Tag Archives: Ijapa

IJAPA CHRONICLES; SIGIDI

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.

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THE MAJOR DECEPTION part 1

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…

IJAPA AND OBO- THE BIG SETUP

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"Akara is a special bean cake delicacy of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, west Africa."

A long, long while ago, while the world was young and animals spoke and walked like men do, Ijapa the tortoise was a wily trickster and always got himself and his friends into one form of trouble or the other.
This is the story of Ijapa and his friend, the monkey.

It all started when Ijapa got fed up with his friend Obo, the monkey. Whenever they got together to eat, as they were fond of doing every opportunity they had, Ijapa would always pray but the monkey never said “Amin”. Ijapa found this offensive but try as he might, he could not get Obo to say amin. After all, Obo reasoned, your prayer is quite enough for the both of us.

Ijapa would often warn him not to take prayers with such levity, that perhaps one day nemesis would catch up with him. Obo would sniffle and giggle and climb trees yelling about how he was too smart and fast to be in any sort of trouble, unlike the slow tortoise. In those days, the monkey spent quite a lot of time roaming on the ground and only took to the trees when there was any sign of danger.
Ijapa, never one to take such insults lightly, resolved in his heart to teach the silly monkey a lesson.

One day, Ijapa decided he had had enough of this routine, and so he went off to the market, and after roaming about a bit, was able to buy a large amount of akara to take home.

Akara is a special bean cake delicacy of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, west Africa.

Next he went into the forest, into the home of the honey bees, and with a push here and a pull there, he was also able to secure himself a few large honeycombs dripping with delicious honey.

With these two items, he went home, stored some of the akara in a basket, and soaked them in the honey for a bit. Then he took a few balls of honeyed akara and went to a road where he knew he was sure to find the last essential ingredient for his diabolical plan- Kiniun the lion.

In those days Kiniun was a rather hot-headed fellow, easily misled and more blessed with brawn than with brains.
Ijapa went whistling and nibbling on honeyed akara and it wasn’t too long when he came across Kiniun.

Kiniun had been lying in wait for some unlucky animal to pounce on and so when he saw Ijapa, he crouched and sprung. Quick as a flash, Ijapa retreated into his shell, and try as he might, Kiniun was unable to get at him.
When he had calmed down enough, he heard the sound of continued munching come out of Ijapa’s shell. With his stomach rumbling, Kiniun asked him what he was feasting on.
Instead of answering, Ijapa pushed out a single ball. Kiniun snapped it up and swallowed, smacking his lips enthusiastically.
“Delicious! He declared. Where did you get this?” Ijapa pushed out another ball.
Kiniun snapped it up again.
Ijapa replied. “If I tell you, you’d kill me.”
“No I won’t,” replied Kiniun “just tell me where to get some.”
“I got it from my friend Obo.”
“The monkey? I must get some at once!”
“Wait a minute! He doesn’t give it willingly. You have to grab him by the neck and shake him really hard, yelling at the top of your voice for him to excrete sweet droppings.”
More munching and swallowing sounds.
“He might disobey you the first or second time, but if you keep at it, he’ll eventually give you a lot of it. Just be careful so you don’t kill him or we won’t get anything tomorrow. And whatever happens, never tell him I sent you, or I won’t tell you how to get the sweet drink that goes perfectly with this.”

Quite thankful, the lion left Ijapa and with further advice, proceeded to seek the monkey out. Sneaking behind him as per Ijapa’s instructions, he was able to snatch the monkey by the neck. Squeezing so tight the monkey was sure he would die, Kiniun yelled
“EXCRETE SWEET DROPPINGS!”
Scared as he was, it wasn’t a problem for the monkey to do this. Kiniun out a finger in, tasted it and found it not to his liking. Well he had been warned that Obo would prove stubborn, so he shook him again.
“EXCRETE SWEET DROPPINGS!”
This went on for a while till Obo was close to death and had nothing to excrete anymore. Concluding that the monkey had probably run out of sweet droppings, Kiniun let him go, content to try again another time.

Later on, Ijapa came by and met his friend thoroughly harassed and hiding in the branches of a tree.
“What happened?” He asked  and Obo explained to him the day’s events. Ijapa then berated him, blaming it on his refusal to say “Amin” to prayers.
“You see? Nemesis has caught up with you.” Shocked, Obo started yelling Amin, and till today, it remains one of the common sounds uttered by monkeys in the rainforests of Africa.

