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Tit For Tat: An Akan Folktale

General Location: Southern Ghana (Akan) / Map data ©2019 Google

This Akan folktale tells the tale of how Kweku Tsin outsmarted his father, Anansi, and became rich in the process. 

There had been a great famine in the land for many months. Meat had become so scarce that only the rich chiefs had money enough to buy it. The poor people were starving. Anansi and his family were in a miserable state.

One day, Anansi’s eldest son —Kweku Tsin— to his great joy, discovered a place in the forest where there were still many animals. Knowing his father’s wicked ways, Kweku told him nothing of the matter.

Anansi, however, speedily discovered that Kweku was returning loaded, day after day, to the village. There he was able to sell the meat at a good price to the hungry villagers. Anansi wanted to know the secret — but his son refused to tell him. The old man, therefore, determined to find out by a trick.

Slipping into his son’s room one night, when he was fast asleep, he cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag which Kweku always carried into the forest. Anansi then put ashes into the bag and replaced it where he had found it.

Next morning, as Kweku set out for the forest, he threw the bag over his shoulder. Unknown to him, at each step, the ashes were sprinkled on the ground.

When Anansi set out an hour later he was easily able to follow the trail of ashes. He arrived at the animals’ home in the forest and found Kweku there. He drove his son away, saying that, by the law of the land, the place belonged to him.

Kweku saw how he had been tricked, and determined to have the meat back. He went home, made a tiny image and hung little bells around its neck. He then tied a long thread to its head and returned toward the hunting-place. Half-way there, Kweku hung the image from a branch, and, holding the other end of the thread in his hand, hid himself in the nearby bushes.

The greedy father, in the meantime, had killed many animals to become rich as speedily as possible. He skinned them and prepared the flesh, and, taking the first load, set off for his village. Half-way there, he came to the place where the image hung in the way. Thinking this was one of the gods, he stopped.

As Anansi approached, the image began to shake its head vigorously. He felt that this meant that the gods were angry. To please them, he said to the image:

“May I give you a little of this meat?”

Again the image shook its head.

“May I give you half of this meat?”

The head shook once more.

“Do you want the whole of this meat?” he shouted fiercely.

This time the head nodded as if the image were well pleased.

“I will not give you all my meat,” Anansi cried.

At this, the image shook in every limb as if in a terrible temper.

Anansi was so frightened that he threw the whole load on the ground and ran away. As he ran, he called back, “Tomorrow I shall go to Ekubon — you will not be able to take my meat from me there, you thief.”

But Kweku had heard where his father intended to go the next day, and he set the image in his path as before. Again Anansi was obliged to leave his whole load — and again he called out the name of the place where he would go the following day.

The same thing occurred day after day until all the animals in the wood were killed. By this time, Kweku Tsin had become very rich, and Anansi was so poor that he was obliged to go to Kweku’s house every day for food.

When the famine was over, Kweku gave a great feast and invited the entire village. While all were gathered together, Kweku told the story of his father’s cunning and how it had been overcome. This caused great merriment among the villagers. Anansi was so ashamed that he readily promised Kweku to refrain from his evil tricks for the future. This promise, however, he did not keep long.

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Why the Lizard Moves His Head Up and Down: An Akan Folktale

General Location: Southern Ghana (Akan) / Map data ©2019 Google

This Akan folktale tells the tale of the lizard, who agreed to help Anansi but paid a heavy price for doing so. 

In a town not very far from Anansi’s home lived a great king. This king had three beautiful daughters, whose names were kept a secret from everybody except their own family.

One day their father made a proclamation that his three daughters would be given as wives to any man who could find out their names. Anansi made up his mind to do so.

He first bought a large jar of honey, and set off for the bathing-place of the king’s daughters. Arrived there, he climbed to the top of a tree on which grew some very fine fruit. He picked some of this fruit and poured honey over it. When he saw the princesses approaching he dropped the fruit on the ground and waited.

The girls thought the fruit dropped of its own accord, and one of them ran forward to pick it up. When she tasted it, she called out to her sisters by name to exclaim on its sweetness. Anansi dropped another, which the second princess picked up—she, in her turn, calling out the names of the other two.

In this fashion, Anansi found out all the names. As soon as the princesses had gone he came down from the tree and hurried into the town. He went to all the great men and summoned them to a meeting at the King’s palace on the next day.

