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The Fate of Essido and his Evil Companions: An Efik Folktale

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

This Efik folktale tells the tale of Essido, who lived a lavish lifestyle and did everything he could to maintain it. 

Chief Oborri lived at a town called Adiagor, which is on the right bank of the Calabar River. He was a wealthy chief who belonged to the Egbo Society. He had many large canoes, and plenty of slaves to paddle them. These canoes he used to fill up with new yams—each canoe being under one head slave and containing eight paddles; the canoes were capable of holding three puncheons of palm-oil, and cost eight hundred rods each.

When they were full, about ten canoes used to start off together and paddle to Rio del Rey. They went through creeks all the way, which run through mangrove swamps, with palm-oil trees here and there. Sometimes in the tornado season, it was very dangerous crossing the creeks, as the canoes were so heavily laden, having only a few inches above the water, that quite a small wave would fill the canoe and cause it to sink to the bottom. Although most of the boys could swim, it often happened that some of them were lost, as there are many large alligators in these waters.

After four days’ hard paddling the canoes would arrive at Rio del Rey, where they had very little difficulty in exchanging their new yams for bags of dried shrimps and sticks with smoked fish on them1)A stick of fish consisted of two sticks with a big fish in the middle of each and small fish at each end, there being eight fish on each stick, making sixteen in all. These sticks were then tied together, and smoked over wood fires until they were quite dried. One stick of fish would sell at Calabar in the dry season time for from 3s. 6d. to 5s. a stick, and a stick would be got for five large yams which cost Chief Oborri only 1s., so a large profit was made on each canoe load—the canoes carrying about a thousand yams each. A bag of shrimps would be bartered for twenty-five large yams, and the shrimps would be sold for 15s., being a profit of 10s. on each bag..

Chief Oborri had two sons, named Eyo I. and Essido. Their mother had died when they were babies, and the children were brought up by their father. As they grew up, they developed entirely different characters. The eldest was very hard-working and led a solitary life; but the younger son was fond of gaiety and was very lazy, in fact, he spent most of his time in the neighbouring towns playing and dancing.

When the two boys arrived at the respective ages of eighteen and twenty their father died, and they were left to look after themselves. According to native custom, the elder son, Eyo I., was entitled to the whole of his father’s estate; but being very fond of his younger brother, he gave him a large number of rods and some land with a house.

Essido became wilder than ever, gave big feasts to his companions, and always had his house full of women, upon whom he spent large sums. Although the amount his brother had given him on his father’s death was very large, in the course of a few years Essido had spent it all. He then sold his house and spent the proceeds on feasting.

While he had been living this gay and unprofitable life, Eyo I. had been working harder than ever at his father’s old trade, and had made many trips to Rio del Rey himself. Almost every week he had canoes laden with yams going down river and returning after about twelve days with shrimps and fish, which Eyo I. himself disposed of in the neighbouring markets. He very rapidly became a rich man. At intervals, he remonstrated with Essido on his extravagance, but his warnings had no effect; if anything, his brother became worse.

At last the time arrived when all his money was spent, so Essido went to his brother and asked him to lend him two thousand rods, but Eyo refused, and told Essido that he would not help him in any way to continue his present life of debauchery, but that if he liked to work on the farm and trade, he would give him a fair share of the profits. This Essido indignantly refused, and went back to the town and consulted some of the very few friends he had left on what to do next.

The men he spoke to were thoroughly bad men, and had been living upon Essido’s fortune for a long time. They suggested that he should borrow money from the people he had entertained, and then they would run away to Akpabryos town, which was about four days’ march from Calabar.

This Essido did, and managed to borrow a lot of money, although many people refused to lend him anything. At night he set off with his evil companions, who carried his money, as they had not been able to borrow any themselves.

When they arrived at Akpabryos town they found many beautiful women and graceful dancers. They soon started the same life again, until after a few weeks most of the money was spent. They then advised Essido to return to his rich brother, pretending that he was going to work and give up his old life; he should then get poison from a man they knew, and place it in his brother’s food, so that he would die. Essido would inherit all his brother’s wealth, and they would be able to live in the same way as they had formerly.

Essido, who had sunk very low, agreed to this plan, and they left Akpabryos town the next morning. After marching for two days, they arrived at a small hut in the bush where an expert poisoner lived, called Okponesip. He was the head Ju Ju man of the country, and when they had bribed him with eight hundred rods he swore them to secrecy, and gave Essido a small parcel containing a deadly poison which he said would kill his brother in three months. All he had to do was to place the poison in his brother’s food.

When Essido returned to his brother’s house he pretended to be very sorry for his former lifestyle and promised that in the future he was going to work. Eyo I. was very glad and at once asked his brother in, and gave him new clothes and plenty to eat.

In the evening, when supper was being prepared, Essido went into the kitchen, pretending he wanted to get a light from the fire for his pipe. The cook being absent and no one about, he put the poison in the soup, and then returned to the living-room. He then asked for some tombo, which was brought, and when he had finished it, he said he did not want any supper, and went to sleep. His brother, Eyo I., had supper by himself and consumed all the soup. In a week’s time he began to feel very ill, and as the days passed he became worse, so he sent for his Ju Ju man.

When Essido saw him coming, he quietly left the house; but the Ju Ju man, by casting lots, soon discovered that it was Essido who had given poison to his brother. But Eyo I. would not believe it and sent him away.

When Essido returned, his elder brother told him what the Ju Ju man had said, but that he did not believe him. Essido was relieved when he heard this, but as he was anxious that no suspicion of the crime should be attached to him, he went to the Household Ju Ju2)Every compound has a small Ju Ju in the centre, which generally consists of a few curiously shaped stones and a small tree on which the ‘Nsiat bird frequently builds. There is sometimes a species of cactus at the foot, an earthenware pot is supported on sticks against the tree, and tied on with tie-tie, or native rope. In this pot there is always a very foul-smelling liquid, with frequently some rotten eggs floating in it. Small sacrifices are made to these Ju Ju’s of chickens, and this Ju Ju is frequently appealed to. The liquid is sometimes taken as a specific against sickness or poison. There is also frequently a roughly carved image of wood, and sometimes an old matchet and some broken earthenware on the ground, with a brass rod or manilla. It is generally a very dirty spot., and swearing that he had not poisoned his brother, he drank out of the pot.

Three months after he had taken the poison, Eyo I. died, much to the grief of everyone who knew him, as he was much respected; not only on account of his great wealth but because he was an honest man, who never did harm to anyone.

Essido paid off his old creditors in order to make himself popular, and kept open house, entertaining most lavishly, and spending his money in many foolish ways. All the bad women were gathered at his house, and his evil companions went on living as they had done before.

Things got so bad that none of the respectable people would have anything to do with him, and at last the chiefs of the country, seeing the way Essido was squandering his late brother’s estate, assembled together, and eventually came to the conclusion that he was a witch man, and had poisoned his brother in order to acquire his position. The chiefs, who were all friends of the late Eyo, and who were very sorry at the death, as they knew that if he had lived he would have become a great and powerful chief, made up their minds to give Essido the Ekpawor Ju Ju, which is a very strong medicine, and gets into men’s heads, so that when they have drunk it they are compelled to speak the truth, and if they have done wrong they die very shortly.

