LifeLessons: Four Yoruba stories

Every language has its stories. some of these stories are designed to teach moral lessons in order to enable us develop good interpersonal relationships and live in cooperation. the Yoruba  language is no exception, it also has its own expressions and proverbs which are designed to teach morals and good living, Here for your reading pleasure are four Yoruba stories,  modelled on the stories of Aseop, the famous Nordic story teller, and the moral lessons they teach. the equivalent yoruba expressions are listed in brackets


The coronation ceremony of the new chiefs in a town called Ile-Aje was coming up, and Oyelakin and Oyeleke ware part of the new chiefs to be appointed. Both men were eager to make a good impression on the other chiefs and the townspeople.  So they  decided to wear  a special kind of ceremonial dress reserved for those kind of occassions. But the problem was that  neither of the two had this dress.  And none of their immediate neighbours had it . That dress was so expensive and scarce that apart from the king, only the Otunba had it. So both of them resolved to go to the Otunba to borrow the dress.

Oyeleke got to Otunba’s house first, the latter had just started to tackle an ample plate of Pounded yam and Egusi soup , a keg of palmwine stood beside him. “good day Otunba, I have come to see you for something important,”  Oyeleke said. “Haba!” Otunba replied between mouthfuls “ is the matter so important that you won’t have any of this nice pounded yam and egusi soup?” he did not wait for Oyeleke to reply before he called a maid: “you go bring some food for my good friend here.” Oyeleke did not need any further invitation, the aroma of the food had already filled his nostrils, when the maid brought the food, Oyeleke  promptly rolled his sleeves, washed his hands and  tucked in.

As Oyeleke was  halfway in when Oyelakin came in. He greeted the Otunba “good afternoon Otunba, I have come to see you for something important” . Otunba  replied “welcome Oyelakin, why dont you have some food first, Then we can talk?” “Thanks Otunba” Oyelakin replied “the food can wait , but what i have come for canno.” He continued “ I have come ask if I can borrow your ceremonial dress for my installation ceremony coming up soon.”  “Of course you can,” Otunba replied. “Ajike!”  he called. A middle aged woman came out. “ Go inside my room, check the bottom of the box where I keep my ceremonial clothes, bring that one I wear for special ceremonies for me. The woman  went in and returned a few minutes later  with the dress. She handed it to Otunba who handed  it to Oyelakin, “thank you very much Otunba,” Oyelakin said beaming with happiness. That was the exact moment that Oyeleke stood up from his food, “the dress is the reason why I have come too, i wanted to borrow it as well.”  Otunba looked at him in suprise, “why didnt you say that when you came, instead you made food your priority,  he made the dress he wanted to borrow his own priority, and that is why he got it. Well it is too late now, that is the only dress of that kind that i have.” Oyeleke stood up and went home in disappointment, Otunba sighed  as he watched him go.“ that will teach him to set his prorities right next time.”

Moral Lesson: Life is full of distractions, remain focused on what you want, paying attention to side attractions will only cause you misery (eni ti a n ba naja la n wo a kii wo ariwo oja)



Once upon a time in a village, the tortoise  and his wife had no food in the house.He therefore decided to go into the farm of the snail, who happens to be his father- in- law to dig up a few yams. Unfortunately the snail caught him in the act and promptly raised an alarm, the tortoise was apprehended, and on the orders of the snail, was tied to a tree by the roadside so that the passers by would be able to see  the would be thief.  Everybody who passed by the scene that morning had a word of abuse for the tortoise. A group of young “look at the shameless thief, stealing from his own father-in-law, have you no dignity at all?” another added “you  ungrateful lout, he gave you his daughter to marry, and you repay him back by going to his farm to steal,” still another added “ wicked creature, you are even bold enough to steal from your father in law that means you can even kill him, if given enough incentive”  the tortoise  had to bear the curses, the taunts and the abuse for the rest of the morning.

When the last person had passed, the tortoise turned to the snail and pleaded: “Sir , I am sorry for trying to steal your yams, I have been humiliated and disgraced enough, I beg you in the name of your daughter, let me go, i have learnt my lesson and i promise this will not happen again.” The snail laughed hard and long, and then replied “Did you think of my daughter when you went into my farm to steal my yams? I will not let you go, I will make sure you are still here in the evening so that the people can abuse humiliate you even more, and i’ll be a witness to everything.” So the snail kept the tortoise tied there.

Soon it was evening and people started to return from their farms, but on seeing the tortoise still tied to the tree, faint from hunger and exhaustion, they turned on the snail instead, “you are such a wicked being, tying up your own son in law like this, if he were not your son in law, would you have killed him?”  “if he had suceeded in stealing  the said yams, will he have not have shared it with your daughter?” another put in. A third added “ afterall, you have recovered your yams back, and he has been abused and disgraced, so what else do you want from him? You hard heartless being.” Everybody  who passed by simply echoed the sentiment that the snail had taken the punishment too far had it had become sadistic rather than corrective. it was the snail’s turn to be scandalized and he had to shamefully set the tortoise free. The tortoise when he could finally catch his breath, turned to the snail to say “ i told you so” but the snail  had already slunk off home in total humiliation and disgrace.