He then visited his friend the Lizard, to get him to act as herald at the court. He told Lizard the three names and instructed him to sound them through his trumpet when the time came.

Early next morning the King and his Court were assembled as usual. All the great men of the town appeared, as Anansi had requested. Anansi stated his business, reminding the King of his promise to give his three daughters to the man who had found out their names. The King demanded to hear the latter, and the Lizard sounded them on his trumpet.

The King and courtiers were much surprised. His Majesty, however, could not break the promise he had made of giving his daughters to the man who named them. He accordingly gave them to Mr. Lizard.

Anansi was very angry, and explained that he had told the names to Lizard, so that he ought to get at least two of the girls, while Lizard could have the third. The King refused. Anansi then begged hard for even one, but that was also refused. He went home in a very bad temper, declaring that he would be revenged on Lizard for stealing his wives away.

He thought over the matter very carefully, but could not find a way of punishing Lizard. At last, however, he had an idea.

He went to the King and explained that he was setting off the next morning on a long journey. He wished to start very early, and so begged the King’s help. The King had a fine cock, which always crowed at daybreak to waken the King if he wished to get up early. Anansi begged that the King would command the cock to crow the next morning.

This the King readily promised.

As soon as night fell Anansi went by a back way to the cock’s sleeping-place, seized the bird quickly, and killed it. He then carried it to Lizard’s house, where all were in bed. There he quietly cooked the cock, placed the feathers under Lizard’s bed, and put some of the flesh on a dish close to Lizard’s hand. The wicked Anansi then took some boiling water and poured it into poor Lizard’s mouth, thus making him dumb.

When morning came, Anansi went to the King and reproached him for not letting the cock crow. The King was much surprised to hear that it had not obeyed his commands.

He sent one of his servants to find and bring the cock to him, but, of course, the servant returned empty-handed. The King then ordered them to find the thief. No trace of him could be found anywhere.

Anansi then cunningly said to the King:

“I know Lizard is a rogue, perhaps he is the thief.”

Accordingly, the men went to search Lizard’s house.

They found the remnants of the cock, cooked ready to eat, and his feathers under the bed. They questioned Lizard, but the poor animal was unable to reply. He could only move his head up and down helplessly. Assuming he was refusing to speak, they dragged him before the King. To the King’s questions he could only return the same answer, and his Majesty got very angry.

Lizard tried very hard to speak, but in vain. He was judged guilty of theft, and, as a punishment, his wives were taken away from him and given to Anansi.

Since then lizards have always had a way of moving their heads helplessly backward and forward as if saying, “How can anyone be so foolish as to trust Anansi?”

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Anansi and Thunder’s Gifts: An Akan Folktale

General Location: Southern Ghana (Akan) / Map data ©2019 Google

This Akan folktale tells the tale of Anansi, who received a wonderful gift from Thunder and selfishly kept it to himself. 

A long and severe famine struck the land where Anansi lived, and he was unable to obtain food for his poor family. One day, gazing desperately out to sea, he saw rising from the midst of the water, a tiny island with a tall palm-tree upon it.

Anansi determined to reach this tree and climb it, in the hope of finding a few nuts. When he reached the beach, there lay an old broken boat. It certainly did not look very strong, but Anansi decided to try it.

His first six attempts were unsuccessful—a great wave dashed him back on the beach each time he tried to put off. He was persevering, however, and at the seventh trial was successful in getting away. He steered the battered old boat as best he could, and at length reached the palm-tree of his desire.

Having tied the boat to the trunk of the tree—which grew almost straight out of the water—he climbed toward the nuts. Plucking all he could reach, he dropped them, one by one, down to the boat. To his dismay, they all missed the boat and fell into the water until only the last one remained. This he aimed even more carefully than the others, but it also fell into the water and disappeared from his hungry eyes.

Anansi had not tasted a single nut and now all were gone.

Anansi could not bear the thought of going home empty-handed, so, in his despair, he threw himself into the water. To his complete astonishment, instead of being drowned, he found himself standing on the sea-bottom in front of a pretty little cottage.

An old man emerged and asked Anansi what he wanted so badly that he had come to Thunder’s cottage to seek it. Anansi told his tale of woe, and Thunder showed himself sympathetic. He went into the cottage and fetched a fine cooking-pot, which he presented to Anansi, telling him that he need never be hungry again. The pot would always supply enough food for himself and his family.

Anansi was most grateful and left Thunder with many thanks.