Essido was told to attend the meeting at the palaver house, and when he arrived the chiefs charged him with having killed his brother by witchcraft. Essido denied having done so, but the chiefs told him to drink the bowl of Ekpawor medicine which was placed before him. As he could not refuse, he drank the bowl in great fear. Very soon the Ju Ju got hold of him, and he confessed that he had poisoned his brother on the advice of his friends. About two hours after drinking the Ekpawor, Essido died in great pain.

The friends were then brought to the meeting, tied to posts, and questioned as to the part they had taken in the death of Eyo. They were then taken to the place where Eyo was buried, the grave having been dug open, and their heads were cut off and fell into the grave, and their bodies were thrown in after them as a sacrifice for the wrong they had done. The grave was then filled up again.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. A stick of fish consisted of two sticks with a big fish in the middle of each and small fish at each end, there being eight fish on each stick, making sixteen in all. These sticks were then tied together, and smoked over wood fires until they were quite dried. One stick of fish would sell at Calabar in the dry season time for from 3s. 6d. to 5s. a stick, and a stick would be got for five large yams which cost Chief Oborri only 1s., so a large profit was made on each canoe load—the canoes carrying about a thousand yams each. A bag of shrimps would be bartered for twenty-five large yams, and the shrimps would be sold for 15s., being a profit of 10s. on each bag.
2. Every compound has a small Ju Ju in the centre, which generally consists of a few curiously shaped stones and a small tree on which the ‘Nsiat bird frequently builds. There is sometimes a species of cactus at the foot, an earthenware pot is supported on sticks against the tree, and tied on with tie-tie, or native rope. In this pot there is always a very foul-smelling liquid, with frequently some rotten eggs floating in it. Small sacrifices are made to these Ju Ju’s of chickens, and this Ju Ju is frequently appealed to. The liquid is sometimes taken as a specific against sickness or poison. There is also frequently a roughly carved image of wood, and sometimes an old matchet and some broken earthenware on the ground, with a brass rod or manilla. It is generally a very dirty spot.

The King and the ‘Nsiat Bird: A Folktale of Idu, Nigeria

Pinpoint Location: Idu, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Idu tells the tale of ‘Ndarake, who married the daughter of the ‘Nsiat bird despite a dire warning. 

When ‘Ndarake was King of Idu, being young and rich, he was very fond of fine girls, and had plenty of slaves. The ‘Nsiat bird was then living at Idu, and had a very pretty daughter, whom ‘Ndarake wished to marry.

When ‘Ndarake spoke to the father about the matter, he replied that he had no objection personally, as it would be a great honour for his daughter to marry the king, but, unfortunately, when any of his family had children they always gave birth to twins, which, as the king knew, was not allowed in the country; the native custom being to kill both the children and throw them into the bush, the mother being driven away to starve.

The king, however, being greatly struck with Adit, the bird’s daughter, insisted on marrying her. A large amount of dowry was paid by the king, and a large play and feast were held. One strong slave was told to carry Adit ‘Nsiat during the whole play, and she sat on his shoulders with her legs around his neck; this was done to show what a rich and powerful man the king was.

In due course, Adit gave birth to twins, as her mother had done before her. The king immediately became very fond of the two babies, but according to the native custom, which was too strong for anyone to resist, he had to give them up to be killed.

When the ‘Nsiat bird heard this, he went to the king and reminded him that he had warned the king what would happen if he married Adit. But rather than seeing the twins killed, he and his whole family would leave the earth and dwell in the air, taking the twins with them.

As the king was so fond of Adit and the two children, he gladly consented.

The ‘Nsiat bird took the whole of his family, as well as Adit and her two children, away, and left the earth to live and make their home in the trees; but as they had formerly lived in the town with all the people, they did not like to go into the forest, so they made their nests in the trees which grew in the town.

And that is why you always see the ‘Nsiat birds living and making their nests only in places where human beings are. The black birds are the cocks, and the golden-coloured ones are the hens. It was the beautiful colour of Adit which first attracted the attention of ‘Ndarake and caused him to marry her.

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The Slave Girl who tried to Kill her Mistress: An Ibibio Folktale

Akwa Ibom State - Folkli Folktales
General Location: Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria / Map data ©2019 Google

This Ibibio folktale tells the tale of a slave girl who tried to kill her mistress to take her place at a wedding. 

A man called Akpan, who was a native of Oku, a town in the Ibibio country, admired a girl called Emme very much, who lived at Ibibio, and wished to marry her, as she was the finest girl in her company.

It was the custom in those days for the parents to demand such a large amount for their daughters as dowry, that if after they were married they failed to get on with their husbands, as they could not redeem themselves, they were sold as slaves.

Akpan paid a very large sum as dowry for Emme, and she was put in the fatting-house until the proper time arrived for her to marry.

Akpan told the parents that when their daughter was ready they must send her over to him. This they promised to do. Emme’s father was a rich man, and after seven years had passed, and it became time for her to go to her husband, he saw another very fine girl, who had also just come out of the fatting-house, and whom the parents wished to sell as a slave. Emme’s father bought her as a handmaiden to his daughter.

The next day Emme’s little sister, being very anxious to go with her, obtained the consent of her mother, and they started off together, the slave girl carrying a large bundle containing clothes and presents from Emme’s father.

Akpan’s house was a long day’s march from where they lived. When they arrived just outside the town they came to a spring, where the people used to get their drinking water from. No one was allowed to bathe there. Emme, however, knew nothing about this. They took off their clothes to wash close to the spring, where there was a deep hole which led to the Water Ju Ju’s house.

The slave girl knew of this Ju Ju, and thought if she could get her mistress to bathe, she would be taken by the Ju Ju, and she would then be able to take her place and marry Akpan. So they went down to bathe, and when they were close to the water the slave girl pushed her mistress in, and she at once disappeared.

The little girl began to cry, but the slave girl said, “If you cry any more I will kill you, and throw your body into the hole after your sister.” She then told the child that she must never mention what had happened to anyone, and particularly not to Akpan, as she was going to represent her sister and marry him. She then made the little girl carry her load to Akpan’s house.

When they arrived, Akpan was very disappointed at the slave girl’s appearance, as she was not nearly as pretty and fine as he had expected her to be; but as he had not seen Emme for seven years, he had no suspicion that the girl was not really Emme, for whom he had paid such a large dowry. He called all his company together to play and feast, and when they arrived they were much astonished, and said, “Is this the fine woman for whom you paid so much dowry, and whom you told us so much about?”

Akpan could not answer them.

The slave girl was for some time very cruel to Emme’s little sister, and wanted her to die so that her position would be more secure. She beat the little girl every day, and made her carry the largest water-pot to the spring; she also made the child place her finger in the fire to use as firewood. When the time came for food, the slave girl would take a burning piece of wood and burn the child all over the body with it.

When Akpan asked her why she treated the child so badly, she replied that she was a slave that her father had bought for her.

One day, the little girl took the heavy water-pot to the river but there was no one to lift it on to her head; she had to remain at the spring a long time, and began calling for her sister Emme to come and help her.

When Emme heard her little sister crying for her, she begged the Water Ju Ju to allow her to go and help her, so he told her she might go, but that she must return to him again immediately. When the little girl saw her sister she asked to be allowed to go into the hole with her. She told Emme how badly she had been treated by the slave girl, but her elder sister told her to have patience; a day of vengeance would arrive sooner or later.

The little girl went back to Akpan’s house with a glad heart as she had seen her sister.

But when she got to the house, the slave girl said, “Why did you take so long getting water?” She then took another stick from the fire and burnt the little girl very badly, and starved her for the rest of the day.