IJAPA’s ADVENTURES: THE TUG OF WAR

As was promised last week, Laolu’s Blog will be bringing you stories from Africa’s wealth of Folklore. First up, Nigeria, West Africa, “the tug of war.”

“Long long ago, when the earth was young, animals could speak and walk on two legs. They lived the way humans do, and were comfortable in their forest abode.

Of all the animals, the tortoise “Ijapa” was different. He was a wily trickster and cunning in his ways. So one day, after sitting in his house brewing up some mischief, he decided on something. Just the other day, the elephant had made a boast about his strength, and ridiculed the weak powerless animals among which he included the tortoise.

Seated in his mud hut, the wily trickster came up with a plan and so went off in search of the elephant. Soon he was before the gigantic herbivore. He wasted no time in challenging him to a tug of war to prove his strength. The elephant agreed.

Word went far and wide about the tug of war and everyone was curious as to what the tortoise had up his sleeve this time.

The day chosen for the anticipated tug-of-war soon arrived. When the elephant arrived the animals let up a great cheer. Ijapa made his quiet arrival. After the rope was presented and tested for strength, the elephant grabbed one end, Ijapa the other. Then he declared in a loud voice that he, being an amphibian, would partake in the tussle from his place of strength, the water.

With those words, he tied the rope around his waist and dove into the water. The agreed signal was that when he was ready, he would give a slight pull. The rope gradually stretched till it became taut. And there was a little tug from inside the water. The elephant began to pull.

Amazingly, the line would not give.

He pulled harder.

Still, no ground given. The elephant started sweating. He was pulling with all his might, eyes popping and veins standing out, and yet there was no sign of the tortoise losing or waning in his amazing strength.

Hours later, the elephant collapsed and fell to the ground, exhausted. He had given up. The tortoise then emerged from the water with the rope tied around his waist and the elephant conceded defeat.

From that day onward, animals feared the tortoise and his amazing strength. None knew that the tortoise had tied the rope to a huge boulder under the water. That was what the elephant had been struggling with.
But he had been taught a sound lesson and learnt not to ridicule the “weak”. That lesson stayed with him till the end of his days.”

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IJAPA’s ADVENTURES

I remember one time when I was brought home by my teacher after I had been caught beating a smaller child who had dared to challenge me.

To me, it had been simple- I was big, he was small, I was strong, he was weak, so I was right and he was wrong. Hence the beating.

After my mom had given me a stern talking to, my grandfather pulled me aside.

“Ahmed- Why did you do what you did?” he asked, a hint of disappointment poking through the poker face he otherwise had on.

“I’m stronger and bigger than him Grandpa. He shouldn’t have asked me to prove what I was saying.”

“Hmmm. Don’t you know that where your strength ends, another person’s strength begins?” he looked at me for a while and then sighed heavily.

“You remind me of Ijapa. (Yoruba term for tortoise.) Once, long ago… When animals could talk and lizards were few. Ijapa acquired a status as alagbara oko (strong man of the farmlands.) having successfully beaten everyone who dared to pass the farmlands.

He was feared and avoided, and enjoyed himself immensely until one day he heard of someone who was known as alagbara ilu (strong man of the village.)
Annoyed that there was still another strong man, he went off to challenge him.

After several turns, having crossed seven roads and seven streams, he came to the house of the alagbara ilu and met the wife outside roasting corn.

“Where’s your husband?” he roared, his eyes red and every part of him shaking badly. He was really angry.

The wife apologised on behalf of her husband and informed Ijapa that her husband was fast asleep. However to wake him up, he had to be hit by a pestle seven times because he was too strong to feel the tap of ordinary human hands.

Ijapa mused a bit and decided to wake him up. After all, after being hit several times by a pestle he would surely be weak, wouldn’t he?
And so, after receiving directions to his room, Ijapa set to hitting the sleeping man with gusto.
After seven hits, the man yawned and stood up. He stretched and walked outside. A few paces away from the house and in full view of the shocked Ijapa, alagbara ilu wrapped his hands around an entire iroko tree and uprooted it, the way a child would pull a stick from wet clay.

When Ijapa asked what he intended to use it for? Alagbara ilu casually replied that he intended to use it as a chewing stick. At this, Ijapa ran off as hard as he could and never once looked back till he was safely home.”

Grandpa looked at me for a long moment. Then he spoke once more.
“Ahmed. No matter how strong you become, never maltreat others. Because there would surely be someone stronger than you.”

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