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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.




Sometimes fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers had a happy ending. Like this one…

There was once upon a time an old queen whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter. When the princess grew up she was betrothed to a prince who lived at a great distance. When the time came for her to be married, and she had to journey forth into the distant kingdom, the aged queen packed up for her many costly vessels of silver and gold, and trinkets also of gold and silver, and cups and jewels, in short, everything which appertained to a royal dowry, for she loved her child with all her heart.

She likewise sent her maid-in-waiting, who was to ride with her, and hand her over to the bridegroom, and each had a horse for the journey, but the horse of the king’s daughter was called Falada, and could speak. So when the hour of parting had come, the aged mother went into her bedroom, took a small knife and cut her finger with it until it bled. Then she held a white handkerchief to it into which she let three drops of blood fall, gave it to her daughter and said, “Dear child, preserve this carefully, it will be of service to you on your way.”

So they took a sorrowful leave of each other, the princess put the piece of cloth in her bosom, mounted her horse, and then went away to her bridegroom.

After she had ridden for a while she felt a burning thirst, and said to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and take my cup which you have brought with you for me, and get me some water from the stream, for I should like to drink.”

“If you are thirsty”, said the waiting-maid, “get off your horse yourself, and lie down and drink out of the water, I don’t choose to be your servant.”

So in her great thirst the princess alighted, bent down over the water in the stream and drank, and was not allowed to drink out of the golden cup. Then she said, “Ah, heaven,” and the three drops of blood answered,

“If this your mother knew,
her heart would break in two.”
But the king’s daughter was humble, said nothing, and mounted her horse again. She rode some miles further, but the day was warm, the sun scorched her, and she was thirsty once more, and when they came to a stream of water, she again cried to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and give me some water in my golden cup,” for she had long ago forgotten the girl’s ill words.

But the waiting-maid said still more haughtily, “If you wish to drink, get it yourself, I don’t choose to be your maid.” Then in her great thirst the king’s daughter alighted, bent over the flowing stream, wept and said, “Ah, heaven,” and the drops of blood again replied,

“If this your mother knew,
her heart would break in two.”
And as she was thus drinking and leaning right over the stream, the handkerchief with the three drops of blood fell out of her bosom, and floated away with the water without her observing it, so great was her trouble. The waiting-maid, however, had seen it, and she rejoiced to think that she had now power over the bride, for since the princess had lost the drops of blood, she had become weak and powerless.
So now when she wanted to mount her horse again, the one that was called Falada, the waiting-maid said, “Falada is more suitable for me, and my nag will do for you,” and the princess had to be content with that. Then the waiting-maid, with many hard words, bade the princess exchange her royal apparel for her own shabby clothes, and at length she was compelled to swear by the clear sky above her, that she would not say one word of this to anyone at the royal court, and if she had not taken this oath she would have been killed on the spot. But Falada saw all this, and observed it well.

The waiting-maid now mounted Falada, and the true bride the bad horse, and thus they traveled onwards, until at length they entered the royal palace. There were great rejoicings over her arrival, and the prince sprang forward to meet her, lifted the waiting-maid from her horse, and thought she was his consort. She was conducted upstairs, but the real princess was left standing below. Then the old king looked out of the window and saw her standing in the courtyard, and noticed how dainty and delicate and beautiful she was, and instantly went to the royal apartment, and asked the bride about the girl she had with her who was standing down below in the courtyard, and who she was. “I picked her up on my way for a companion, give the girl something to work at, that she may not stand idle.” But the old king had no work for her, and knew of none, so he said, “I have a little boy who tends the geese, she may help him.” The boy was called Conrad, and the true bride had to help him to tend the geese.

Soon afterwards the false bride said to the young king, “Dearest husband, I beg you to do me a favor.”

He answered, “I will do so most willingly.”

“Then send for the knacker, and have the head of the horse on which I rode here cut off, for it vexed me on the way.” In reality, she was afraid that the horse might tell how she had behaved to the king’s daughter.

Then she succeeded in making the king promise that it should be done, and the faithful Falada was to die, this came to the ears of the real princess, and she secretly promised to pay the knacker a piece of gold if he would perform a small service for her. There was a great dark-looking gateway in the town, through which morning and evening she had to pass with the geese, would he be so goood as to nail up Falada’s head on it, so that she might see him again, more than once. The knacker’s man promised to do that, and cut off the head, and nailed it fast beneath the dark gateway.

Early in the morning, when she and Conrad drove out their flock beneath this gateway, she said in passing,

“Alas, Falada, hanging there.”
Then the head answered,

“Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.”
Then they went still further out of the town, and drove their geese into the country. And when they had come to the meadow, she sat down and unbound her hair which was like pure gold, and Conrad saw it and delighted in its brightness, and wanted to pluck out a few hairs. Then she said,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
And there came such a violent wind that it blew Conrad’s hat far away across country, and he was forced to run after it. When he came back she had finished combing her hair and was putting it up again, and he could not get any of it. Then Conrad was angry, and would not speak to her, and thus they watched the geese until the evening, and then they went home.