Anxious to test the pot at once, Anansi only waited till he was again seated in the old boat to say, “Pot, pot, what you used to do for your master do now for me.”

Immediately good food appeared, and Anansi ate a hearty meal.

On reaching land, his first thought was to give his family a good meal from his wonderful pot. But a selfish, greedy fear took hold of him. “What if I used up all the magic of the pot on them, and have nothing left for myself?”

So Anansi hid the pot.

Anansi reached home pretending to be utterly worn out with fatigue and hunger. There was not a grain of food to be had anywhere. His wife and poor children were weakened, but selfish Anansi took no notice of that. He congratulated himself at the thought of his magic pot, now safely hidden in his room.

From time to time when he felt hungry, Anansi went to the pot and enjoyed a good meal. His family got thinner and thinner, but he grew plumper and plumper. They began to suspect some secret and determined to find it out.

Anansi’s eldest son, Kweku Tsin, had the power of changing himself into any shape he chose; so he took the form of a tiny fly and accompanied his father everywhere.

At last, Anansi, feeling hungry, entered his room and closed the door. He took out the pot and had a fine meal. Having returned the pot in its hiding-place, he went out on the pretence of looking for food.

As soon as he was safely out of sight, Kweku Tsin fetched the pot and called all his hungry family to come at once. They had as good a meal as their father had had. When they had finished, Mrs. Anansi—to punish her husband—said she would take the pot down to the village and give everybody a meal.

But alas! in working to prepare so much food at one time, the pot grew too hot and melted away. What was to be done now? Anansi would be so angry! His wife forbade everyone to mention the pot.

Anansi returned, ready for his supper, and went into his room, carefully shutting the door. He went to the hiding-place—it was empty. He looked around in consternation. No pot was to be seen anywhere. Someone must have discovered it. His family must be the culprits; he would find a means to punish them.

Saying nothing to anyone about the matter, he waited till morning. As soon as it was light he started off towards the shore, where the old boat lay. Getting into the boat, it started of its own accord and glided swiftly over the water—straight for the palm-tree.

Anansi attached the boat as before and climbed the tree. This time, unlike the last, the nuts almost fell into his hands. When he aimed them at the boat they fell easily into it—not one, as before, dropping into the water.

Anansi then deliberately threw them overboard, immediately jumping after them. As before, he found himself in front of Thunder’s cottage, with Thunder waiting to hear his tale. This he told, and the old man showed the same sympathy as he had previously done.

This time, however, he presented Anansi with a fine stick. Anansi could scarcely wait till he got into the boat to try the magic properties of his new gift. “Stick,” he commanded, “do for me what you used to do for your master.”

The stick began to beat Anansi so severely that, in a few minutes, he was obliged to jump into the water and swim ashore, leaving the boat and stick to drift away. Anansi returned home sorrowfully, bemoaning his many bruises and wishing he had acted more wisely.

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Crying for Nothing: An Akan Folktale

General Location: Southern Ghana (Akan) / Map data ©2019 Google

This Akan folktale tells the tale of Nothing, who became a target of his jealous neighbour Anansi. 

Near Anansi’s miserable little hut there was a fine palace where lived a very rich man called Nothing. Nothing and Anansi proposed, one day, to go to the neighbouring town to get some wives. Accordingly, they set off together.

Nothing, being a rich man, wore a very fine velvet cloth, while Anansi had a ragged cotton one. While they were on their way Anansi persuaded Nothing to change clothes for a little while, promising to give back the fine velvet before they reached the town. He delayed doing this, however, first on one pretext, then on another—till they arrived at their destination.

Anansi, being dressed in such a fine garment, found no difficulty in getting as many wives as he wished. Poor Nothing, with his ragged and miserable cloth, was treated with great contempt. At first, he could not get even one wife. However, a woman took pity on him and gave him her daughter. The poor girl was laughed at very heartily by Anansi’s wives for marrying such a beggar. She wisely took no notice of their scorn.

The party set off for home. When they reached the crossroads leading to their respective houses the women were astonished. The road leading to Anansi’s house was only half-cleared. The one which led to Nothing’s palace was, of course, wide and well made, and his servants had strewn it with beautiful skins and carpets, in preparation for his return.

Nothing’s wife was queen over the whole district and had everything her heart could desire, Anansi’s wives could not even get proper food; they had to live on unripe bananas with peppers. The wife of Nothing heard of her friends’ miserable state and invited them to a great feast in her palace. They were so pleased with all they saw, that they agreed to stay there and refused to come back to Anansi’s hut.

