Yoruba Folktales

The Yoruba folktales are very numerous. The word now commonly used to mean one of these popular fables is alo, which more properly means a riddle, or something invented, literally something twisted, or inverted. A reciter of tales, called an akpalo (kpa-alo) “maker of alo,” is a personage highly esteemed, and in great demand for social gatherings. Some men, indeed, make a profession of story-telling, and wander from place to place reciting tales. Such a man is termed an akpalo kpatita, “one who makes a trade of telling fables.” As among the Ewe tribes, the professional story-teller very often uses a drum, with the rhythm of which the pauses in the narrative are filled up. When he has gathered an audience around him, he cries out, “My alo is about so-and-so,” mentioning the name of the hero or heroine of the tale; or “My alo is about a man (or woman) who did so-and-so,” and, after this preface, proceeds with the recital. The professional story teller must not be confounded with the arokin, or narrator of the national traditions, several of whom are attached to each king or paramount chief, and who may be regarded as the depositaries of the ancient Chronicles. The chief of the arokin is a councillor, bearing the title of Ologbo “one who possesses the old times,” and a proverb says “Ologbo baba arokin” “Ologbo is the father of chroniclers.”

Gèlèdé costumes from a Yoruba-Nago community in Benin

Gèlèdé costumes from a Yoruba-Nago community in Benin


My alo is about a woman whose little girl made palm-oil.

One day when she had made palm-oil she took it to the market to sell.

She stayed in the market selling her palm-oil until it was quite dark. And when it was dark, a goblin[1] came to her to buy palm-oil, and paid her with some cowries.

When the little girl counted the cowries she found that there was one short, and she asked the goblin for the cowry that was wanting.

The goblin said that he had no more cowries, and the little girl began crying, “My mother will beat me if I go home with a cowry short.”

The goblin walked away, and the little girl walked after him.

“Go away,” said the goblin; turn back, for no one can enter the country where I live.”

“No,” said the little girl; “wherever you go I will follow, until you pay me my cowry.”

So the little girl followed, followed a long, long way, till they came to the country where the people stand on their heads in their mortars and pound yams with their heads.

[1. Iwin, goblin, spirit, ghost.]

Then they went on again a long way, and they came to a river of filth. And the goblin sang:–

“Oh! young palm-oil seller,
You must now turn back.”
And the girl sang:

“Save I get my cowry,
I’ll not leave your track.”
Then the goblin sang again:–

“Oh! young palm-oil seller,
Soon will lead this track,
To the bloody river,
Then you must turn back.”
And she:–

“I will not turn back.”And he:–

“See yon gloomy forest?”And she:–

“I will not turn back.”And he:–

“See yon craggy mountain?”And she:–

“I will not turn back.
Save I get my cowry
I’ll not leave your track.”
Then they walked on again, a long, long way; and at last they arrived at the land of dead people.

The goblin gave the little girl some palm-nuts, with which to make palm-oil, and said to her: “Eat the palm-oil and give me the ha-ha.[1]

[1. Ha-ha, the stringy remains of the pulp of the nut after the oil has been expressed.]

But when the palm-oil was made the little girl gave it to the goblin, and eat the ha-ha herself, and the goblin said, “Very well.”

By-and-by the goblin gave a banana to the little girl, and said: “Eat this banana, and give me the skin.” But the little girl peeled the banana and gave it to the goblin, and eat the skin herself.

Then the goblin said to the little girl: “Go and pick three ados.[1] Do not pick the ados which cry ‘Pick me, pick me, pick me,’ but pick those which say nothing, and then return to your home. When you are half-way back break one ado, break another when you are at the house-door, and the third when you are inside the house.” And the little girl said, “Very well.”

She picked the ados as she was told, and returned home.

When she was half-way she broke one ado, and behold, many slaves and horses appeared, and followed her.

When she was at the house-door, the little girl broke the second ado, and behold, many creatures appeared, sheep, and goats, and fowls, more than two hundred, and followed her.

Then, when she had entered the house, the little girl broke the last ado, and at once the house was filled to overflowing with cowries, which poured out of the doors and windows.