Next day when they were driving the geese out through the dark gateway, the maiden said,

“Alas, Falada, hanging there.”
Falada answered,

“Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.”
And she sat down again in the field and began to comb out her hair, and Conrad ran and tried to clutch it, so she said in haste,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
Then the wind blew, and blew his little hat off his head and far away, and Conrad was forced to run after it, and when he came back, her hair had been put up a long time, and he could get none of it, and so they looked after their geese till evening came.

But in the evening after they had got home, Conrad went to the old king, and said, “I won’t tend the geese with that girl any longer.”

“Why not?” inquired the aged king.

“Oh, because she vexes me the whole day long.”

Then the aged king commanded him to relate what it was that she did to him.

And Conrad said, “In the morning when we pass beneath the dark gateway with the block, there is a horse’s head on the wall, and she says to it

“‘Alas, Falada, hanging there.’
“And the head answers,

“‘Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.'”
And Conrad went on to relate what happened on the goose pasture, and how when there he had to chase his hat.

The aged king commanded him to drive his flock out again next day, and as soon as morning came, he placed himself behind the dark gateway, and heard how the maiden spoke to the head of Falada, and then he too went into the country, and hid himself in the thicket in the meadow. There he soon saw with his own eyes the goose-girl and the goose-boy bringing their flock, and how after a while she sat down and unplaited her hair, which shone with radiance. And soon she said,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
Then came a blast of wind and carried off Conrad’s hat, so that he had to run far away, while the maiden quietly went on combing and plaiting her hair, all of which the king observed. Then, quite unseen, he went away, and when the goose-girl came home in the evening, he called her aside, and asked why she did all these things.

“I may not tell that, and I dare not lament my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn not to do so by the heaven which is above me, if I had not done that, I should have lost my life.”

He urged her and left her no peace, but he could draw nothing from her. Then said he, “If you will not tell me anything, tell your sorrows to the iron-stove there,” and he went away.

Then she crept into the iron-stove, and began to weep and lament, and emptied her whole heart, and said, “Here am I deserted by the whole world, and yet I am a king’s daughter, and a false waiting-maid has by force brought me to such a pass that I have been compelled to put off my royal apparel, and she has taken my place with my bridegroom, and I have to perform menial service as a goose-girl. If this my mother knew, her heart would break in two.”

The aged king, however, was standing outside by the pipe of the stove, and was listening to what she said, and heard it. Then he came back again, and bade her come out of the stove. And royal garments were placed on her, and it was marvellous how beautiful she was. The aged king summoned his son, and revealed to him that he had got the false bride who was only a waiting-maid, but that the true one was standing there, as the former goose-girl. The young king rejoiced with all his heart when he saw her beauty and youth, and a great feast was made ready to which all the people and all good friends were invited.

At the head of the table sat the bridegroom with the king’s daughter at one side of him, and the waiting-maid on the other, but the waiting-maid was blinded, and did not recognize the princess in her dazzling array. When they had eaten and drunk, and were merry, the aged king asked the waiting-maid as a riddle, what punishment a person deserved who had behaved in such and such a way to her master, and at the same time related the whole story, and asked what sentence such a person merited.

Then the false bride said, “She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.”

“It is you,” said the aged king, “and you have pronounced your own sentence, and thus shall it be done unto you.” And when the sentence had been carried out, the young king married his true bride, and both of them reigned over their kingdom in peace and happiness.



Mustapha was a wealthy Emir residing in the then Sokoto Caliphate, ruling over the Hausa people in what is known today as the nation-state Nigeria.

Mustapha was a strong king who aided his allies and was a terror to his enemies. Yet he was kind and would often spare an old enemy who surrendered and bent the knee, restoring him to his position with the only difference being that he was a vassal to the Emir. Not just the leader, but his men, wife, children and all they had would be spared. Such consideration for the preciousness of human life made him a lot of friends and loyal followers. One particular king, an archenemy was besieged and almost slaughtered. Seeing that they were ready to go to the grave with him and not wishing it so, he fell to his knees before the victorious Emir and pleaded for the life of his men. Their only crime was loyalty to their king. The Emir set his sword aside then and raised the pleading King to his feet. Not only did he spare the king’s fighting men, he spared the king too and offered him a position as an officer in his vast army in addition to keeping his kingdom as King. The King accepted with joy and presented the Emir with a strange and marvellous gift. A guava tree that bore golden fruit.

Soon the tree grew stout and strong and began to annually produce it’s golden and precious fruit. Then a decade later, something strange began to happen.
Every year, Mustapha’s guava tree was robbed of one golden guava during the night.
Perplexed, he set his sons to watch over the tree. The first son Adamu, though he tried his very best, fell asleep in the wee hours of the night, and that year another golden guava went missing.