Anansi was very angry, and tried in many ways to kill Nothing, but without success. Finally, he persuaded some rat friends to dig a deep tunnel in front of Nothing’s door. When the hole was finished Anansi lined it with knives and broken bottles. He then smeared the steps of the palace with okro to make them very slippery, and withdrew to a little distance.

When he thought Nothing’s household was safely in bed and asleep, he called to Nothing to come out to the courtyard and see something. Nothing’s wife, however, dissuaded him from going. Anansi tried again and again, and each time she bade her husband not to listen. But, at last, Nothing determined to go. As he placed his foot on the first step, he slipped and fell into the hole.

The noise alarmed the household. Lights were fetched and Nothing was found in the ditch, so much wounded by the knives that he soon died. His wife was terribly grieved at his untimely death. She boiled many yams, mashed them, and took a great dishful of them round the district. To every child she met, she gave some, so that the child might help her to cry for her husband. This is why, if you find a child crying and ask the cause, you will often be told he is “crying for nothing.”

If you enjoyed reading this Akan folktale, then please consider keeping it alive by sharing it with your friends. You can find many more Ghanese folktales by visiting our dedicated collection. 

Wisdom of the Human Race: A Fante Folktale

General Location: South-Central Ghana (Fante) / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale of the Fante tells the tale of Father Anansi, who tried to hide away all wisdom from the world.

There once lived, in Fanti-land, a man named Father Anansi. He possessed all the wisdom in the world, and people came to him daily for advice and help.

One day the men of the country offended Father Anansi, who immediately resolved to punish them. After much thought, he decided that the severest penalty he could inflict would be to hide all his wisdom from them.

He set to work at once to recover all that he had already given. When he had succeeded, as he thought, in collecting it, he placed all in one great pot. This pot he carefully sealed and he decided to hide it in a spot where no human being could reach it.

Now, Father Anansi had a son, whose name was Kweku Tsin. This boy began to suspect his father of some secret design, so he made up his mind to watch carefully. Next day he saw his father quietly slip out of the house, with his precious pot hung around his neck. Kweku Tsin followed.

Father Anansi went through the forest until he had left the village far behind. Then, selecting the highest and most inaccessible-looking tree, he began to climb. The heavy pot, hanging in front of him, made his ascent almost impossible. Again and again, he tried to reach the top of the tree, where he intended to hang the pot. There, wisdom would be beyond the reach of everyone but himself. He was unable, however, to carry out his desire. At each trial, the pot swung in his way.

For some time Kweku Tsin watched his father’s vain attempts. At last, unable to contain himself any longer, he cried out: “Father, why do you not hang the pot on your back? Then you could easily climb the tree.”

Father Anansi turned and said: “I thought I had all the world’s wisdom in this pot. But I find you possess more than I do.” In his anger, he threw the pot down. It struck on a great rock and broke. The wisdom contained in it escaped and spread throughout the world.

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Spider Tales: A Ghanese Folktale

General Location: Ghana / Map data ©2019 Google

This Ghanese folktale tells the tale of Anansi, who wanted all the stories that men told to be named after himself. 

In the olden days, all the stories which men told were stories of Nyankupon, the chief of the gods. Spider, who was very conceited, wanted the stories to be told about him.

One day he went to Nyankupon and asked that, in future, all tales told by men might be Anansi (Spider) stories, instead of Nyankupon stories. Nyankupon agreed, on one condition. He told Spider that he must bring him three things: the first was a jar full of live bees, the second was a boa-constrictor, and the third a tiger. Spider gave his promise.

He took an earthen vessel and set out to capture bees. When he came in sight of the bees he began saying to himself, “They will not be able to fill this jar”—”Yes, they will be able”—”No, they will not be able,” until the bees came up to him and said, “What are you talking about, Anansi?”

Anansi explained that Nyankupon and he had had a great dispute. Nyankupon claimed the bees could not fly into the jar, while he believed that they could. The bees immediately declared that they could fly into the jar—which they did. As soon as they were safely inside, Anansi sealed the jar and sent it to Nyankupon.

Next day Anansi took a long stick and set out in search of a boa-constrictor. When he arrived at the place where one lived he began speaking to himself again. “He will just be as long as this stick”—”No, he will not be so long as this”—”Yes, he will be as long as this.” These words he repeated until the boa came out and asked him what was the matter.

