nothing left were the village once stood, but a large expanse of water, up to three quarters of the hills that surrounded the village. There were no survivors, except Abeke.

She turned and touched Abeke on the forehead. She felt like someone took  a hot branding iron to her forehead and as quickly as she felt it, she felt cold all over, and then all was as it was before.

“I have given you the power to also make rain. With it you can become a very important person. I wish you good luck in your travels, for you must find a new place to stay. But if you ever pass by Shomekun village, ask for the hut of old Ewatomi the rainmaker. You are always welcome in my house.”

And so she left. Abeke found her way to a neighboring village were she found out that the old woman had spoken true, and with her powers of rainmaking, soon became rich. 

She eventually remarried and bore children, and in all her prosperity she never forgot Ewatomi, the old rainmaker.

As Grandpa finished the story, I sang the first song, softly, the song for rain. And suddenly the sky was dark, and I felt something wet splash against my nose. A raindrop. It was followed by another and yet another and we quickly packed everything and moved inside the house. Grandpa pinched me on my cheek and said merrily

“Looks like we have our own little rainmaker after all.”


In Yoruba folklore, the tortoise was a mischief-maker, always up to something.

As such, more often than not, he was on the run from someone or something.
At times it was even an entire group of someones!

Sometimes, however, he served as the source of solutions, often giving cunning but useful advice to enable friends get out of tricky situations.

This is a story that tells of Ijapa in his second capacity as problem-solver. In this tale, Ijapa helps an ailing King avoid death. Of course, he achieves this through great mischief. Enjoy.

Once upon a time, when the earth was young, animals walked on two feet and spoke like men, and there were two kingdoms. The animal kingdom and the human kingdom. In the human kingdom, which happened to be a short distance from the animal kingdom, the king, Kabiyesi, fell terribly ill.

All the medicine men were called, and sacrifices upon sacrifices were made, but all to no avail.

With each day that passed, the king grew progressively weaker.

As the days became weeks the flesh fell off his frame, until a once robust, barrel-chested man became a sack of bones and loose flesh. It was a terrible thing.

The people were seriously worried as Kabiyesi was a just and kind king to his subjects, and the chief priest, acknowledging that this was far beyond his powers, gathered a few strong men in the community and set off to find the world’s greatest herbalist- Ifagbemi.

After kissing their wives and children goodbye, they got provisions and set out, determined to get the King a cure or perish in the effort.
They crossed seven rivers, climbed seven mountains and endured a multitude of hardships before they found Ifagbemi and they pleaded with him to return with them to save their king. After listening to their tale, he agreed and followed them back to their kingdom.

When they got home, the King was unconscious and at the brink of death. Quickly, the herbalist administered a herbal concoction and Kabiyesi was revived. Then Ifagbemi locked himself in a room for seven days, with intense divination to find out the source of the King’s ill health, and the cure, if any.
During this seven days, Kabiyesi’s condition did not deteriorate, but also, it did not improve.

On the morning of the eighth day, Ifagbemi the herbalist came out of the room and proclaimed that the cure for Kabiyesi’s condition was to be found in the heart of an elephant.

Instantly a royal edict went out, decreeing that all hunters were to be on the lookout for elephants, to kill them and harvest their hearts.

Any hunter able to do this, was to receive a large monetary reward, and also marry any one of the princesses born to the royal family.

There was a particular hunter with the name Ogunyemi who set his mind on getting the reward. He went into the bush and after days and days of searching, was unable to find any elephant to kill. Dejected, he sat on a stone to think and worry, and it was in this state that his friend Ijapa met him.

Ijapa who despite his numerous failings, could nonetheless prove a wonderful friend picked up on Ogunyemi’s dark mood. He asked his friend to reveal his problem, but he was rebuffed. Not to be turned away, he asked again and again until the hunter opened up and revealed that he was searching for the heart of an elephant. But despite his efforts, he had not come across even an elephant’s shadow, not to talk of killing it and obtaining it’s heart.

Ijapa told him to cheer up, that he would procure an elephant’s heart for him. With that assurance, Ogunyemi soon cheered up and soon was roasting corn for himself and his friend Ijapa to eat.

After much merriment, it was time to for Ijapa to return to his home in the animal kingdom.
Ijapa before leaving, told Ogunyemi to sharpen his machete, dig a big hole at the market square the next evening, cover it with mats and wait there for the elephant’s heart.
The hunter agreed to do this.