The mother of the little girl took twenty countrycloths, twenty strings of valuable beads, twenty sheep

[1. The ado is a very small calabash, commonly used for keeping medicinal powders in.]

and goats, and twenty fowls, and went to make a present to the head wife.[1]

The head wife asked whence all these things came, and when she had been told, she refused to accept them. She said she would send her own child to do the same, and that she could easily get as much.[2]

Then the head wife made palm-oil, and gave it to her own little girl, and told her to go and sell it in the market.

The little girl -went to the market. The goblin came, bought palin-oil of her, and paid her with cowries. He gave the proper number of cowries, but the little girl hid one and pretended that he had not given her enough.

“What am I to do?” said the goblin. “I have no more cowries.”

“Oh,” said the little girl, “I will follow you to your house, and then you can pay me.”

And the goblin said: “Very well.”

Then the two walked together, and presently the goblin began singing, as he had done the first time. He sang:–

“Oh young palm-oil seller,
You must now turn back.”
[1. Head wife, Iyale (Iya-ile, Mistress of the House). As already explained, the subordinate wives, of which the mother of the girl in the story was one, are called Iya-wo.

  1. From the European point of view this would appear to be a good trait on the part of the iyale, for the inference would be that she did not wish to deprive the sub-wife of so much property, but that is not the native view. To the native mind a person only refuses a present when he is nurturing rancour against the donor, and to refuse a gift is regarded is a sign of enmity.]

And the little girl sang:–

“I will not turn back.”And the goblin:–

You must leave the track.”And the girl:–

“I will not turn back.”Then the goblin said: “Very well. Come along.” And they walked on till they reached the land of dead people.

The goblin gave the little girl some palm-nuts, and told her to make palm-oil. He said: “When the palm-oil is made, eat it yourself, and bring me the ha-ha.” And the little girl eat the palm-oil and brought the ha-ha to the goblin. And the goblin said: “Very well.”

Then the goblin gave a banana to the little girl, and told her to peel it. He said: “Eat the banana yourself and bring me the skin.” And the little girl eat the banana and carried the skin to the goblin.

Then the goblin said: “Go and pick three ados. Do not pick those which cry ‘Pick me, pick me, pick me,’ but pick those which say nothing.”

The little girl went. She found ados which said nothing and she left them alone. She found others which cried, “Pick me, pick me, pick me,” and she picked three of them.

Then the goblin said to her, “When you are halfway home break one ado; when you are at the door break another; and break the third when you are inside the house.”

Half-way home the little girl broke one ado, and behold, numbers of lions, and leopards, and hyenas, and snakes, appeared. They ran after her, and harassed her, and bit her till she reached the door of the house.

Then she broke the seeond ado, and behold, more ferocious animals came upon her and bit her and tore her at the door. The door was shut, and there was only a deaf person in the house. The little girl called to the deaf person to open the door, but he heard her not. And there, upon the threshold, the wild beasts killed the little girl.


My alo is about a poor young woman.[1]

There was a poor young woman who had a child. She was so poor that she could not even buy a cloth to wear, and her child was held on her back with a plantain-leaf.

The poor young woman used to go into the forest to cut fire-wood to sell. One day she went there as usual. There was a tall tree, and under it she put down her child to sleep in the shade.

Now in this tree there was an aranran,[2] and while the young woman was cutting fire-wood, the aranran seized the child, and carried it up into the tree.

When the young woman had made up her bundle of wood, she came back to the place where she had left her child, and could not find it.

[1. This story is also about the discomfiture of an iyale, which is a favourite theme. The plot resemblcs the foregoing.

2. Aranran, a bird of prey; probably from ra, to hover.]

She looked everywhere, but still could not find it, and she ran to-and-fro, crying bitterly.

At last she looked up, and then she saw her child in the claws of the aranran, high up in the tree-top. And she began to sing:–

Aranran, eiye igbo, igbo,[1]
Give me back my child, oh, igbo.
Here is a rope of tie-tie,[2] igbo;
Quickly let my child down, igbo.”
When the young woman had sung this, the aranran threw down to her a bag of coral beads.

The young woman ran to the bag and opened it, but her child was not in it, so she threw the bag down and sang again:–

Aranran, eiye igbo, igbo,
Give me back my child, oh, igbo.
Here is a rope of tie-tie, igbo;
Quickly let my child down, igbo.”
Then the aranran took all kinds of valuable property, and threw them down to her. And the mother looked here and looked there as the things fell, but her child was still not there, so she sang again, the same song, a third time.

