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M. I. OGUMEFU, B.A.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY
THE SHELDON PRESSNORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C. 2
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Typographical arrangement of this edition
© Abela Publishing 2009
This book may not be reproduced in its current format in any manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical ( including photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis, or any other information storage and retrieval system) except as permitted by law without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Abela Publishing acknowledges the work that
M. I. Ogumefu did in compiling this unique collection of
in a time well before any electronic media was in use.
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A percentage of the net profit from the sale of this book
will be donated to
Edgbarrow School, Crowthorne, Berkshire
to assist fundraising for their Ghana Project.
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YESTERDAYS BOOKS for TOMORROWS EDUCATIONS
IN modern times we have begun paying close attention to folklore—old tales, not invented by one man, but belonging to the whole people; not written down, but told by parents to their children, and so handed on for hundreds of years.
The legends and fairy stories in this book belong to the Yoruba country of Southem Nigeria. They relate the adventures of men and animals, and try to explain the mysteries of Nature—Why Women have Long Hair, How the Leopard got his Spots, and so forth. Most of them include very old songs, but these cannot here be given in full.
We must not think that the stories are scientifically true; they grew out of the imagination of the people, and for actual, proven facts we must look in our text-books. We read these folk-tales for their quaintness and humour, for their sympathy with Nature, and because we find in them the ideas and ideals, not just of one man, but of the race.
The legends express primitive notions of right and wrong, and in this they fall below the new standard which Christianity has set for our actions. As a rule, however, the wicked are punished and the good rewarded; and that, we feel, is as it should be. We may weep at the death of rascally Tortoise, but we feel that he deserves his fate!
I THE KINGDOM OF THE YORUBAS
II HOW TRIBAL MARKS CAME TO BE USED
III AKITI THE HUNTER
IV SONS OF STICKS
V WHY WOMEN HAVE LONG HAIR
VI WHY PEOPLE CRY “LONG LIVE THE KING!”
WHEN THUNDER FOLLOWS LIGHTNING
VII THE OLOFIN AND THE MICE
VIII THE IROKO TREE
IX ORISA OKO
XI THE BAT
XII THE LEOPARD-MAN
XIII THE WATER-BIRD
XIV THE ANTS AND THE TREASURE
XV THE VOICES OF BIRDS
XVI THE THREE MAGICIANS
XVII ISOKUN AND THE BABY
XVIII THE TWIN BROTHERS
XIX HOW LEOPARD GOT HIS SPOTS
XX ANOTHER STORY OF LEOPARD’S SPOTS
XXI THE HEAD
XXII OLE AND THE ANTS
XXIII THE BOA-CONSTRICTOR
XXV THE STAFF OF ORANYAN
XXVI THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK
XXVII THE SECRET OF THE FISHING-BASKETS
XXVIII THE TEN GOLDSMITHS
XXIX THE COOKING-POT
XXX THE PARROT
XXXI THE GHOST-CATCHER
STORIES OF TORTOISE
XXXII TORTOISE AND THE KING
XXXIII TORTOISE AND MR. FLY
XXXIV ERIN AND ERINOMI (THE LAND- AND
XXXV THE THREE DEATHS OF TORTOISE
XXXVI TORTOISE AND THE COCK
XXXVII TORTOISE AND CRAB
XXXVIII TORTOISE AND PIGEON
XXXIX TORTOISE AND THE WHIP-TREE
XL TORTOISE AND THE RAIN
THE ancient King Oduduwa had a great many grandchildren, and on his death he divided among them all his possessions. But his youngest grandson, Oranyan, was at that time away hunting, and when he returned home he learnt that his brothers and cousins had inherited the old King’s money, cattle, beads, native cloths, and crowns, but that to himself nothing was left but twenty-one pieces of iron, a cock, and some soil tied up in a rag.
At that time the whole earth was covered with water, on the surface of which the people lived.
The resourceful Oranyan spread upon the water his pieces of iron, and upon the iron he placed the scrap of cloth, and upon the cloth the soil, and on the soil the cock. The cock scratched with his feet and scattered the soil far and wide, so that the ocean was partly filled up and islands appeared everywhere. The pieces of iron became the mineral wealth hidden under the ground.
Now Oranyan’s brothers and cousins all desired to live on the land, and Oranyan allowed them to do so on payment of tribute. He thus became King of all the Yorubas, and was rich and prosperous through his grandfather’s inheritance.
A CERTAIN King named Sango sent two slaves to a distant country on an important mission.
In due course they returned, and he found that one slave had achieved successfully what he had been sent to do, while the other had accomplished nothing. The King therefore rewarded the first with high honours, and commanded the second to receive a hundred and twenty-two razor cuts all over his body.
This was a severe punishment, but when the scars healed, they gave to the slave a very remarkable appearance, which greatly took the fancy of the King’s wives.
Sango therefore decided that cuts should in future be given, not as punishment, but as a sign of royalty, and he placed himself at once in the hands of the markers. However, he could only bear two cuts, and so from that day two cuts on the arm have been the sign of royalty, and various other cuts came to be the marks of different tribes.
A FAMOUS hunter and wrestler named Akiti boasted that he was stronger than any other man or animal. He had easily overcome a giant, a leopard, a lion, a wolf, and a boa-constrictor, and as nobody else opposed his claim, he called himself “the King of the forest.”
Wherever he went, he sang his triumphant wrestling-song, and everyone feared and respected him. But he had forgotten the Elephant, who is a very wise animal and knows many charms. One day the Elephant challenged him and declared that he had no right to call himself “King,” as the Elephant himself was the monarch of the forest and could not be defeated.
Akiti thereupon flung his spear at his enemy, but because of the Elephant’s charm, the weapon glanced off his hide and did him no harm. Akiti next tried his bow and poisoned arrows, and his hunting-knife, but still without effect.
However, the hunter also possessed a charm, and by using it, he changed himself into a lion and flew at the Elephant, but the Elephant flung him off. Next he became a serpent, but he could not succeed in crushing the Elephant to death.
At last he changed himself into a fly, and flew into the Elephant’s large flapping ear. He went right down inside until he came to the heart, and then he changed himself into a man again and cut up the heart with his hunting-knife. At last the Elephant fell dead, and Akiti stepped out of his body in triumph, for he was now without question “the King of the forest.”
A GREAT King sent his various sons to rule over different parts of his kingdom, and all were satisfied but one, the youngest and most ambitious, who returned to his father after some time with the complaint that his territory was much too small and his subjects too few.
The King was displeased with his son, and sent for a large bundle of sticks, which he converted into human beings.
“Here are some more subjects for you!” he said to the astonished Prince.
From that time the tribe was famous for its strength and stupidity, and went by the nickname of “Sons of Sticks,” or “Ọmọ igi”!
TWO women quarrelled, and one of them went out secretly at night and dug a deep pit in the middle of the path leading from her enemy’s house to the village well.
Early next morning, when all were going to the well for water with jars balanced on their heads, this woman fell into the pit and cried loudly for help.
Her friends ran to her and, seizing her by the hair, began to pull her out of the pit. To their surprise, her hair stretched as they pulled, and by the time she was safely on the path, her hair was as long as a man’s arm.