The ‘Nsasak Bird and the Odudu Bird: 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 ‘Nsasak, who set out to become the chief of all small birds. 

A long time ago, King Adam of Calabar wanted to know if there was any animal or bird which was capable of enduring hunger for a long period. When he found one the king said he would make him chief of his tribe.

The ‘Nsasak bird is very small, having a shining breast of green and red; he also has blue and yellow feathers and red around the neck, and his chief food consists of ripe palm nuts. The Odudu bird, on the other hand, is much larger, about the size of a magpie, with plenty of feathers, but a very thin body; he has a long tail, and his colouring is black and brown with a cream-coloured breast. He lives chiefly on grasshoppers and is also very fond of crickets, which make a noise at night.

The ‘Nsasak bird and the Odudu were great friends and used to live together. They both made up their minds that they would go before the king and try to be made chiefs, but the Odudu bird was quite confident that he would win, as he was so much bigger than the ‘Nsasak bird. He, therefore, offered to starve for seven days.

The king then told them both to build houses which he would inspect, and then he would have them fastened up, and the one who could remain the longest without eating would be made the chief.

They both then built their houses, but the ‘Nsasak bird, who was very cunning, thought that he could not possibly live for seven days without eating anything. So he made a tiny hole in the wall (being very small himself), which he covered up so that the king would not notice it on his inspection.

The king then came and looked carefully over both houses, but failed to detect the little hole in the ‘Nsasak bird’s house, as it had been hidden so carefully. He, therefore, declared that both houses were safe, and ordered the two birds to go inside their respective houses. The doors were then carefully fastened on the outside.

Every morning at dawn the ‘Nsasak bird used to escape through the small opening he had left high up in the wall, and fly away to enjoy himself all day, taking care, however, that none of the people on the farms should see him. When the sun went down he would fly back to his little house and creep through the hole in the wall, closing it carefully after him. When he was safely inside he would call out to his friend the Odudu and ask him if he felt hungry, and told him that he must bear it well if he wanted to win, as he, the ‘Nsasak bird, was very fit, and could go on for a long time.

For several days this went on, the voice of the Odudu bird growing weaker and weaker until he could no longer reply. Then the little bird knew that his friend must be dead. He was very sorry, but could not report the matter, as he was still supposed to be confined inside his house.

When the seven days had expired the king came and had both the doors of the houses opened. The ‘Nsasak bird at once flew out, and, perching on a branch of a tree which grew near, sang most merrily. The Odudu bird, on the other hand, was found to be quite dead, and there was very little left of him, as the ants had eaten most of his body, leaving only the feathers and bones on the floor.

The king appointed the ‘Nsasak bird to be the head chief of all the small birds, and in Ibibio country small boys who have bows and arrows are presented with a prize, which sometimes takes the shape of a female goat, if they manage to shoot a ‘Nsasak bird, as the ‘Nsasak bird is the king of the small birds, and most difficult to shoot on account of his wiliness and his small size.

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