“We have been having a dispute in Nyankupon’s town about you. Nyankupon’s people say you are not as long as this stick. I say you are. Please let me measure you by it.”

The boa innocently laid himself out straight, and Spider lost no time in tying him on to the stick from end to end. He then sent him to Nyankupon.

The third day he took a needle and thread and sewed up his eye. He then set out for a den where he knew a tiger lived. As he approached the place he began to shout and sing so loudly that the tiger came out to see what was the matter.

“Can you not see?” said Spider. “My eye is sewn up and now I can see such wonderful things that I must sing about them.”

“Sew up my eyes,” said the tiger, “then I too can see these surprising sights.”

Spider immediately did so. Having thus made the tiger helpless, he led him straight to Nyankupon’s house. Nyankupon was amazed at Spider’s cleverness in fulfilling the three conditions. He gave him permission to call all the old tales Anansi tales.

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The Election of the King Bird: A Folktale of Calabar, Nigeria

Calabar Nigeria - Folkli
Pinpoint Location: Calabar, Cross River State / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of king Essiya, who set out to elect a chief for all the animals in his service. 

Old Town, Calabar, once had a rich and powerful king called Essiya; but although he was wealthy, he did not possess many slaves. He therefore used to call upon the animals and birds to help his people with their work.

In order to get work done quickly and well, he determined to appoint head chiefs of all the different species. The elephant he appointed king of the beasts of the forest, and the hippopotamus king of the water animals. Then it was the turn of the birds to have their king elected.

Essiya thought for some time about the best way to choose, but as there were so many different birds who all considered they had claims he could not make up his mind. There was the hawk with his swift flight, and of hawks there were several species. There were the herons to be considered, and the big spur-winged geese, the hornbill or toucan tribe, and the game birds, such as guinea-fowl, the partridge, and the bustards. Then again, of course, there were all the big crane tribe, who walked about the sandbanks in the dry season, but who disappeared when the river rose, and the big black-and-white fishing eagles. When the king thought of the plover tribe, the sea-birds, including the pelicans, the doves, and the numerous shy birds who live in the forest, all of whom sent in claims, he got so confused, that he decided to have a trial by combat, and sent word for all the birds to meet the next day and fight it out between themselves, and that the winner should be known as the king bird ever afterwards.

The following morning many thousands of birds came, and there was much screeching and flapping of wings. The hawk tribe soon drove all the small birds away and harassed the big waders so much, that they very shortly disappeared, followed by the geese, who made much noise and winged away in a straight line. The big forest birds who liked to lead a secluded life very soon got tired of all the noise and bustle, and after a few croaks and other weird noises went home. The game birds had no chance and hid in the bush, so that very soon the only birds left were the hawks and the big black-and-white fishing eagle, who was perched on a tree calmly watching everything. The scavenger hawks were too gorged and lazy to take much interest in the proceedings, and were quietly ignored by the fighting tribe, who were very busy circling and swooping on one another, with much whistling going on. Higher and higher they went, until they disappeared out of sight. Then a few would return to earth, some of them badly torn and with many feathers missing.

At last the fishing eagle said—

“When you have quite finished with this foolishness please tell me, and I will settle your chances of being elected head chief once and for all.”

But when the hawks saw his terrible beak and cruel claws, knowing his great strength and ferocity, they stopped fighting between themselves and acknowledged the fishing eagle to be their master.

Essiya then declared that Ituen, which was the name of the fishing eagle, was the head chief of all the birds, and should thenceforward be known as the king bird.

From that time to the present day, whenever the young men of the country go to fight they always wear three of the long black-and-white feathers of the king bird in their hair, one on each side and one in the middle, as they are believed to impart courage and skill to the wearer; and a young man without any of these feathers who goes out to fight is looked upon as a very small boy indeed.

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The ‘Nsasak Bird and the Odudu Bird: A Folktale of Calabar, Nigeria

Calabar Nigeria - Folkli
Pinpoint Location: Calabar, Cross River State / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of the ‘Nsasak, who set out to become the chief of all small birds. 

A long time ago, King Adam of Calabar wanted to know if there was any animal or bird which was capable of enduring hunger for a long period. When he found one the king said he would make him chief of his tribe.