Then the aranran took the child and flew down with it and placed it gently on the ground.

The young woman ran to her child, took him up,

[1. Eiye, bird; igbo, forest, bush. Hence eiye igbo answers to our “wild bird.” The native words are here retained in order to preserve the rhythm.

  1. Tie-tie is an Anglo-African term for the various kinds of parasitical vines which are used as substitutes for cord. They are sometimes called “bush-rope.”]

and put him on her back. She picked up also all the things that the aranran had thrown down to her. And from being poor, she now became rich.

After returning home the young woman took twenty strings of coral beads, and went to offer them to the iyale; but the iyale, when she learned how the young woman had come by the beads, refused them.

The iyale took a child belonging to one of the other wives and carried it into the bush. She put it under the tree of the aranran, and went away to cut wood.

But while she was away cutting wood the aranran carried off the child, and killed and ate it.

When the iyale, returned to the foot of the tree, and could not find the child, she began to sing, as the young woman had done:–

Aranran, eiye igbo, igbo,
Give me back my child, oh, igbo.
Here is a rope of tie-tie, igbo;
Quickly let my child down, igbo.”
Then the aranran voided copiously into a bag, tied up the neck of the bag, and throw it down.

The iyale ran to the bag, picked it up, and untied it. She found it full of filth, and she threw it away. Then she sang again, as before.

This time the aranran made water in a large calabash, and let it fall, so that it broke upon the woman’s head. And the iyale sang a third time:–

Aranran, eiye igbo, igbo,
Give me back my child, oh, igbo.
Here is a rope of tie-tie, igbo;
Quickly let my child down, igbo.”
Then the aranran took up the bones of the child and throw thein down -at her.

The iyale ran and looked at the bones of the child, and she cried out, “This is not my child. It is the child of another woman that this bird has killed, believing it to be mine.” And she went away.

When she reached home, the mother of the child came to the iyale for her little one. And the iyale said that the child was quite well, but was not with her.

Many times the mother came to ask for her child, and when three months had passed and the child had not been restored to her, she carried the case before the king.

She told the king all that had taken place, that the iyale had taken the child from her hands, and, though three months had passed, had not yet brought it back.

The king summoned the iyale to his court, and asked her, “What have you done with the child? Where is it?” And the iyale answered, “What do you suppose I should do with it? ”

Then the king said to the people who were assembled, “If this woman belonged to you, what would you do with her?” And all the people replied, “If she belonged to us we would put her to death.”

And the king said, “Let her then be put to death.” And so the iylale was killed.

III. Why the ajao remained unburied.

My alo is of the ajao.[1]

[1. Ajao, a kind of flying-fox, or large bat.]

The ajao lay in his house very sick, and there was no one to tend him. The ajao died.

The neighbours said, “The ajao is dead; we must call his relatives to come, and perform the funeral ceremonies, and bury him.” And they went and called the birds, saying “Your relation is dead.”

The birds came, and when they saw that the deceased was an ajao, they said, “This is not one of our family. All our family wear feathers, and you see the ajao has none. He does not belong to us.” And they went away.

The neighbours consulted together. They said, “The birds are right. The ajao has no feathers, and is not of the family of birds. He must be of the family of rats.” And they went and called the rats, saying, “Your relation is dead.”

The rats came, but when they saw that the deceased was an ajao they also denied him. They said, “This is not one of our family. Everyone who is of our family has a tail, and you see the ajao has none.” And they went away.

Thus the ajao, having no relations, remained unburied.[1]


My alo is something about a certain king.

One day the king called all the birds to come and clear a piece of ground. But be forgot to call kini-kini. [2]

[1. See Proverb 179.

  1. A small black and white bird, sometimes called the doctor-bird. It is named from its cry, which rescinbles the words kini-kini.]

All the birds came. They set to work, and they cleared a large piece of ground.

In the middle of the piece of ground was an odan-tree.[1] At mid-day, when the sun was hot, and all the birds had left their work for the day, kini-kini came and perched on the odan-tree, and began to sing:–

The king sent to invite my companions,Kini-kini.He assembled all the children of the folk with wings,

Kini-kini.Grow grass, sprout bush,

Kini-kini,Come, let us go to the house,

Kini-kini.And there we can dance the bata,

Kini-kini.If the bata will not sound we will dance the dandun,

Kini-kini.If the dundun will not sound we will dance the gangan,[2]

Kini-kini.”Next morning, when the birds came to work, they found the ground they had cleared all grown over with grass and bush. They went and told the king. The king said, “That is nothing; clear it again.”