Moral lesson: even if you are the justified party, taking justice and punishment  beyond what is acceptable will only bring you humiliation and disgrace.  (eebu alo ni ahun, aabo ni to ana e) 


Owonifaari was resting under the shade of the large tree  at the edge of his farm, eating  a kolanut. In the leaf beside him lay about ten more uneaten kolanuts. A young boy who was passing by  approached him and asked politely: “ kindly Sir, please give me a kolanut to eat”. Owonikoko replied angrily “ you  cheeky little brat,  did you buy the kolanuts for me? How dare come to me and ask for a kolanut? And besides  Kolanuts are not for little children like you, it  is for old men like us, so go away and leave me alone.” The boy slunk off dejected and  unhappy.  A few months later, a Chief in the town died, so the King  called for rich men who were interested in replacing him. Owonifaari  was among the people who expressed interest in the position. That fact literally killed off the ambitions of any of the others, as there was none of them who could rival him in terms of wealth or influence. The committee that was in charge of  Chieftancy appointments quickly declared their result, the consensus candidate was Owonifaari. Then the king called the entire townspeople to reveal to them their new chief, as well as announce the date for the installation ceremony to take place, But then, a young boy stood up in the assembly and said: “Your Majesty, i am sorry if I appear to be querying your decision, but i know something about this man you want to appoint as chief.”  “Say it then” the king said. “ your Majesty, this man is a miser, one afternoon a few months ago, he was sitting under a tree eating kolanuts and i was passing by. I begged him to give me one, even if it were a broken piece. He refused to give me any even though I counted at least ten beside him. He said to me, go away, because kolanuts are for adults like me not for young chaps like you.”  The king turned to Owonifaari, “is it true, why don’t you defend yourself.” Owoifaari was  already rigid with shock  and could only stammer in confusion as he tried unsuccessfully to defend himself. The king turned to the other chiefs and the townspeople and declared, “you have heard what the boy said  yourself, are we going to make such a stingy man a chief of our town?” “ No! No way” all the townspeople chorused. The king continued, by the power vested on me by my ancestors and the power of the people, Owonifaari’s installation as chief is hereby cancelled, and the committee should look for another more qualified person for the position. As everyone dispersed they all agreed on one point, that if kolanuts is not for young children then Chieftancy titles should also not be for adults

Moral Lesson: Miserliness cannot brings no one any gain, it infact drives good things away from one. “cast thy bread on the waters, and thou shall find it after many days.” Whatever a man sows so will he reap (Omode o jobi, Agba o joye)


The sleepy little town was in an an uproar. A big and angry elephant  had somehow come charging out of the forest and was destroying everything in sight, it uprooted trees and destroyed houses and threw everyone into a state of panic. Hunters fired potshots at it , but rather than slow the brute down, the shots only made the beast   angrier. It was the noise that woke up Odeyale the hunter, who had been sleeping after a night spent hunting  in the forest. He hurriedly  threw his clothes on  and ran out to investigate, only to find himself in the path of the rampaging beast. When the animal saw him, he paused for a few seconds as if assessing the new challenger, and then it started to charge at the hunter. The hunter stood ready, eyes fixed on the beast.As the animal got near enough to gore him with its tusks, Odeyale sidestepped neatly and in the same movement swatted the animal with hs cap, which was fortunately in his hand at that time. The elephant  stood still for a few seconds and then crashed  to the ground with a defeaning boom, dying instantly. A rapturous cheer errupted among the people watching, and Odeyale was soon carried  shoulder high to the palace by the  jubilant townspeople. The King was impressed with Odeyale and give him a new house, a large piece of land  and a bag of money. Everybody partied in honour of the awesome feat the  hunter achieved.

However the next day Odeyale discovered that the reaction of people to him had changed from adoration, to fear. The townspeople who had  adored him the day before, were now avoiding him and whispering behind his back, people who were so eager to touch him just the day before, would dash into the bush at his approach. Hewas still wondering why  the people were acting odd, when he passed by a house and heard two women whispering. One said to the other “ Here he comes, remember to greet him carefully, and don’t do anything to anger him. remember he killed a bull elephant with just his cap, who knows what he would do with a human being like you. Odeyale sighed when he realized what was  going on. The same thing that  catapulted him to  him to fame had also turned him into a pariah.  He mused to himself “so that adage is true afterall, that the person who kills an elephant with just his cap is only awesome for one day.

Moral Lesson:, there are two sides to every coin. awesomeness surely begets resentment, what people cannot understand , they will fear. What is more awesome than they can comprehend they will  resent (afifila peerin, ojo kan lo niyi mo)

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