Ijapa then went home. Upon getting back to the animal kingdom, he went straight to the home of Erin, the elephant.

When he got there he prostrated himself with his face to the floor and greeted the elephant saying
“Kabiyesi, live forever.”
The elephant, surprised, asked the tortoise what he meant.

The crafty tortoise then asked if he knew of the humans and their current search for an elephant.
Erin responded in the affirmative, but admitted that he did not know why they wanted him, and that he wanted nothing to do with the humans and their fire-sticks.

Ijapa laughed and told him that they were searching for a king, as the old one had died, and the Kingmakers had declared that the next king was to come from the animal kingdom.

Claiming to have been there when the old king passed away, Ijapa then spun a beautiful tale of how he had suggested an elephant and successfully convinced them to appoint him as the kingmaker supreme. As such it fell to him to produce the king. And having gotten that task, he had come to invite Erin to his coronation ceremony so he could be crowned as king.
The vain elephant was pleased to hear this, and agreed to follow the tortoise to the land of humans to be crowned, the following afternoon.

The next day, the tortoise came to fetch the elephant and with drumming and singing and lots of fanfare, they set of for the human kingdom.

Soon they arrived at their destination, and Ijapa led the unwary elephant to the hole covered with mats. With a sign, he gestured for the elephant to take his seat.

The elephant who at this time was exhausted from so much dancing, walked up to the mats and flung himself down to take his seat. With a whoosh, the mats fell from under him, and Ogunyemi quickly came out from his hiding place to kill the elephant and get his heart.

He then took this to the palace where the remedy was made for Kabiyesi.
Soon enough, Kabiyesi recovered fully and gave Ogunyemi his reward…



It’s the first few days of December. Cold northern winds scour the land bringing with them the unfriendly friend- harmattan.
Cracked lips, dry, whitish skin, it’s a perpetual struggle to stay warm. Moisture seems to be nothing but a fevered dream. Water dries off like there’s a meeting in heaven it just cannot afford to be late to.

Anything left in a spot for a long while is covered with a thin film of dust.
The sandy footpaths are filled with that same earthy brownish-orange dust. Even as it rises in small clouds, pummeled under the feet of hasty villagers going about their daily business. There is no time to wait and exchange more than the barest pleasantries. Stay still for more than a few minutes and the cold begins to take little nips at your exposed flesh and if you still wait like a rabbit frozen in a bright beam of light, it gets into your very bones.

It is in this harmattan period however, that UzoChukwu, a young, virile boy from a clan of warriors, one who had braved seventeen harmattans successfully, must attain his manhood or be shamed forever among his clansmen. Armed with just a loincloth, a thick fur blanket, a spear and some rations, he must spend a week in the thick forest at the boundary, alone and without help.

On the day set aside, UzoChukwu and several other boys of his age grade meet at the agreed upon meeting place, the huge palm tree in the market square. They shake hands and trade insults. If they prove their courage in their different places of assignment, they would meet in exactly one week as men. Those who failed would have to pay a steep fine, to be set by those who passed. And then, the next harmattan, they would be opportuned to take the test again with their younger ones. Every boy present wears a grim face. They know what is at stake.

Footsteps echo from a footpath leading through a thick forest, the forest of men. Instantly, the boys hush. Only strong men who had proven their worth in the clan, great warriors, orators or experts in their chosen fields could walk this path. Men like this were not seen everyday, one only caught glimpses of them if he woke up early enough to see them as they made their way to their massive farmlands, or when they gathered to deliberate on issues affecting the village.

But everyone knows their names.

The leaves covering the end of the path shake and part and Ozonna, the village medicine man comes out. He is a huge, barrel-chested man, with arms like tree trunks. He was said to be able to wrestle with leopards and win. He looks at one as though he sees your every secret. He is one of those who are even harder to see than their peers, and his one distinguishing mark is the staff he always carries, a long, strong wooden staff topped with a pale bleached human skull.

Immediately the boys fall to their knees in respect. To look Ozonna in the eye is to incur his wrath, and the wrath of the spirits.
This us well known. He peers at them intently, checking to see that all his charges are present. Then he nods to himself, grunting and fetching a small object from a satchel dangling on his shoulder, he blows on a bone whistle.
The boys stand up and run off, each to his own task.