[1. Odan, a variety of ficus, which is planted in streets and open spaces as a shade-tree.

2. Batadundun, and yangan, are the names of different kinds of drums. The bata is a tall drum, the dundun is hung with little bells, and the yangan is properly a war-drum. These names are onomatopœic. Each drum has its own measure and rhythm, and people say “to dance the bata, to dance the dundun, or to dance the yangan,” just as we say, “to dance a waltz, to dance a polka, or to dance a quadrille.”]

The birds went to work and cleared it again, and at mid-day went away. The kini-kini came back and sang his song again, and again the grass and bush sprang up.

Next day the birds, when they saw what had happened, went and informed the king. “No matter,” said the king, “clear the ground again.”

A third time the birds cleared the ground and went away, and a third time the kini-kini came and sang so that the grass and bush sprang up.

The next day, when. the birds found the ground covered with bush, they went to the king. They asked the king to give them authority to seize the person who had played this trick. The king said, “Very well.”

Then all the birds went back to the piece of ground; they put a great quantity of birdlime on the odan-tree; then they went home.

Next morning they came and cleared the ground again, and at mid-day went and hid in the bush close by.

The kini-kini came and perched on the odan. He sang his song, and the grass and bush grew up. Then he wanted to fly away, but he found himself held by the birdlime.

Then all the birds flocked to the tree and saw the kini-kini. They seized him and brought him to the king. They said to the king, “Behold the one who has caused us so much trouble.”

The king made the kini-kini come near. “What have I done to you,” he asked, “that you should act thus?” The kini-kini said, “When you called all my companions to clear the ground you left me out, therefore I have revenged myself.”

When the king heard this, he raised his hand to give the kini-kini a slap.

“Pardon, pardon,” said the kini-kini.” If I find any cowries I will give them to you. When I get any kola-nuts I will bring them to you.”

The king gave the bird a slap, and the kini-kini voided out cowries till the room was filled.

“What is this?” said the king, much astonished, and he raised his hand again to give the kini-kini a slap.

“I beg pardon,” said the bird. “If I find any cowries I will give them to you. When I get any kola-nuts I will bring them to you.”

The king gave him a slap, and the kini-kini voided from his body still more cowries than the first time.

Tile king sent messengers through all the country, and summoned all his people to assemble on the fifth day, to see a marvel. All the people promised to come.

Then.the king put the kini-kini in a basket. He covered the top of the basket and went out. His little son, who wanted to give the kini-kini a slap himself, uncovered the basket, and the bird flew away.

When the king came home he went to the basket. He found no bird in it, and he called his son.

“Where is the kini-kini?” he asked.

The little boy answered that he had gone to play with it, and that the bird had flown away. The king took the little boy and beat him. He beat him-he beat him, and, in his anger, he cut off one of his ears. “Go quick,” he said. “Go quick, and find the bird.” He pushed him out of the house.

The boy made a little drum, and went on the road to the bush. He sat down in a place in the bush where the birds were accustomed to come. He began to beat on his drum, and the drum said:–

“Tinliki, thiliki, tinli-puru.Tinli-puru.”All the birds flocked round, and each danced in turn. When it came to the turn of the kini-kini to dance, the kini-kini did not want to dance. All the birds begged him to dance, but he refused.

Then the boy played quicker on the drum. He beat, and beat, and beat, while all the birds begged the kini-kini.

At last the kini-kini began to yield. He twisted here and he twisted there. He flew three times round the head of the little boy. The boy continued beating as if he had not noticed anything, and the kini-kini began to dance.

He turned here and twisted there. He turned, and twisted, and turned, till he came quite close up to the drum. Then the little boy thrust out his hand and seized the kini-kini by the leg. All the other birds flew away.

The boy brought the kini-kini to his father. “I have caught him,” he said. “Here he is. Won’t you do something now to restore my ear?”

Then the king got up. He took a dead leaf and put it in the place of the ear. And the dead leaf softened and changed into an ear.