The ‘Nsasak bird is very small, having a shining breast of green and red; he also has blue and yellow feathers and red around the neck, and his chief food consists of ripe palm nuts. The Odudu bird, on the other hand, is much larger, about the size of a magpie, with plenty of feathers, but a very thin body; he has a long tail, and his colouring is black and brown with a cream-coloured breast. He lives chiefly on grasshoppers and is also very fond of crickets, which make a noise at night.

The ‘Nsasak bird and the Odudu were great friends and used to live together. They both made up their minds that they would go before the king and try to be made chiefs, but the Odudu bird was quite confident that he would win, as he was so much bigger than the ‘Nsasak bird. He, therefore, offered to starve for seven days.

The king then told them both to build houses which he would inspect, and then he would have them fastened up, and the one who could remain the longest without eating would be made the chief.

They both then built their houses, but the ‘Nsasak bird, who was very cunning, thought that he could not possibly live for seven days without eating anything. So he made a tiny hole in the wall (being very small himself), which he covered up so that the king would not notice it on his inspection.

The king then came and looked carefully over both houses, but failed to detect the little hole in the ‘Nsasak bird’s house, as it had been hidden so carefully. He, therefore, declared that both houses were safe, and ordered the two birds to go inside their respective houses. The doors were then carefully fastened on the outside.

Every morning at dawn the ‘Nsasak bird used to escape through the small opening he had left high up in the wall, and fly away to enjoy himself all day, taking care, however, that none of the people on the farms should see him. When the sun went down he would fly back to his little house and creep through the hole in the wall, closing it carefully after him. When he was safely inside he would call out to his friend the Odudu and ask him if he felt hungry, and told him that he must bear it well if he wanted to win, as he, the ‘Nsasak bird, was very fit, and could go on for a long time.

For several days this went on, the voice of the Odudu bird growing weaker and weaker until he could no longer reply. Then the little bird knew that his friend must be dead. He was very sorry, but could not report the matter, as he was still supposed to be confined inside his house.

When the seven days had expired the king came and had both the doors of the houses opened. The ‘Nsasak bird at once flew out, and, perching on a branch of a tree which grew near, sang most merrily. The Odudu bird, on the other hand, was found to be quite dead, and there was very little left of him, as the ants had eaten most of his body, leaving only the feathers and bones on the floor.

The king appointed the ‘Nsasak bird to be the head chief of all the small birds, and in Ibibio country small boys who have bows and arrows are presented with a prize, which sometimes takes the shape of a female goat, if they manage to shoot a ‘Nsasak bird, as the ‘Nsasak bird is the king of the small birds, and most difficult to shoot on account of his wiliness and his small size.

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The Drummer and the Alligators: A Folktale of Nsidung, Nigeria

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This folktale from Nsidung tells the tale of Edet Etim and the Alligator Company that captured him.

There was once a woman named Affiong Any who lived at Nsidung, a small town to the south of Calabar. She was married to a chief of Hensham Town called Etim Ekeng. They had lived together for several years, but had no children.

The chief was very anxious to have a child, and made sacrifices to his Ju Ju, but they had no effect. So he went to a witch-man, who told him that the reason he had no children was that he was too rich. The chief then asked the witch-man how he should spend his money in order to get a child, and he was told to make friends with everybody, and give big feasts so that he would get rid of some of his money and become poorer.

The chief then went home and told his wife. The next day his wife called all her company together and gave a big dinner, which cost a lot of money; much food was consumed, and large quantities of tombo were drunk. Then the chief entertained his company, which cost a lot more money. He also wasted a lot of money in the Egbo house.

When half of his property was wasted, his wife told him that she had conceived. The chief was very glad and called a big play for the next day.

In those days all the rich chiefs of the country belonged to the Alligator Company, and used to meet in the water. The reason they belonged to the company was to protect their canoes when they went trading, and to destroy the canoes and property of the people who did not belong to their company, and to take their money and kill their slaves. But chief Etim Ekeng was a kind man, and would not join this society, although he was repeatedly urged to do so.

After a time a son was born to the chief, and he called him Edet Etim. The chief called the Egbo society together, and all the doors of the houses in the town were shut, the markets were stopped, and the women were not allowed to go outside their houses while the Egbo was playing. This was kept up for several days, and cost the chief a lot of money.

The chief then made up his mind that he would divide his property, and give his son half when he became old enough. Unfortunately, after three months the chief died, leaving his sorrowing wife to look after the child.

