This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of Ituen, who caught the eye of a queen and paid a steep price for her attention.
Ituen was a young man of Calabar. He was the only child of his parents, and they were extremely fond of him, as he was of fine proportions and very good to look upon. They were poor people, and when Ituen grew up and became a man, he had very little money indeed; in fact he had so little food, that every day it was his custom to go to the market carrying an empty bag, into which he used to put anything eatable he could find after the market was over.
At this time Offiong was king. He was an old man, but he had plenty of wives. One of these women, named Attem, was quite young and very good-looking. She did not like her old husband, but wished for a young and handsome husband. She therefore told her servant to go round the town and the market to try and find such a man and to bring him at night by the side door to her house, and she herself would let him in, and would take care that her husband did not discover him.
That day the servant went all round the town, but failed to find any young man good-looking enough. She was just returning to report her ill-success when, on passing through the marketplace, she saw Ituen picking up the remains of corn and other things which had been left on the ground. She was immediately struck with his fine appearance and strength, and saw that he was just the man to make a proper lover for her mistress, so she went up to him, and said that the queen had sent for him, as she was so taken with his good looks.
At first Ituen was frightened and refused to go, as he knew that if the king discovered him he would be killed. However, after much persuasion he consented, and agreed to go to the queen’s side door when it was dark.
When the night came he went with great fear and trembling, and knocked very softly at the queen’s door. The door was opened at once by the queen herself, who was dressed in all her best clothes, and had many necklaces, beads, and anklets on. She fell in love with Ituen at once, and praised his good looks and his shapely limbs. She then told her servant to bring water and clothes, and after he had had a good wash and put on a clean cloth, he rejoined the queen. She hid him in her house all the night.
In the morning when he wished to go she would not let him. Although it was very dangerous, she hid him in the house, and secretly brought him food and clothes. Ituen stayed there for two weeks, and then he said that it was time for him to go and see his mother; but the queen persuaded him to stay another week, much against his will.
When the time came for him to depart the queen got together fifty carriers with presents for Ituen’s mother, who, she knew, was a poor woman. Ten slaves carried three hundred rods; the other forty carried yams, pepper, salt, tobacco, and cloth.
When all the presents arrived Ituen’s mother was very pleased and embraced her son, noticing with pleasure that he was looking well, and was dressed in much finer clothes than usual; but when she heard that he had attracted the queen’s attention she was frightened, as she knew the penalty imposed on anyone who attracted the attention of one of the king’s wives.
Ituen stayed for a month in his parents’ house and worked on the farm; but the queen could not be without her lover any longer. Ituen, as before, arrived at night, and the queen was delighted to see him again.
In the middle of the night some of the king’s servants, who had been told the story by the slaves who had carried the presents to Ituen’s mother, came into the queen’s room and surprised her there with Ituen. They hastened to the king, and told him what they had seen. Ituen was then made a prisoner, and the king sent out to all his people to attend at the palaver house to hear the case tried. He also ordered eight Egbos to attend armed with matchets.
When the case was tried Ituen was found guilty, and the king told the eight Egbo men to take him into the bush and deal with him according to native custom. The Egbos then took Ituen into the bush and tied him up to a tree; then with a sharp knife they cut off his lower jaw, and carried it to the king.
When the queen heard the fate of her lover she was very sad, and cried for three days. This made the king angry, so he told the Egbos to deal with his wife and her servant according to their law. They took the queen and the servant into the bush, where Ituen was still tied up to the tree dying and in great pain. Then, as the queen had nothing to say in her defence, they tied her and the girl up to different trees, and cut the queen’s lower jaw off in the same way as they had her lover’s. The Egbos then put out both the eyes of the servant, and left all three to die of starvation.
The king then made an Egbo law that for the future no one belonging to Ituen’s family was to go into the market on market day, and that no one was to pick up the rubbish in the market. The king made an exception to the law in favour of the vulture and the dog, who were not considered very fine people, and would not be likely to run off with one of the king’s wives, and that is why you still find vultures and dogs doing scavenger in the market-places even at the present time.
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