Ozonna watches them run, little clouds of dust puffing up in their wake, and tries to shake off the sense of foreboding he feels, watching the boys leave. It has been a long long time since they had lost a boy to his test of virility and he feels that at the end of the week their numbers would decrease.

He makes up his mind to sacrifice a few pure animals to ward off the evil omen and turns his back on the children, who have become specks in the distance, as he begins his return journey.


Giwa was the most beautiful boy in his town.

Yes, beautiful. The word “handsome” just couldn’t do him justice. With a clear, clean chocolate complexion and shiny black hair, he also had limbs hewn to perfection and lashes that made the village beauties grow green with envy. 

After they woke up from swooning at the sight of him, that is. 
It was commonly said in the village that the creator was in a good mood the day he made Giwa. Some even speculated that he was created on a day of rest. Afterall, everyone knew it took time and special attention to create a masterpiece.

Nevertheless, Giwa was the pride of the village. Not just beautiful, he was also smart. And hardworking too. Everyone loved him. He was born to a dotting mother who had every reason to pamper him after a prolonged season of childlessness, after sixteen years of marriage!

What no one knew was that Giwa was not an ordinary child. He was “given” to his mother by the river goddess with a strict warning.

He was never be allowed to meet with her again. She was notorious for her love of pretty things. Pretty boys and girls. Pretty rocks. Pretty shells. If anything pretty got to the riverbank on a sacred day (one of the days when she came out to roam the earth in the guise of a human) it always ended up following her home. 

However, everyone knew the sacred days, and were wise enough to stay indoors. As such there was no problem.
Giwa grew into an attractive, healthy young man with a fondness for swimming. Knowing his origin, his mother tried her best to indulge him, knowing fully well that he could not be in any form of danger from the water. The only restriction she placed on him was a stern warning that the river was off-limits on sacred days.
She drummed this into his ears from the moment he was strong enough to stand in his own two feet. Giwa knew this. It was law. But sadly, it was not enough.

He had three close friends, and the group of four did everything together, every moment they had free, they spent together. All the boys were handsome to varying degrees, but Giwa outshone them all.

Watching him play with his gang was like seeing a huge diamond nestled in the midst of gold coins. You knew the gold was valuable, but the diamond was more so.

One dark twisted day, a day that started like any other, Giwa’s parents had to travel to a far away village for a meeting. They made sure to provide more than enough food to take him through the four days they estimated the entire journey would require.

His mother drew him to a corner. The fourth day, the day I their return was a sacred day. She warned him not to venture into the river, and after extracting a solemn promise that he would do no such thing, she left. He was almost a man grown, having seen seventeen harmattan, si they were comfortable leaving him behind.

Giwa ha so much fun, eating and sleeping and doing as he wished for the first three days. But soon he was sick and tired of it. His gang had come to meet him everyday, and they ha hung out. But today was a scared day and no one was visiting.
Stuck at home and bored out of his mind, Giwa was thinking of things he could do to pass the time when he heard a knock.

Going to the front door to open it, he met his gang on the front steps playing. They wanted to go to the river for a quick deep and they wanted their nest swimmer to go along with them. At first he declined, but when they put a bit of pressure on him he caved in. In truth, he wanted to go. It was better than sitting at home anyway.

It wasn’t too long when they got to the river and waded in. The river was empty, there was no one around. None of the bigger kids were around to boss them about, none of the noisy little kids to shout and run about ruining the peace and tranquility. It was laidback. Beautiful. Serene…

Little wonder none of the boys took note of time and like grains of sand trickling through the hourglass the seconds slipped away, growing into minutes, which grew into hours and so on and then it struck noon, the hour of the river goddess.

As they lazed in the water, they were suddenly surrounded by the prettiest girls you ever laid eyes on. And among the girls, there was a particularly beautiful lady. She seemed to glide towards Giwa, and his group of friends parted to make a way for her. They started to chat and were soon lost in each other. His friends were not left out as her attendants- they could only be attendants, a girl that beautiful had to be a princess of some sort- kept them occupied.

The hours spun by in pleasant chitchats, until Tanko, an unrepentant prankster decided to kick one other girls in the calf. No one knew why. But he thought it would be funny. But his feet meet with something slippery, something solid. A single limb, not two. Not legs. A tail?

