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.

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