This went on for some time, until, one day, when the child went to the river for water, after all the people had gone, she cried out for her sister as usual, but she did not come for a long time, as there was a hunter from Akpan’s town hidden near watching the hole, and the Water Ju Ju told Emme that she must not go; but, as the little girl went on crying bitterly, Emme persuaded the Ju Ju to let her go, promising to return quickly. When she emerged from the water, she looked very beautiful with the rays of the setting sun shining on her glistening body. She helped her little sister with her water-pot, and then disappeared into the hole again.

The hunter was amazed at what he had seen, and when he returned, he told Akpan what a beautiful woman had come out of the water and had helped the little girl with her water-pot. He also told Akpan that he was convinced that the girl he had seen at the spring was his proper wife, Emme, and that the Water Ju Ju must have taken her.

Akpan made up his mind to see for himself, so, in the early morning the hunter came for him, and they both went down to the river, and hid in the forest near the water-hole.

When Akpan saw Emme come out of the water, he recognised her at once, and went home to consider how he could release her from the power of the Water Ju Ju. He was advised by some of his friends to go consult an old woman who frequently made sacrifices to the Water Ju Ju.

When he went to her, she told him to bring her one white slave, one white goat, one piece of white cloth, one white chicken, and a basket of eggs. Then, when the great Ju Ju day arrived, she would take them to the Water Ju Ju and make a sacrifice of them on his behalf. The day after the sacrifice was made, the Water Ju Ju would return the girl to her and she would bring her to Akpan.

Akpan bought the slave and took all the other things to the old woman. When the day of the sacrifice arrived, he went with his friend the hunter and witnessed the old woman make the sacrifice. The slave was bound up and led to the hole, then the old woman called to the Water Ju Ju and cut the slave’s throat with a sharp knife and pushed him into the hole. She then did the same to the goat and chicken, and threw the eggs and cloth in on top of them.

The next morning at dawn the old woman went to the hole, and found Emme standing at the side of the spring. She told her that she was her friend, who was going to take her to her husband. She took Emme back to her own home, and hid her in her room, and sent word to Akpan to come to her house, and to take great care that the slave woman knew nothing about the matter.

Akpan left the house secretly by the back door and arrived at the old woman’s house without meeting anybody.

When Emme saw Akpan, she asked for her little sister, so he sent his friend, the hunter, for her to the spring, and he met her carrying her water-pot to get the morning supply of water for the house, and brought her to the old woman’s house with him.

When Emme had embraced her sister, she told her to return to the house and do something to annoy the slave woman, and then she was to run as fast as she could back to the old woman’s house, where, no doubt, the slave girl would follow her, and would meet them all inside the house, and see Emme, who she believed she had killed.

The little girl did as she was told. As soon as she got into the house, she called out to the slave woman: “You are a wicked woman, who has treated me very badly! But I know you are only my sister’s slave, and you will be properly punished.” She then ran as hard as she could to the old woman’s house.

The slave woman heard what the little girl said and, seizing a burning stick from the fire, ran after the child. But the little one got to the old woman’s house first, and ran inside. The slave woman followed close upon her heels with the burning stick in her hand.

Then Emme came out and confronted the slave woman. She at once recognised her mistress, whom she thought she had killed, so she stood quite still.

Then they all went back to Akpan’s house, where Akpan asked the slave woman what she meant by pretending that she was Emme, and why she had tried to kill her.

But the slave woman had nothing to say.

Many people were then called to a play to celebrate the recovery of Akpan’s wife, and he told them all what the slave woman had done.

Emme, for a time, treated the slave girl in the same way as she had treated her little sister. She made her put her fingers in the fire, and burnt her with sticks. She also made her beat foo-foo with her head in a hollowed-out tree. Finally, she was tied up to a tree and starved to death.

Ever since that time, when a man marries a girl, he is always present when she comes out of the fatting-house and takes her home himself so that such evil things as happened to Emme and her sister cannot occur again.

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The Orphan Boy and the Magic Stone: An Efik Folktale

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

This Efik folktale tells the tale of Ayong Kita and his struggle to reclaim his rightful inheritance.  

A chief of Inde named Inkita had a son named Ayong Kita, whose mother had died at his birth. The old chief was a hunter, and used to take his son out with him when he went into the bush. He used to do most of his hunting in the long grass which grows over nearly all the Inde country, and used to kill plenty of bushbuck in the dry season.

In those days the people had no guns, so the chief had to shoot everything he got with his bow and arrows, which required a lot of skill.

When his little son was old enough, he gave him a small bow and some small arrows, and taught him how to shoot. The little boy was a quick learner, and by continually practising at lizards and small birds soon became expert in the use of his little bow, and could hit them almost every time he shot at them.

When the boy was ten years old his father died, and as he thus became the head of his father’s house. He had full authority over all the slaves, who soon became very discontented, and made plans to kill him. So he ran away into the bush.

Having nothing to eat, he lived for several days on the nuts which fell from the palm trees. He was too young to kill any large animals, and only had his small bow and arrows, with which he killed a few squirrels, bush rats, and small birds. And so he managed to live.

Once at night, while sleeping in the hollow of a tree, he had a dream in which his father appeared and told him about a treasure buried in the earth. But, being a small boy, he was frightened and did not seek the place.

One day, sometime after the dream, having walked far and being very thirsty, he went to a lake, and was just going to drink, when he heard a hissing sound, and heard a voice tell him not to drink. Not seeing anyone, he was afraid, and ran away without drinking.

The next morning, when he was out with his bow trying to shoot some small animal, he met an old woman with quite long hair. She was so ugly that he thought she must be a witch. He tried to run, but she told him not to fear, as she wanted to help him rule over his late father’s house. She also told him that it was she who had called out to him at the lake not to drink, as there was a bad Ju Ju in the water which would have killed him.

The old woman took Ayong to a stream some little distance from the lake, and bending down, took out a small shining stone from the water, which she gave to him, telling him to go to the place which his father had shown him in his dream.

She then said, “When you get there you must dig, and you will find plenty of money. Take it and buy two strong slaves to build you a house with several rooms somewhere in the forest, away from the town, Place the stone in one of the rooms, and whenever you want anything, tell the stone. Your wishes will at once be gratified.”

Ayong did as the old woman told him, and after much difficulty and danger bought the two slaves and built a house in the forest, taking great care of the precious stone, which he placed in an inside room. For some time, whenever he wanted anything, he used to go into the room and ask for a sufficient number of rods to buy what he wanted, and they were always brought at once.

This went on for many years, and Ayong grew up to be a very rich man who bought many slaves, having made friends with the Aro men [editor’s note: big local slave traders].

After ten years Ayong had quite a large town and many slaves, and one night the old woman appeared to him in a dream. She told him that he was sufficiently wealthy and that it was time for him to return the magic stone to the small stream from whence it came.

But Ayong, although he was rich, wanted to rule his father’s house and be a head chief for all the Inde country, so he sent for all the Ju Ju men in the country and two witch-men, and marched with all his slaves to his father’s town. He held a big palaver and told them to point out any slave who might kill him when he came to rule the country.

Then the Ju Ju men consulted together, and pointed out fifty of the slaves who, they said, were witches, and would try to kill Ayong. He at once had them captured, and tried them by the ordeal of Esere bean1)The Esere or Calabar bean is a strong poison. These beans are ground up in a stone mortar, and are then swallowed by the accused person. If the man dies he is considered guilty, but if he lives, he is supposed to have proved his innocence. Death generally ensues about two hours after the poison is administered. If the accused takes a sufficient amount of the ground-up beans to make him vomit it will probably save his life, otherwise he will die in great pain. to see whether they were witches or not. As none of them could vomit the beans they all died, and were declared to be witches. He then had them buried at once.