We now come to those tales which may be called “Tortoise Stories,” since the tortoise (awon) always plays a leading part in them. The tortoise has, in these tales, various superhuman powers attributed to him, and, in most, is described as acting craftily or mischievously. He, in fact, fills in the folk-lore tales of the Slave Coast the place of the spider (anansi) in the tales of the Gold Coast, and which are in consequence known as Anansi ‘sem (Anansi asem), “Spider Stories.” In these the spider is always depicted as showing great skill and craft, and, like the minor gods, is represented as speaking through the nose.

The names Tortoise and Spider are in these stories used as the proper names of anthropomorphic personages, and among the Tshi tribes the latter is called Ajya Anansi, “Father Spider,” or “Father Anansi.” Thus, the Yoruba proverbial saying, Eji Awon ko kon ni li owo, used to convey the meaning that a matter which at first sight appears insignificant may really be one of great importance, should not be translated

“The blood of the tortoise is not a handful” (literally, does not fill a hand “), but “the blood of Awon” (the mythical personage, or anthropomorphic tortoise) “is not a handful.” An epithet of the tortoise is ajapa, “bald-headed elf,” or “hairless elf” (aja, elf; pa, to be bald or bare). The flickering appearance seen near the ground on sultry days is called “tortoise-fire,” and is believed to be caused by a subterranean fire made by the tortoise to destroy the roots of trees. The tortoise appears in several proverbial sayings, as “The tortoise (or Awon) is always the subject of an alo” (tale), and “The house of the tortoise is not large enough for itself. The verandah” (that is, that part of the shell which projects over the tail) “of a tortoise will not accommodate a guest. The tortoise, having built its house, makes the verandah behind it;” while “As the tortoise meets with due regard, so also should the snail,” seems to indicate that the tortoise is regarded with reverence or respect.

It is possible that totemism lies at the root of these phenomena. On the Gold Coast there is a tradition that all mankind are descended from Anansi, and on the Slave Coast the figure of the tortoise is frequently seen carved on the doors of temples, together with the leopard, serpent, and a fish. On the whole, however, it seems more probable that the peculiarities which make the spider and the tortoise each in its own way remarkable, have led to their selection for the chief role in the popular fables. The tales being largely about animals, those creatures which most excited wonder and speculation in the minds of the natives would be the ones to which the most wonderful attributes would be ascribed; and, in the case, of the spider, the ingenuity and patience displayed by it in the construction of its web would be attributed to the anthropomorphic spider of the stories. There is at the present time no spider-clan among the totem-clans of the Gold Coast, and, as the communities of the Gold Coast are heterogeneous, we cannot suppose that an entire clan has become extinct, unless the extinction took place in the remote past when cominunitics were hornogeneous; in which case there seems no sufficient reason for the memory of the totem-ancestor being preserved, after the disappearance of all those who were supposed to be descended from him.

Tortoise Stories.


My alo is something about a woman named Olu.

Olu had a son named Sigo, and Sigo determined to be a hunter.

His father gave him a horse, his mother gave him a sheep, and they told him to go and hunt. So Sigo took his bow and arrows, mounted the horse, and rode away into the bush.

He travelled a long way, and at last arrived at the haunt of animals.

Then the sky became overcast, and it grew so dark that Sigo could scarcely see. Soon the rain poured in torrents. It fell so heavily that Sigo was washed by the water into a deep gully. He tried to get out, but could not, and remained there weeping and lamenting.

The rain ceased, and Tortoise, always on the lookout for opportunities, came to the gully.

Sigo saw him, and stretched his neck up to the brink of the gully. “Hi! Tortoise! Oh! bald-headed elf! Hi!” he cried.

Tortoise came and leant over the edge of the gully to see who was calling him. “What are you doing there?” he said. “The flood of the rain washed me in here,” said Sigo.

What will you give me if I pull you out?” asked Tortoise. “I will be your slave,” replied Sigo. “Very well,” said Tortoise, the bald-headed elf.

Tortoise climbed down into the gully and took Sigo out. He said to him, “I am going to make a large drum, and shall put you inside it. When we come to any house, and I begin playing on the drum, take care that you sing well.” “I understand,” said Sigo.

When he reached the town in which he lived, Tortoise, the bald-headed elf, went to the king and boasted of the fine sound of his drum. The king ordered Tortoise to bring the drum and beat it in his presence, so that he could hear the sound.