The wife then went into mourning for seven years for her husband, and after that time she became entitled to all his property, as the late chief had no brothers. She looked after the little boy very carefully until he grew up, when he became a very fine, healthy young man, and was much admired by all the pretty girls of the town.

Whenever the girls had a play they used to invite Edet Etim, and they made him beat the drum for them to dance to. After much practice he became the best drummer in the town, and whenever the girls had a play they always called him to drum for them.

Plenty of the young girls left their husbands, and went to Edet and asked him to marry them. This made all the young men of the town very jealous, and when they met together at night they considered what would be the best way to kill him. They decided that when Edet went to bathe they would induce the alligators to take him.

One night, when he was washing, one alligator seized Edet by the foot, and others came and seized him around the waist. He fought very hard, but they dragged him into the deep water and took him to their home.

When his mother heard this, she determined to do her best to recover her son, so she kept quite quiet until the morning.

When the young men saw that Edet’s mother remained quiet, and did not cry, they thought of the story of the hawk and the owl, and determined to keep Edet alive for a few months.

The mother raised a cry, and went to the grave of her husband in order to consult his spirit. After a time she went down to the beach with young green branches in her hands, with which she beat the water, and called upon all the Ju Jus of the Calabar River to help her to recover her son. She then went home and got a load of rods, and took them to a Ju Ju man on the farm. His name was Ininen Okon.

When the young boys heard that Edet’s mother had gone to Ininen Okon, they all trembled with fear, and wanted to return Edet, but they could not do so, as it was against the rules of their society.

The Ju Ju man discovered that Edet was still alive, detained in the alligators’ house, and told the mother to be patient. After three days Ininen himself joined another alligators’ society, and went to inspect the young alligators’ house. He found a young man whom he knew, left on guard when all the alligators had gone to feed at the ebb of the tide, and came back and told the mother to wait, as he would make a Ju Ju which would cause them all to depart in seven days, and leave no one in the house.

He made his Ju Ju, and the young alligators all went to feed, leaving no one in charge of the house. When they returned they found Edet still there, and everything as they had left it, as Ininen had not gone that day.

Three days afterwards they all went away again, and this time did not return quickly. When Ininen saw that the tide was going down he changed himself into an alligator and swam to the young alligators’ home, where he found Edet chained to a post. He found an axe and cut the post, releasing the boy.

But Edet, having been in the water so long, was deaf and dumb.

Ininen found several loincloths which had been left behind by the young alligators, so he gathered them together and took them away to show to the king, and then left the place, taking Edet with him.

Ininen then called the mother to see her son, but when she came the boy could only look at her, and could not speak. The mother embraced her boy, but he took no notice, as he did not seem capable of understanding anything, but sat down quietly. The Ju Ju man told Edet’s mother that he would cure her son in a few days, so he made several Ju Jus, and gave her son medicine, and after a time the boy recovered.

Edet’s mother then put on a mourning cloth and pretended that her son was dead. When the young alligators returned, they found that Edet was gone and that someone had taken their loincloths. They were afraid and made inquiries about Edet, but they could learn nothing, and his mother continued to wear her mourning cloth to deceive them.

Nothing happened for six months, and they had quite forgotten all about the matter. Affiong, the mother, then went to the chiefs of the town, and asked them to hold a large meeting of all the people, both young and old, at the palaver house, so that her late husband’s property might be divided up in accordance with the native custom, as her son had been killed by the alligators.

The next day the chiefs called all the people together, but the mother in the early morning took her son to a small room at the back of the palaver house and left him there with the seven loin cloths which the Ju Ju man had taken from the alligators’ home. When the chiefs and all the people were seated, Affiong stood up and addressed them:

“Chiefs and young men of my town, eight years ago my husband was a fine young man. He married me, and we lived together for many years without having any children. I had a son, but my husband died a few months afterwards. I brought my boy up carefully, but as he was a good drummer and dancer the young men were jealous, and had him caught by the alligators. Is there anyone present who can tell me what my son would have become if he had lived?”

She then asked them what they thought of the alligator society, which had killed so many young men. The chiefs, who had lost a lot of slaves, told her that if she could produce evidence against any members of the society they would destroy it at once. She then called upon Ininen to appear with her son Edet. He came out from the room leading Edet by the hand, and placed the bundle of loincloths before the chiefs.