When the remainder of his slaves saw what had happened, they all came to him and begged his pardon, and promised to serve him faithfully.

Although the fifty men were buried they could not rest, and troubled Ayong very much. After a time he became very sick, so he sent again for the Ju Ju men. They told him that it was the witch-men who, although they were dead and buried, had the power to come out at night and suck Ayong’s blood, which was the cause of his sickness.

They then said, “We are only three Ju Ju men; you must get seven more of us, making the magic number of ten.”  He did so, and they came and dug up the bodies of the fifty witches, which they found were quite fresh. Ayong then burned them one after the other. He soon recovered and took possession of his father’s property; ruling over all the country.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. The Esere or Calabar bean is a strong poison. These beans are ground up in a stone mortar, and are then swallowed by the accused person. If the man dies he is considered guilty, but if he lives, he is supposed to have proved his innocence. Death generally ensues about two hours after the poison is administered. If the accused takes a sufficient amount of the ground-up beans to make him vomit it will probably save his life, otherwise he will die in great pain.

The Lucky Fisherman: An Efik Folktale

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

This Efik folktale tells the tale of Akon Obo, who was so successful at fishing that he managed to join the Egbo society. 

In the olden days, there were no hooks or casting nets, so that when the natives wanted to catch fish they made baskets and set traps at the riverside.

One man named Akon Obo, who was very poor, began to make baskets and traps out of bamboo palm, and then when the river went down he used to take his traps to a pool and set them baited with palm-nuts. In the night the big fish used to smell the palm-nuts and go into the trap, when at once the door would fall down, and in the morning Akon Obo would go and take the fish out. He was very successful in his fishing, and used to sell the fish in the market for plenty of money.

When he could afford to pay the dowry, Akon Obo married a woman named Eyong, a native of Okuni, and had three children by her. The eldest son was called Odey, the second Yambi, and the third Atuk. These three boys, when they grew up, helped their father with his fishing, and he gradually became wealthy and bought plenty of slaves.

At last Akon Obo joined the Egbo society, and became one of the chiefs of the town. But he and his sons still continued to fish. Until, one day, when he was crossing the river, a tornado came on very suddenly and capsized the canoe, drowning the chief.

When his sons heard of the death of their father, they wanted to go and drown themselves also, but they were persuaded not to by the people. After searching for two days, they found the dead body some distance down the river, and brought it back to the town. They then called their company together to play, dance, and sing for twelve days, in accordance with their native custom, and much palm wine was drunk.

When the play was finished, they took their father’s body to a hollowed-out cavern, and placed two live slaves with it, one holding a native lamp of palm-oil, and the other holding a matchet. They were both tied up, so that they could not escape, and were left there to keep watch over the dead chief, until they died of starvation.

When the cave was covered, the sons called the chiefs together, and they played Egbo1)The Egbo society would meet together and would be provided with palm wine and food, as much as they could eat and drink, which frequently cost a lot of money. Dancing and singing would also be kept up and a band would play, consisting of drums made of hollowed-out trunks of trees, beaten with two pieces of soft wood, native made bells and rattles made of basket work, with stones inside, the bottom consisting of hard dried skin, and covered all over with long streamers of fibre. Other drums are also played by hand; these are made out of hollow wood, covered at one end with dried skin, the other end being left open. The drummer usually sits on two of these drums, which have a different note, one being a deep sound, and the other slightly higher. for seven days, which used up a lot of their late father’s money. When the play was over, the chiefs were surprised at the amount of money which the sons had been able to spend on the funeral of their father, as they knew how poor he had been as a young man. They therefore called him the lucky fisherman.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. The Egbo society would meet together and would be provided with palm wine and food, as much as they could eat and drink, which frequently cost a lot of money. Dancing and singing would also be kept up and a band would play, consisting of drums made of hollowed-out trunks of trees, beaten with two pieces of soft wood, native made bells and rattles made of basket work, with stones inside, the bottom consisting of hard dried skin, and covered all over with long streamers of fibre. Other drums are also played by hand; these are made out of hollow wood, covered at one end with dried skin, the other end being left open. The drummer usually sits on two of these drums, which have a different note, one being a deep sound, and the other slightly higher.

The Cannibals of Insofan Mountain: A Folktale of Ikom, Nigeria

Pinpoint Location: Ikom, Nigeria / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Ikom tells the tale of King Agbor, who caused his people to migrate to after an unfortunate case of cannibalism. 

Many years ago, the towns of Ikom, Okuni, Abijon, Insofan, Obokum, and all the other Injor towns were situated around the Insofan Mountain, and the head chief of the whole country was called Agbor.

The Insofan Mountain is about two days’ march inland from the Cross River, and as none of the people there could swim, and knew nothing about canoes, they were afraid of the big river and never went anywhere outside their own country.

The whole country was taken up with yam farms, and was divided amongst the various towns, each town having its own bush. At the end of each year, when it was time to dig the yams, there was a big play held, which was called the New Yam feast.

At this festival there was always a big human sacrifice, fifty slaves being killed in one day. These slaves were tied up to trees in a row, and many drums were beaten; then a strong man, armed with a sharp matchet, went from one slave to another and cut their heads off. This was done to cool the new yams, so that they would not hurt the stomachs of the people. Until this sacrifice was made no one in the country would eat a new yam, as they knew, if they did so, they would suffer great pain in their insides.

When the feast was held, all the towns brought one hundred yams each as a present to King Agbor. When the slaves were all killed fires were lit, and the dead bodies were placed over the fires to burn the hair off. A number of plantain leaves were then gathered and placed on the ground, and the bodies, having been cut into pieces, were placed on the plantain leaves.

When the yams were skinned, they were put into large pots, with water, oil, pepper, and salt. The cut-up bodies were then put in on top, and the pots covered up with other clay pots and left to boil for an hour.

The king then declared the New Yam feast had commenced, and singing and dancing were kept up for three days and nights, during which time much palm wine was consumed, and the bodies and yams were eaten by the people.

The heads were given to the king for his share, and, when he had finished eating them, the skulls were placed before the Ju Ju with some new yams, so that there should be a good crop the following season.

But although these natives ate the dead bodies of the slaves at the New Yam feast, they did not eat human flesh during the rest of the year.

This went on for many years, until at last the Okuni people noticed that the graves of the people who had been buried were frequently dug open and the bodies removed. This caused great wonder, and, as they did not like the idea of their dead relations being taken away, they made a complaint to King Agbor.

King Agbor set a watch on all newly dug graves, and that very night they caught seven men These men came whenever a body was buried, dug it up, and carried it into the bush to cook and eat them. When they were caught, the people made them show where they lived, and where they cooked the bodies. After walking for some hours in the forest, they came to a place where large heaps of human bones and skulls were found.

The seven men were then brought before King Agbor, who held a large palaver of all the towns, and the whole situation was discussed.

Agbor said that this bad custom would necessitate all the towns separating, as they could not allow their dead relations to be dug up and eaten. He gave one of the men to each of the seven towns, and told some of them to go on the far side of the big river and make their towns there. The others were to go farther down the river on the same side as Insofan Mountain. When they found suitable places, they were to kill their captives as a sacrifice and then build their town.