He dived underwater and almost drowned in shock. Underneath the surface of the water, she was a fish! She had a fish’s tail from the waist down, hidden by the murky nature of the river. He broke the surface and the cold look she gave him explained everything. His head seemed to swell to three times it’s normal size. He barely managed to croak “Giwa” when the girls grabbed the other three boys and dived into the water with a flash of fins and shiny tails. Of the gang, he was the only one left. Everyone else had disappeared, with the ripples they left behind, the only evidence they ever existed.

Stunned with shock, prodded by mind numbing fear, he clawed his way to the riverbank like a crazed caged beast set free and ran in a daze to the village, screaming for help at the top of his voice. 

He made it to the shrine and was able to rouse the chief priest from his midday slumber. On hearing what happened, the portly man rushed to the river followed by his acolytes but it was too late. No trace of either the mermaids or the boys. He made sacrifices. Pledges. Pleas. All in vain. 

The river had claimed it’s own.

Nothing could be done.

Giwa’s parents returned later, to an empty child and an inconsolable tragedy. Frustrated, his mother looped a belt through the rafters and was found hanging and swaying gently the next morning by her husband.

Giwa and the rest of the gang were never seen again.



Our story today starts like any other. In a sun-drenched part of Africa. No, not South Africa, not Kenya, not Ethiopia either.

It’s the lush tropics, a small sleepy village in Nigeria, West Africa, on a sandy stretch of land close to a vast river. It’s exact location however, I will not say. Some things are better left untold.

Five children, bare-chested against the heat, are kicking a round leather football, popularly called “Tanko” by the indigenes of that region.
It’s an interesting scene, all five players earnest in their efforts, little feet moving almost in a blur, everyone showing off dribbles and trying to put the ball past the sixth child at the goal post.

Oh yes, there’s a sixth child. Quiet, focused entirely on the ball, he is the goalkeeper, tasked with preventing the ball from passing between the sticks spaced out behind him.
One of the children, particularly skillful, manages to dribble the last opponent and seeing an opportunity, seizes it and takes a shot.
Together let us watch, as the ball leaves the sand and flies through the air, coming quite close to the goal but not making it, it continues it’s arc, finally reaching its limit a fair distance away, loosing momentum and falling back to earth, only it doesn’t fall on earth, it falls into the river behind them.

“Giwa, shey we warned you not to fire a shot? You see now it’s in the river. How can we get it back?”

Giwa doesn’t reply, simply stripping, he looses his shorts and underwear, running to the river, he jumps in, cutting smoothly into the water, graceful and elegant as a dolphin.

A few quick strokes bring him within reach of the ball. He grabs it, throws it to his friends at the water’s edge. Then he swims back and puts his clothes back on.

The children don’t approve of what he has done, you see, it’s the market day, a day when no one is to take a dip in the sacred river. Everyone knows this. They are very vocal about their disapproval, but Giwa shrugs it all off. He’s a strong swimmer, confident in his abilities. He doesn’t mind the taboos and superstition.

A river is a river, and a swim is a swim.
Before long, the football match resumes, and the children struggle to score once more.

A small, fair-complexioned child delivers a mighty kick, one that sends the ball sailing once more into the river.
Again, Giwa strips and goes to recover the football. As he throws the ball, he goes under for a moment and the children watch petrified. Then his head breaks through to the surface and he swims back to the river bank where they pull him out quickly.

The child who warned Giwa at first about “firing shots” berates him, talking loudly about how foolish he was to have jumped in the river twice and didn’t he know today is the sacred day when no one should swim?

Giwa shakes his head furiously as though the words are water that he is trying to get out of his ears and runs off to kick the football. His friends follow him and in the manner of children, his errant behaviour is forgotten.

Now the sun is about to sink behind the horizon, the heat is non-existent and the football match winds to a close.

Stubborn Giwa, frantic for another chance to swim, picks the ball amd kicks it willfully into the river. Then he runs after it and dives in, despites the shouted warnings of the other children.
Giwa has kicked the ball farther than it ever went that day, and has to swim quite a distance to retrieve it. He is able to reach the ball but in his way back to the river bank he jerks suddenly.

He goes under the water. Children cry and scream and Giwa bursts out. He throws the ball and it makes it back to the children gathered at the river bank. But Giwa does not. The last they ever see is his right arm outstretched, as if he was trying to grasp a lifeline only he could see, and then it falls back into the river.

Giwa will never be seen again.