Hello folks, thanks for joining us on our regular #FolktalesWednesday column. Here we share entertaining and educative stories from Yoruba culture. Today we bring you another story about Ijapa the wily tortoise. It is called Tortoise and the Lord of the River. You will enjoy it as usual.
A long time ago, there was a famine in the land of the animals. Every animal was hungry and could not get food to eat. Even the king who usually had food to eat and surplus to give out, struggled to find food to eat.
One day, Ijapa the Tortoise took his farm implements and headed to his farm, hoping to find something for himself and his family to eat. Of course since the famine was still raging, there was nothing at all in the farm that was worth eating. Ijapa was about to give up in despair when he noticed that one of his palm trees had a bunch of palm nuts on it. He quickly climbed up to the tree and cut down the palm nuts. Unfortunately, Ijapa’s farm was situated near a slope, so as soon as the bunch of palm nuts hit the ground, it started to roll away. Ijapa hastily climbed down the tree and ran after the palm nuts, he ran after the palm nuts until they fell into a nearby river. Knowing that there was nothing else for him and his family to eat, he jumped into the river and swam after the palm nuts.
He swam deeper and deeper into the river, but he couldn’t find his palm nuts. Instead he found himself standing in front of a godlike being, in a large and extremely beautiful palace. “I am the Lord of the River, what are you doing in my house?” the godlike being bellowed. Ijapa bowed respectfully, and said “Your majesty, I don’t mean to intrude into your palace, but a bunch of palm nuts just fell from my palm tree into the river, and I am looking for it because my wife and my children are in desperate need of something to eat, and that bunch of palm nuts is all I have left.”
The Lord of the river replied “Well I found a bunch of palm nuts lying around earlier and I ate them because I love palm nuts. However in exchange for your palm nuts I will give you something.” The Lord of the river called one of his servants, “Go and bring one of the calabashes that we grow in our gardens.” When the servant returned, the lord of the river took the calabash from the servant and gave it to Ijapa: “this calabash is a special calabash, it cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Anytime you are hungry, just ask it to do its duty. No matter what kind or quantity of food you want, it will give it to you.” Ijapa took the calabash, bowed humbly to express his appreciation and returned home. When he got home he told the calabash “do your duty”, and all kind of delicacies appeared in front of Ijapa and his family. For weeks after that, the family continued to enjoy tasty and delicious meals provided by the calabash. Ijapa however told his wife and his children never to reveal the secret to anyone.
One day, when Ijapa was away, a neighbor who was passing by saw Ijapa’s wife and children enjoying a delicious lunch of pounded yam and egusi soup. Since the town was still being ravaged by famine, he went inside to demand that either Ijapa’s wife tell him where she got the food from, or he would go and report her and her husband to the king for stealing someone else’s food. Therefore she was forced to reveal the secret. The neighbor went to the king of the town, and told him everything. The king called Ijapa and demanded that he demonstrate how the calabash worked. Ijapa commanded the calabash to produce food and it did. Next, the King called all the townspeople, Ijapa also commanded the calabash to produce for the townspeople. They all ate as much free food as they wanted. The king was so overjoyed that he promised to split his entire fortune into three and give Ijapa a third of all of it. Ijapa was happy about that and for many days the king and the townspeople all ate free food. However when Ijapa went to claim his reward the king refused to give him his due. Ijapa felt angry and promised to teach both the king and the townspeople a lesson.
One day, Ijapa’s wife was cleaning the house, when she bumped into the ledge on which she kept the calabash by mistake. The calabash fell from the ledge and broke into pieces. When the king and the townspeople heard it. They began to demand that the Tortoise go and get another calabash for them. So the Tortoise reluctantly went back to the lord of the river and asked for another gift. This time the Lord of the River gave him a whip. The Lord of the River told Ijapa to just command the whip to “do its duty” Tortoise took the whip and went straight to the King’s palace. Expecting another calabash, the King had already called all the townspeople. Then in the presence of everybody the Tortoise commanded the whip to do its duty. Then he went and hid underneath a mortar. The whip whipped the King and all the townspeople until they were all sore and bleeding. At last the Lord of the River took pity on them and called the whip back home. The king and the townspeople started to look for the Tortoise to punish him but he was nowhere to be found. They have not found him to this day