When they had all gone, Agbor began to feel very lonely, so he left the site of his old town and also went to the Cross River so that he could see his friends.

After that the New Yam feast was held in each town, and the people continued to kill and eat a few slaves at the feast. But the bodies of their relations and friends were kept above ground until they had become rotten, to prevent them from being eaten.

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The Pretty Girl and the Seven Jealous Women: An Ibibio Folktale

Akwa Ibom State - Folkli Folktales
General Location: Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria / Map data ©2019 Google

This Ibibio folktale tells the tale of Akim, who was betrayed by seven jealous girls who resented her great beauty. 

There was once a very beautiful girl called Akim. She was a native of Ibibio, and the name was given to her on account of her good looks, as she was born in the springtime. Akim was an only daughter, and her parents were extremely fond of her.

The people of the town, and more particularly the young girls, were so jealous of Akim’s good looks and beautiful form — for she was perfectly made, very strong, and her carriage, bearing, and manners were most graceful — that her parents would not allow her to join the young girls’ society in the town, as is customary for all young people to do, both boys and girls belonging to a company according to their age; a company consisting, as a rule, of all the boys or girls born in the same year.

One day as Akim was on her way to draw water from the spring she met the company of seven girls, to which in an ordinary way she would have belonged, if her parents had not forbidden her. These girls told Akim that they were going to hold a play in the town in three days’ time, and asked her to join them. Akim replied that she was very sorry, but that her parents were poor and only had herself to work for them. She had no time to spare for dancing and plays.

In the evening the seven girls met together, and as they were very envious of Akim, they discussed how they should be revenged upon her for refusing to join their company.

At last one of the girls suggested that they should all go to Akim’s house every day and help her with her work, so that when they had made friends with her they would be able to entice her away and take their revenge upon her for being more beautiful than them.

Although they went every day and helped Akim and her parents with their work, the parents knew that they were jealous of their daughter, and repeatedly warned her not on any account to go with them, as they were not to be trusted.

At the end of the year there was going to be a big play, called the new yam play, to which Akim’s parents had been invited. The play was going to be held at a town about two hours away from where they lived. Akim was very anxious to go and take part in the dance, but her parents gave her plenty of work to do before they started, thinking that this would prevent her going, as she was a very obedient daughter, and always did her work properly.

On the morning of the play the jealous seven came to Akim and asked her to go with them, but she pointed to all the water-pots she had to fill, and showed them where her parents had told her to polish the walls with a stone and make the floor good; and after that was finished she had to pull up all the weeds round the house and clean up all round. She could not leave the house until all that work was finished.

When the girls heard this they took up the water-pots, went to the spring, and quickly returned with them full; they placed them in a row, and then they got stones, and very soon had the walls polished and the floor made good; after that they did the weeding outside and the cleaning up, and when everything was completed they said to Akim, “Now you have no excuse to remain behind, as all the work is done.”

Akim really wanted to go to the play; so as all the work was done which her parents had told her to do, she finally consented to go.

About halfway to the town, where the new yam play was being held, there was a small river, about five feet deep, which had to be crossed by wading, as there was no bridge. In the river there was a powerful Ju Ju, whose law was that whenever any one crossed the river and returned the same way on the return journey, whoever it was, had to give some food to the Ju Ju. If they did not make the proper sacrifice the Ju Ju dragged them down and took them to his home, and kept them there to work for him.

The seven jealous girls knew all about this Ju Ju, having often crossed the river before, as they walked about all over the country, and had plenty of friends in the different towns. Akim, however, who was a good girl, and never went anywhere, knew nothing about this Ju Ju, which her companions had found out.

When they had gone a small distance on the other side of the river, they saw a small bird, perched on a high tree, who admired Akim and sang in praise of her beauty, much to the annoyance of the seven girls; but they walked on without saying anything, and eventually arrived at, the town where the play was being held.

Akim had not taken the trouble to change her clothes, but although her companions had on all their best beads and their finest clothes, the young men admired Akim far more than the other girls, and she was declared to be the finest and most beautiful woman at the dance. They gave her plenty of palm wine, foo-foo, and everything she wanted, so that the seven girls became more angry and jealous than before.

The people danced and sang all that night, but Akim managed to keep out of the sight of her parents until the following morning, when they asked her how it was that she had disobeyed them and neglected her work; so Akim told them that the work had all been done by her friends, and they had enticed her to come to the play with them. Her mother then told her to return home at once.

When Akim told her friends this they said, “Very well, we are just going to have some small meal, and then we will return with you.” They all then sat down together and had their food, but each of the seven jealous girls hid a small quantity of foo-foo and fish in her clothes for the Water Ju Ju. Only Akim, who knew nothing about this, as her parents had forgotten to tell her about the Ju Ju, never thinking for one moment that their daughter would cross the river, did not take any food as a sacrifice to the Ju Ju with her.

When they arrived at the river Akim saw the girls making their small sacrifices, and begged them to give her a small share so that she could do the same, but they refused, and all walked across the river safely. But when Akim arrived in the middle of the river, the Water Ju Ju caught hold of her and dragged her underneath the water.

The seven girls had been watching for this, and when they saw that Akim had gone they went on their way, very pleased at the success of their scheme and convinced that their cruel action had escaped detection. They never noticed the little bird high up in the tree who had sung of Akim’s beauty when they were on their way to the play.

The little bird was very sorry for Akim, and made up his mind that, when the proper time came, he would tell her parents what he had seen, so that perhaps they would be able to save her. The bird had heard Akim asking for a small portion of the food to make a sacrifice with, and had heard all the girls refusing to give her any.

The following morning, when Akim’s parents returned home, they were much surprised to find that the door was fastened, and that there was no sign of their daughter anywhere about the place, so they inquired of their neighbours, but no one was able to give them any information about her. They then went to the seven girls, and asked them what had become of Akim. They replied that they did not know what had become of her, but that she had reached their town safely with them, and then said she was going home.

Akim’s father then went to his Ju Ju man, who, by casting lots, discovered what had happened, and told him that on her way back from the play Akim had crossed the river without making the customary sacrifice to the Water Ju Ju, and that, as the Ju Ju was angry, he had seized Akim and taken her to his home. He therefore told Akim’s father to take one goat, one basketful of eggs, and one piece of white cloth to the river in the morning, and to offer them as a sacrifice to the Water Ju Ju; then Akim would be thrown out of the water seven times, but that if her father failed to catch her on the seventh time, she would disappear forever.

Akim’s father then returned home, and, when he arrived there, the little bird who had seen Akim taken by the Water Ju Ju, told him everything that had happened, confirming the Ju Ju’s words. He also said that it was entirely the fault of the seven girls, who had refused to give Akim any food to make the sacrifice with.

Early the following morning the parents went to the river, and made the sacrifice as advised by the Ju Ju. Immediately the Water Ju Ju threw Akim up from the middle of the river. Her father caught her at once, and returned home very thankfully.

He never told anyone, however, that he had recovered his daughter, but made up his mind to punish the seven jealous girls. He dug a deep pit in the middle of his house, and placed dried palm leaves and sharp stakes in the bottom of the pit. He then covered the top of the pit with new mats, and sent out word for all people to come and hold a play to rejoice with him, as he had recovered his daughter from the spirit land.

Many people came to the feast, and they danced and sang all the day and night. But the seven jealous girls did not appear, as they were frightened. However, when they were told that there had been no trouble the previous day, they went to the house the following morning and mixed with the dancers; ashamed to look Akim in the face, who was sitting down in the middle of the dancing ring.