The next year, Abdul, the second son, a ferocious warrior took his bow and twelve arrows to lie awake for the thief. But he also fell asleep. And another guava went missing. The youngest son, Ahmed, with his father’s permission finally got a chance to watch for the thief. He set the slaves to watch the tree throughout the day while he slept. In the evening, he released them and stayed hidden in the shadow of the tree.

Chewing on the bitter bark of a dongoyaro tree, it was easy for him to stay awake. His diligence was rewarded as he saw, at midnight, what his brothers had failed to see. The thief was a golden bird. He tried to shoot it, but only knocked a few feathers off.
The feathers were so valuable that the Emir decided he must have the bird. He sent his three sons, one after another, to capture the priceless golden bird.

The sons each met a talking fox, who gave them advice for their quest: to choose a rough road that led through the forest but would take them quickly to their destination instead of the smooth paved road that led through a bright village of merry makers. The first two sons Adamu and Abdul ignore the advice and, one after the other, soon become distracted by the merriment in the village and forget all about their quest, kingdom and father waiting at home.

The third son Ahmed obeyed the fox, and decided to take the rough road. before long, he arrived at a big palace and met the fox sitting outside, waiting for him. The fox advised him to take the bird in its wooden cage from the castle in which it lived, instead of putting it into the golden cage next to it. But when he snuck into the palace and saw the beautiful golden cage with its exquisite construction he disobeyed, thinking that it was the proper and fitting home for the majestic bird.

The golden bird resisted at that, and made a lot of noise which roused the palace warriors, who wasted no time in capturing him. Because they had heard of his father’s kindness to his enemies, the King and Queen of the palace spared him. However, he was sent after a golden horse in a neighbouring kingdom as a condition for sparing his life. The fox again met him at the entrance to the kingdom and advised him to use a leather saddle rather than a golden one, but he failed at this again. He was then sent after a very beautiful princess kept under lock and key in a golden palace.. The fox advised him not to let her say farewell to her parents, but he gave in to her constant pleas and let her say goodbye. The princess’s father captured him and ordered him to remove a hill that had blocked his view of the sunset and sunrise as the price of his life, before nightfall that day.

The prince distraught went begging and pleading to the talking fox, and before nightfall, the fox removed the hill.
Shocked and yet pleased at the strength and courage of the young prince, the king let him go with his daughter. He meets the fox at the border of the kingdom and as they set out, the talking fox with a mixture of pranks and smooth talking, was able to secure the princess, the golden horse and the golden bird for Ahmed, the young prince.
As a price for its assistance, it asked the prince to shoot it and cut off its head and feet. The prince tearfully refused, as he couldn’t take the life of such a wonderful creature. The fox then left him saying…

Beware Ahmed, and listen to me,
For what I have said thus far is true,
Avoid the purchase of gallowsflesh,
And make not your seat at the edge of wells.”

On his return, he met his brothers at a crossroad, where they had been caught and sentenced to death by hanging, for while he struggled and hustled and made his quest, they had been carousing and living sinfully, and had quickly run through their provisions for the journey like wildfire, and to sustain their easy and decadent lifestyle, had turned to brigandry.

Not wanting them dead, Ahmed pleads with the people and was eventually able to purchase their freedom.They found out what he had done and grew green with envy, planning to somehow get rid of him and keep what he had brought for themselves. They got their chance when Ahmed sat on a well’s edge from exhaustion after a day’s hard riding. Quick as a flash, the wicked brothers pushed him in. They took the golden bird, golden horse and the princess and bring them to their father, where they are received with much fanfare. The Emir, pleased with their achievements and tales of struggle decided to coronate one of the brothers at a set date.
However it was all in vain as the bird, the horse, and the princess all grieved for the prince. The bird refused to fly, the horse refused to run and the princess who had come to love Ahmed most of all, wept day and night for her dead prince, refusing to say a single word. The fox, moved by such sorrow returned to the well where he recruited the golden mermaid and together they rescued the prince. Quickly, as the coronation day arrived, the fox aided him to sneak into his father’s palace dressed in a beggar’s clothes.

Before the Emir chooses his successor, the bird, the horse, and the princess all recognized Ahmed as the man who won them, and became cheerful again. The princess and the fox then told the story of the betrayal and the Emir, furious, ordered that his sons Adamu and Abdul were to be stripped of their titles as heirs and sold into slavery. Ahmed then married the princess and was coronated as Emir.

After a long while, with much pestering from the fox, Ahmed gave in and cut off the fox’s head and feet at the creature’s request. The fox’s dead body began to burn and from the ashes, a man stepped out. The man was revealed to be the brother of the princess, finally set free from an ancient and powerful sorcery. At the death of Mustapha and upon Ahmed’s ascension to the throne,  he became the new Emir’s most trusted adviser.