How the Tortoise overcame the Elephant and the Hippo: A Efik Folktale

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

This Efik folktale tells the tale of the tortoise, who tricked the elephant and the hippopotamus into believing he was very strong.

The elephant and the hippopotamus always used to feed together, and were good friends. One day when they were both dining together, the tortoise appeared and said that although they were both big and strong, neither of them could pull him out of the water with a strong piece of tie-tie, and he offered the elephant ten thousand rods if he could draw him out of the river the next day.

The elephant, seeing that the tortoise was very small, said, “If I cannot draw you out of the water, I will give you twenty thousand rods.”

The following morning the tortoise got some very strong tie-tie, tied it to his leg, and went down to the river. When he got there, he tied the tie-tie round a big rock, left the other end on the shore for the elephant to pull, and went down to the bottom of the river to hide.

The elephant started pulling, and after a time he smashed the rope.

As soon as this happened, the tortoise undid the rope from the rock and came to the land, showing all people that the rope was still fast to his leg, but that the elephant had failed to pull him out. The elephant was forced to admit that the tortoise was the winner, and paid to him the twenty thousand rods, as agreed. The tortoise took the rods home to his wife, and they lived together very happily.

After three months had passed, the tortoise, seeing that the money was greatly reduced, thought he would make some more by the same trick, so he went to the hippopotamus and made the same bet with him.

The hippopotamus said, “I will make the bet, but I shall take the water and you shall take the land; I will then pull you into the water.”

The tortoise agreed. So they went down to the river, where the tortoise made the tie-tie fast to the hippo’s hind leg. No sooner had the hippo turned his back to get into the water, than the tortoise tied the rope to a strong palm-tree, and hid.

When the hippo was tired of pulling, he came up puffing and blowing water into the air from his nostrils. The tortoise saw him coming up, unwound the rope, and walked down towards the hippopotamus, showing him the tie-tie round his leg. The hippo had to acknowledge that the tortoise was too strong for him, and reluctantly handed over the twenty thousand rods.

The elephant and the hippo then agreed that they would take the tortoise as their friend, as he was so very strong. The tortoise then told them that he would like to live with both of them, but, as he could not be in two places at the same time, he would leave his son to live with the elephant on the land, and that he himself would live with the hippopotamus in the water.

This explains why there are both tortoises on the land and tortoises who live in the water. The water tortoise is always much bigger, as there is plenty of fish for him to eat in the river, whereas the land tortoise is often very short of food.

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