When Akim’s father saw the seven girls he pretended to welcome them as his daughter’s friends, and presented each of them with a brass rod, which he placed round their necks. He also gave them tombo to drink. He then told them to go and sit on mats on the other side of the pit he had prepared for them.

The girls fell into the pit, and Akim’s father immediately got red-hot ashes from the fire and threw them on top; the dried palm leaves caught fire, killing them all.

The next day the parents of the dead girls went to the head chief, and complained that Akim’s father had killed their daughters, so the chief called him before him, and asked him for an explanation.

Akim’s father went at once to the chief, taking the Ju Ju man, whom everybody relied upon, and the small bird, as his witnesses.

When the chief had heard the whole case, he told Akim’s father that he should only have killed one girl to avenge his daughter, and not seven. So he told the father to bring Akim before him. But when she arrived, the head chief, seeing how beautiful she was, changed his mind and said that her father was justified in killing all the seven girls on her behalf, so he dismissed the case, and told the parents of the dead girls to go away and mourn for their daughters, who had been wicked and jealous women, and had been properly punished for their cruel behaviour to Akim.

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Propp’s Functions: A Syntagmatic Structural Analysis of the Folktale

An extended summary of the 31 functions included by Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folktale (1928); a structural analysis of Russian (and Ukrainian) folktales. Propp’s approach constitutes a syntagmatic structural analysis.  I.e. the structure of the folktale is described following the linear sequence of elements in the text in chronological order.  Sadly the book itself was first translated in 1958, and as a result is not in public domain.

Initial Situation

Element 0: Initial situation (α / alpha)

α1Introduction of protagonist(s) and setup for story (context)

Preparatory Section (Functions 1 -7)

Function 1: Absentation (β / beta)

A member of the hero’s community or family leaves the security of the home environment. This may be the hero themselves, or some other relation that the hero must later rescue. This division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline. This may serve as the hero’s introduction, typically portraying them as an ordinary person.

β1Absentation (departure) of elder(s)
β2Death of parent(s)
β3Absentation (departure) of sibling(s)

Function 2: Interdiction (γ / gamma)

A forbidding edict or command is passed upon the hero (‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t do this’). The hero is warned against some action.

γ1Interdiction issued
γ2Inverted form of interdiction issued as order or suggestion

Function 3: Violation (δ / delta)

The prior rule is violated. Therefore the hero did not listen to the command or forbidding edict. Whether committed by the Hero by accident or temper, a third party or a foe, this generally leads to negative consequences. The villain enters the story via this event, although not necessarily confronting the hero. They may be a lurking and manipulative presence, or might act against the hero’s family in his absence.

δ1Interdiction violated
δ2Order or suggestion executed

Function 4: Reconnaissance (ε /epsilon)

The villain makes an effort to attain knowledge needed to fulfill their plot. Disguises are often invoked as the villain actively probes for information, perhaps for a valuable item or to abduct someone. They may speak with a family member who innocently divulges a crucial insight. The villain may also seek out the hero in their reconnaissance, perhaps to gauge their strengths in response to learning of their special nature.

ε1Reconnaissance by antagonist(s)
ε2Reconnaissance by victim(s) / protagonist(s)
ε3Reconnaissance by other person(s)

Function 5: Delivery (ζ / zeta)

The villain succeeds at recon and gains a lead on their intended victim. A map is often involved in some level of the event.

ζ1Antagonist(s) receives information about victim(s) / protagonist(s)
ζ2Victim(s) / protagonist(s) receives information about antagonist(s)
ζ3Information received by other means

Function 6: Trickery (η – eta)

The villain attempts to deceive the victim to acquire something valuable. They press further, aiming to con the protagonists and earn their trust. Sometimes the villain make little or no deception and instead ransoms one valuable thing for another.

η1Deceitful persuasions by antagonist(s)
η2Direct application of magical agents by antagonist(s)
η3Use of other forms of deception or coercion

Function 7: Complicity (θ / theta)

The victim/protagonist is fooled or forced to concede and unwittingly or unwillingly helps the villain, who is now free to access somewhere previously off-limits, like the privacy of the hero’s home or a treasure vault, acting without restraint in their ploy.

θ1Protagonist(s) reacts to persuasions of antagonist(s)
θ2Protagonist(s) falls victim to influence of magical agent
θ3Protagonist(s) gives in or reacts mechanically to deceit of antagonist(s) — preliminary misfortune caused by deceitful agreement.

Complications (Functions 8 -11)

function 8 (and/or 8a) is always present in tale

Function 8: Villainy (A)

The villain harms a family member, including but not limited to abduction, theft, spoiling crops, plundering, banishment or expulsion of one or more protagonists, murder, threatening a forced marriage, inflicting nightly torments and so on. Simultaneously or alternatively, a protagonist finds they desire or require something lacking from the home environment (potion, artifact, etc.). The villain may still be indirectly involved, perhaps fooling the family member into believing they need such an item.

A1Kidnapping of person
A2Seizure of magical agent or helper
AIIForcible seizure of magical helper
A3Pillaging or ruining of crops
A4Theft of daylight
A5Plundering in other forms
A6Bodily injury, maiming, mutilation
A7Causes sudden disappearance
AVIIBride is forgotten
A8Demand for delivery or enticement, abduction
A9Expulsion
A10Casting into body of water
A11Casting of a spell, transformation
A12False substitution
A13Issues order to kill [requires proof]
A14Commits murder
A15Imprisonment, detention
A16Threat of forced matrimony
AXVIThreat of forced matrimony between relatives
A17Threat of cannibalism
AXVIIThreat of cannibalism among relatives
A18Tormenting at night (visitation, vampirism)
A19Declaration of war

Function 8a: Lack (a)

a1Lack of bride, friend, or an individual
a2Lack of helper or magical agent
a3Lack of wondrous object(s)
a4Lack of egg of death or love
a5Lack of money or means of existence
a6Lacks in other forms

Function 9: Mediation, the connective incident (B)

One or more of the negative factors covered above comes to the attention of the Hero, who uncovers the deceit/perceives the lacking/learns of the villainous acts that have transpired.

B1Call for help received, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched
B2Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched directly
B3Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) released, allowed to depart
B4Annoucement of misfortune in other forms, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) departs
B5Transportation of banished protagonist(s) as victim(s)
B6Condemned protagonist(s) as victim(s) released, spared
B7Lamment or plaintive song by/about victim(s), heard/sung by protagonist(s)

Function 10: Beginning counteraction (C)

The hero considers ways to resolve the issues, by seeking a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise thwarting the villain. This is a defining moment for the hero, one that shapes their further actions and marks the point when they begin to fit their noble mantle.

C1Protagonist(s) as seeker consents to counteraction

Function 11: Departure, dispatch of protagonist(s) from home. The hero leaves the home environment, this time with a sense of purpose. Here begins their adventure.

Donors (Functions 12 -14)

Function 12: First function of donor (D)

The hero encounters a magical agent or helper (donor) on their path, and is tested in some manner through interrogation, combat, puzzles or more.

D1Donor tests protagonist(s)
D2Donor greets and interrogates protagonist(s)
D3Request of favor after death
D4Entreaty of prisoner for freedom
*D4Entreaty of prisoner for freedom, with preliminary imprisonment
D5Request for mercy
D6Request for division
d6Argument without express request for division
D7Other requests
*D7Other requests, with preliminary helpless situation of person making request
d7Helpless situation of donor without stated request, possibility of rendering service
D8Attempt to destroy
D9Combat with hostile donor
D10Offer of magical agent as an exchange

Function 13: Protagonist’s reaction (E)

The hero responds to the actions of their future donor; perhaps withstanding the rigours of a test and/or failing in some manner, freeing a captive, reconciles disputing parties or otherwise performing good services. This may also be the first time the hero comes to understand the villain’s skills and powers, and uses them for good.

