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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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