The young men were very much surprised when they saw Edet, and wanted to leave the palaver house; but when they stood up the chiefs told them to sit down, or they would receive three hundred lashes. They then sat down, and the Ju Ju man explained how he had gone to the alligators’ home, and had brought Edet back to his mother. He also said that he had found the seven loincloths in the house, but he did not wish to say anything about them, as the owners of some of the cloths were sons of the chiefs.

The chiefs, who were anxious to stop the bad society, told him to speak at once and tell them everything. Then he undid the bundle and took the cloths out one by one, at the same time calling upon the owners to come and take them. When they came to take their cloths, they were told to remain and name their company.

The seven young men gave the names of all the members of their society, thirty-two in all. These men were all placed in a line, and the chiefs passed sentence, which was that they should all be killed the next morning on the beach. So they were all tied to posts, and seven men were placed as a guard over them. They made fires and beat drums all night.

Early in the morning, at about 4 a.m., the big wooden drum was placed on the roof of the palaver house, and beaten to celebrate the death of the evildoers, which was the custom in those days. The boys were unfastened from the posts, and had their hands tied behind their backs, and were marched down to the beach.

When they arrived there, the head chief stood up and addressed the people. “This is a small town, and I am determined to stop this bad custom, as so many men have been killed.” He then told a man who had a sharp matchet to cut off one man’s head. He then told another man who had a sharp knife to skin another young man alive. A third man who had a heavy stick was ordered to beat another to death, and so the chief went on and killed all the thirty-two young men in the most horrible ways he could think of. Some of them were tied to posts in the river, and left there until the tide came up and drowned them. Others were flogged to death.

After they had all been killed, for many years no-one was killed by alligators, but some little time afterwards on the road between the beach and the town the land fell in, making a very large and deep hole, which was said to be the home of the alligators, and the people have ever since tried and failed to fill it up.

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The Hawk and the Owl: A Folktale of Calabar, Nigeria

Calabar Nigeria - Folkli
Pinpoint Location: Calabar, Cross River State / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of the hawk, who approached the king about his retirement plans. 

When Effiong was king of Calabar it was customary for rulers to give big feasts, to which all the subjects were invited. All people, birds, animals, and fish, served under the king and had to obey him.

Effiong’s favourite messenger was the hawk, as he could travel so quickly. The hawk served the king faithfully for several years, and when he wanted to retire, he asked what the king proposed to do for him, as very soon he would be too old to work.

The king told the hawk to bring any living creature, bird or animal, to him, and he would allow the hawk to live on that particular species. The hawk flew from forest to forest until he found a young owl which had tumbled out of its nest. The hawk brought it to the king, who told him that for the future he might eat owls. The hawk carried the owlet away and told his friends what the king had said.

One of the wisest of them said, “Tell me when you seized the young owlet, what did the parents say?” And the hawk replied that the father and mother owls kept quite quiet, and never said anything. The hawk’s friend then advised him to return the owlet to his parents, as he could never tell what owls would do to him in the night-time and that they were no doubt plotting some deep and cruel revenge.

The next day the hawk carried the owlet back to his parents and left him near the nest. He then flew about, trying to find some other bird to serve as his food. But as all the birds had heard that the hawk had seized the owlet, they hid, and would not come out when the hawk was near. He, therefore, could not catch any birds.

As he was flying home he saw a lot of fowl near a house, basking in the sun and scratching in the dust. There were also several small chickens running about and chasing insects, or picking up anything they could find to eat, with the old hen following them and clucking and calling to them from time to time.

When the hawk saw the chickens he swooped down and caught the smallest in his strong claws. Immediately the cocks began to make a great noise, and the hen ran after him and tried to make him drop her child. But he carried it off, and all the fowls and chickens ran screaming into the houses, some taking shelter under bushes and others trying to hide in the long grass.

The hawk carried the chicken to the king, telling him that he had returned the owlet to his parents, as he did not want him for food; so the king told the hawk that for the future he could always feed on chickens.

The hawk then took the chicken home, and his friend who dropped in to see him, asked him what the parents of the chicken had done when they saw their child taken away; so the hawk said “They all made a lot of noise, and the old hen chased me, but although there was a great disturbance amongst the fowls, nothing happened.”

His friend then said as the fowls had made much palaver, he was quite safe to kill and eat the chickens, as the people who made plenty of noise in the daytime would go to sleep at night and not disturb him, or do him any injury; the only people to be afraid of were those who when they were injured, kept quite silent; you might be certain then that they were plotting mischief, and would do harm in the night-time.

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