E1Protagonist(s) withstands ordeal (or not)
E2Protagonist(s) answers greeting (or not)
E3Protagonist(s) renders service to dead person (or not)
E4Protagonist(s) frees of captive
E5Mercy to suppliant
E6Protagonist completes apportinment and reconciles disputants
EVIProtagonist(s) deceives disputants
E7Performance of some other service, fulfillment of request, pious deeds
E8Attempt at destruction averted by turnabout
E9Protagonist(s) vanquishes hostile donor (or not)
E10Deception in an exchange, protagonist(s) employs magical agent on donor

Function 14: Acquisition of magical agent (F)

The hero acquires use of a magical agent as a consequence of their good actions. This may be a directly acquired item, something located after navigating a tough environment, a good purchased or bartered with a hard-earned resource or fashioned from parts and ingredients prepared by the hero, spontaneously summoned from another world, a magical food that is consumed, or even the earned loyalty and aid of another.

F1Agent is directly transferred
f1Gift is of a material nature
F-Agent is not transferred
F=Protagonist’s negative reaction provokes cruel retribution
F2Agent is pointed out
F3Agent is prepared
F4Agent is sold and purchased
F43Agent is made on order
F5Agent is found by chance
F6Agent suddenly appears of its own accord
FVIAgent appears from out of earth
F7Agent is drunk or eaten
F8Agent is seized
F9Agent offers its services, places itself at someone’s disposal
f9Agent indicates it will appear of its own accord in some time of need
F96Meeting with magical helper(s) who offers their services

Entry of helper to end of first move (Functions 15 – 22)

Function 15: Transference, guidance (G)

The hero is transferred, delivered or somehow led to a vital location, perhaps related to one of the above functions such as the home of the donor or the location of the magical agent or its parts, or to the villain.

G1Protagonist(s) flies thru air
G2Protagonist(s) travels on ground or water
G3Protagonist(s) is led
G4Route is shown to protagonist(s)
G5Protagonist(s) makes use of stationary means (stairs, bridge etc.)
G6Marked trail shows the way (blood, tracks, yarn, etc.)

Function 16: Struggle (H)

The hero and villain meet and engage in conflict directly, either in battle or some nature of contest.

H1Fight in an open field
H2Contest, competition
H3Game of cards
H4Weighing with scales

Function 17: Branding (J)

The hero is marked in some manner, perhaps receiving a distinctive scar or granted a cosmetic item like a ring or scarf.

J1Application of mark to body of protagonist(s)
J2Transference of token (ring, towel, etc.)

Function 18: Victory (I)

The villain is defeated by the hero – killed in combat, outperformed in a contest, struck when vulnerable, banished, and so on.

I1Antagonist(s) defeated in open battle
*I1Antagonist(s) defeated by one protagonist(s) while the other(s) hide
I2Antagonist(s) defeated in contest
I3Antagonist(s) defeated at cards
I4Antagonist(s) defeated in weighing with scales
I5Protagonist(s) kills antagonist(s) without preliminary fight
I6Expulsion of antagonist(s)

Function 19: Liquidation (K)

The earlier misfortunes or issues of the story are resolved; object of search are distributed, spells broken, captives freed.

K1Direct acquisition thru application of force or cunning
KIDirect acquisition thru application of force or cunning (compelling)
K2Acquisition accomplished by several helpers at once
K3Acquisition achieved with help of an enticement or decoy(s)
K4Liquidation of misfortune as direct result of previous actions
K5Object of search attained instantly thru use of magical agent
K6Poverty done away with thru use of magical agent
K7Object of search captured
K8Breaking of spell on victim
K9Resuscitation of slain
KIXResuscitation, with preliminary obtaining of water of life
K10Release from captivity
KF1Liquidation in form F: object of search is transferred
KF2Liquidation in form F: object of search is pointed out
KF3Liquidation in form F: object of search is prepared
KF4Liquidation in form F: object of search is sold, purchased
KF43Liquidation in form F: object of search is made on order
KF5Liquidation in form F: object of search is found
KF6Liquidation in form F: object of search appears of its own accord
KFVILiquidation in form F: object of search appears from out of earth
KF7Liquidation in form F: object of search is drunk or eaten
KF8Liquidation in form F: object of search is seized
KF9Liquidation in form F: object of search offers its services
KF96Liquidation in form F: object of search are helpers who offers their services

Function 20: Return

Return of protagonist(s). The hero travels back to their home.

Function 21: Pursuit (Pr)

The hero is pursued by some threatening adversary, who seeks to capture or eat them.

Pr1Antagonist(s) flies thru air
Pr2Antagonist(s) demands guilty person
Pr3Antagonist(s) pursues, accompanied by series of transformations into animals
Pr4Antagonist(s) pursues, with tranformations into enticing objects
Pr5Antagonist(s) attempts to devour protagonist(s)
Pr6Antagonist(s) attempts to destroy protagonist(s)
Pr7Antagonist(s) attempts to gnaw thru tree with protagonist(s) up in it

Function 22: Rescue (Rs)

The hero is saved from a chase. Something may act as an obstacle to delay the pursuer, or the hero may find or be shown a way to hide, up to and including transformation unrecognisably. The hero’s life may be saved by another.

Rs1Protagonist(s) carried thru air or runs quickly
Rs2Protagonist(s) places obstacles in path of pursuers [with transformation]
Rs3Fleeing, with transformation to escape recognition
Rs4Fleeing with concealment of escapee
Rs5Concealment of escapee by blacksmiths
Rs6Escapee goes thru series of transformations into animals, plants & stones
Rs7Warding of temptation of enticing object(s)
Rs8Rescue or salvation from being devoured
Rs9Rescue or salvation from being destroyed
Rs10Leap into another tree

Beginning of Second Move

(repeat from new villainy to unrecognized arrival)

Function 23: Unrecognized arrival (o)

The hero arrives, whether in a location along their journey or in their destination, and is unrecognised or unacknowledged.

o1Unrecognized arrival

Function 24: Unfounded claims (L)

A false hero presents unfounded claims or performs some other form of deceit. This may be the villain, one of the villain’s underlings or an unrelated party. It may even be some form of future donor for the hero, once they’ve faced their actions.

L1Claims of false protagonist(s)

Function 25: Difficult task (M)

A trial is proposed to the hero – riddles, test of strength or endurance, acrobatics and other ordeals.

M1Ordeal by food and drink
M2Ordeal by fire
M3Riddle guessing
M4Ordeal of choice
M5Hide and seek
M6Test of strength
M7Test of adroitness
M8Test of fortitude
M9Test of endurance
M10Tasks of supply
MXTasks of manufacture
M11Sorting tasks
M12Other tasks

Function 26: Solution (N)

The hero accomplishes a difficult task.

N1Food and drink consumed
N2Fire survived
N3Riddle guessed
N4Correct choice selected
N5Protagonist(s) not found
N6Test of strength passed
N7Test of adroitness passed
N8Test of fortitude passed
N9Test of endurance passed
N10Object(s) supplied
NXObject(s) manufactured
N11Sorting tasks completed
N12Other tasks completed
*NSolution before deadline

Function 27: Recognition (Q)

The hero is given due recognition.

Q1Recognition of protagonist(s) by mark on body
Q2Recognition of protagonist(s) by token
Q3Recognition of protagonist(s) by accomplishment of difficult task
Q4Recognition of protagonist(s) by family member

Function 28: Exposure (Ex)

The false hero and/or villain is exposed to all and sundry.

Ex1Exposure by lack of mark on body
Ex2Exposure by lack of token
Ex3Exposure by failure to accomplish difficult task
Ex4Exposure thru song / lament

Function 29: Transfiguration (T)

The hero gains a new appearance. This may reflect aging and/or the benefits of labour and health, or it may constitute a magical remembering after a limb or digit was lost (as a part of the branding or from failing a trial). Regardless, it serves to improve their looks.

T1New physical appearance by magical action of helper
T2Protagonist(s) builds palace
T3Protagonist(s) puts on new garments
T4Humorous and rationalized forms, new appearance achieved by deception

Function 30: Punishment (U)

The villain suffers the consequences of their actions, perhaps at the hands of the hero, the avenged victims, or as a direct result of their own ploy.

UPunishment of false protagonist(s) or antagonist(s)
U-False protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) pardoned

Function 31: Wedding (W)

The hero marries and is rewarded or promoted by the family or community, typically ascending to a throne.

W#*Protagonist(s) weds and ascends throne
W#Protagonist(s) weds
W*Protagonist(s) ascends throne
w1Protagonist(s) promised marriage
w2Protagonist(s) resumes marriage
w0Protagonist(s) given monetary reward or other forms of material gain

 

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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The King and the Ju Ju Tree: A Folktale of Ekit Itam, Nigeria

Pinpoint Location: Ekit Itam, Akwa Ibom State / Map data ©2019 Google

This Efik folktale from Ekit Itam tells the tale of King Udo who traded his daughter to a spirit in return for a cure.

Udo Ubok Udom was a famous king who lived at Itam, which is an inland town, and does not possess a river. The king and his wife therefore used to wash at the spring behind their house.

King Udo had a daughter, of whom he was very fond, who grew up into a beautiful woman.

The king had been absent from his house, and had not been to the spring for two years. When he returned, he found that the Idem Ju Ju tree had grown up all round the place, and it was impossible for him to use the spring. He therefore called fifty young men to bring their matchets and cut down the tree.

The men started cutting the tree, but it had no effect; no sooner did they make a cut in the tree, than it closed up again. So, after working all day, they found they had made no impression on it. When they returned at night, they told the king that they had been unable to destroy the tree. He was very angry, and went to the spring the following morning with his own matchet.

When the Ju Ju tree saw that the king had come himself and was starting to cut his branches, he caused a small splinter of wood to enter the king’s eye. This gave the king great pain, so he threw down his matchet and went back to his house.

The pain got worse, and the king could not eat or sleep for three days. He therefore sent for his witch men, and told them to cast lots to find out why he was in such pain. When they had cast lots, they decided that the reason was that the Ju Ju tree was angry with the king. They then told the king that he must take seven baskets of flies, a white goat, a white chicken, and a piece of white cloth, and make a sacrifice of them in order to satisfy the Ju Ju. The king did this, and the witch men tried their lotions on the king’s eye, but it got worse and worse.

The king then dismissed these witches and got another lot. When they arrived they told the king that, although they could do nothing themselves to relieve his pain, they knew one man who lived in the spirit land who could cure him; so the king told them to send for him at once, and he arrived the next day.

The spirit man first demanded to know his payment, and king Udo offered half his town with the people in it, and also seven cows and some money. But the spirit man refused to accept the king’s offer. As the king was in such pain, he relented and let the spirit man name his own price.  The spirit man said the only thing he was willing to accept as payment was the king’s daughter. At this the king cried very much, and told the man to go away, as he would rather die than let him have his daughter.

That night the pain was worse than ever, and some of his subjects pleaded with the king to send for the spirit man again and give him his daughter, and told him that if he recovered he could no doubt have another daughter but that if he died he would lose everything.

The king then sent for the spirit man again, who came very quickly, and in great grief, the king handed his daughter to the spirit.

The spirit man then went out into the bush, and collected some leaves, which he soaked in water and beat up. The juice he poured into the king’s eye, and told him that when he washed his face in the morning he would be able to see what was troubling him in the eye.

The king tried to persuade him to stay the night, but the spirit man refused, and departed that same night for the spirit land, taking the king’s daughter with him.

Before it was light the king rose up and washed his face, and found that the small splinter from the Ju Ju tree, which had been troubling him so much, dropped out of his eye, the pain disappeared, and he was quite well again.

When he came to his senses he realised that he had sacrificed his daughter for one of his eyes, so he made an order that there should be general mourning throughout his kingdom for three years.

For the first two years of the mourning the king’s daughter was put in the fatting house by the spirit man, and was given food; but a skull, who was in the house, told her not to eat, as they were fatting her up, not for marriage, but so that they could eat her. She therefore gave all the food which was brought to her to the skull, and lived on chalk herself.

Towards the end of the third year the spirit man brought some of his friends to see the king’s daughter, and told them he would kill her the next day, and they would have a good feast off her.

When she woke up in the morning the spirit man brought her food as usual; but the skull, who wanted to preserve her life, and who had heard what the spirit man had said, called her into the room and told her what was going to happen later in the day. She handed the food to the skull, and he said, “When the spirit man goes to the wood with his friends to prepare for the feast, you must run back to your father.”

He then gave her some medicine which would make her strong for the journey, and also gave her directions, telling her that there were two roads but that when she came to the parting of the ways she was to drop some of the medicine on the ground and the two roads would become one.

He then told her to leave by the back door, and go through the wood until she came to the end of the town; she would then find the road. If she met people on the road she was to pass them in silence, as if she saluted them they would know that she was a stranger in the spirit land, and might kill her. She was also not to turn round if anyone called to her, but was to go straight toward her father’s house.

Having thanked the skull for his kind advice, the king’s daughter started off, and when she reached the end of the town and found the road, she ran for three hours, and at last arrived at the branch roads. There she dropped the medicine, as she had been instructed, and the two roads immediately became one; so she went straight on and never saluted any one or turned back, although several people called to her.

About this time the spirit man had returned from the wood, and went to the house, only to find the king’s daughter was absent. He asked the skull where she was, and he replied that she had gone out by the back door, but he did not know where she had gone to. Being a spirit, however, he very soon guessed that she had gone home; so he followed as quickly as possible, shouting out all the time.

When the girl heard his voice she ran as fast as she could, and at last arrived at her father’s house, and told him to take at once a cow, a pig, a sheep, a goat, a dog, a chicken, and seven eggs, and cut them into seven parts as a sacrifice, and leave them on the road, so that when the spirit man saw these things he would stop and not enter the town. This the king did immediately, and made the sacrifice as his daughter had told him.

When the spirit man saw the sacrifice on the road, he sat down and at once began to eat. When he had satisfied his appetite, he packed up the remainder and returned to the spirit land, without troubling the king’s daughter.

When the king saw that the danger was over, he beat his drum, and declared that, when people died and went to the spirit land, they should not come to earth again as spirits to cure sick people.

If you enjoyed reading this folktale from Ekit Itam, then please consider keeping it alive by sharing it with your friends. You can find many more Nigerian folktales by visiting our dedicated collections.