“Very well,” said Tortoise, “send and call all the town to the dance.” “Very good,” said the king, and be sent all through the town to invite the people to come and dance. When all the people had assembled the king sent to call the bald-headed elf. The bald-headed elf took his drum, and came into the midst of the assembly. He beat the drum with the stick, and the drum sounded, saying:–

Sigo is the son of Olu;[1]

Ah! let me be rescued.

His mother gave him a sheep, and told him to go and hunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

His father gave him a horse, and told him to go and hunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

[1. There is perhaps some pun in this. Olu means a clapper, or anything to strike with, and ilu means a drum.]

Listen to what I say. He went to the elephant’s haunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

Listen to what I say. He went to the buffalo’s lair;

Ah! let me be rescued.

The flood of the rain wasbed him into the cleft;

Ah! let me be rescued.

And so he became the Tortoise’s slave;

Ah! let me be rescued.

The people were much astonished, and clapped their hands to their mouths in wonder. The king told Tortoise to beat the drum again, and let him hear once more.

Tortoise beat his drum a second time, and the people cried out aloud at the marvel. Then Tortoise returned home.

Before long the mistresses of the house to which Sigo belonged came to Tortoise, and asked him to come and beat his drum at a dance they were about to have. The bald-headed elf said “Very good.” He took his drum and he went there.

When he arrived the wives made ready some gruel of Indian corn,[1] and bought some rum. They asked Tortoise to beat his drum. Tortoise beat his drum, and the drum sang:–

“Sigo, is the son of Olu;

Ah! let me be rescued.

His mother gave him a sheep, and told him to go and hunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

His father gave him a horse, and told him to go and hunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

Listen to what I say. He went to the elephant’s haunt;

Ah! let me be rescued.

Listen to what I say. He went to the buffalo’s lair;

Ah! let me be rescued.

The flood of the rain washed him into the cleft;

Ah! let me be rescued.

And so he became the Tortoise’s slave;

Ah! let me be rescued.

[1. Oka.]

They gave Tortoise to eat. Tortoise ate. They gave him rum to drink. He drank, and, becoming drunk, fell asleep.

When Tortoise was asleep they took his drum. They took off the drum-head, and took Sigo out. Then they put the head back as it was before.

When he awoke, Tortoise took his drum and began beating on it. A crow croaked in the drum. Tortoise beat harder and quicker, and the crow croaked louder and louder. He cried, as loud as he could, “Why, when you were eating, did you not give something to eat to the drum? Why, when you were drinking, did not you give some of the rum to the drum?”

Tortoise went home. He took off the drum-head, and found a crow in the drum.


My alo is something about a certain king.

The king had a daughter who was dumb. The girl’s name was Bola.

The king did all he could to make his daughter speak. All that he did was of no avail, so he did not keep the girl in the town; he sent her into the country.

Tortoise, of the thousand cunning tricks, came to the king and said to him, “What will you give me if I make your child speak.?” “I will divide my house into two halves,” said the king, “and I will give you one half.”

The bald-headed elf went and bought a bottle of honey, and came to the bush, where the girl was living. He put the honey on the ground and went and hid himself.

The girl came and saw the bottle of honey and put out her hand to it.

Tortoise cameout of his hiding-place, came behind the girl, and gave her a slap, crying, “Thief! So it is you who steal my honey and eat it.”

“I?” said the young girl. I have stolen your honey to eat? I?”

Then Tortoise, the crafty, tied her with a rope, and sang:–

“Bola stole honey to eat;Kayin, Kayin.*Bola is a cunning cheat;

Kayin, Kayin.Bola is a shameless thief;

Kayin, Kayin.When Tortoise sung this, the young girl sang:–

“Into the wood of the elephant I went with the elephant;Kayin, Kayin.Into the wood of the buffalo I went with the buffalo;

Kayin, Kayin.And Tortoise has come to accuse me of stealing honey to eat

Kayin, Kayin.”Tortoise, the mischievous, led the young girl back to

[1. Kayin (ka-iyin), to celebrate, or sing the praises of.]

the town. He was singing his song, and she was answering with her song. In this manner they arrived before the king), who cried out with astonishment, “My daughter, who has never been heard to speak, speaks to-day!”

The king divided his palace in half, and gave one half to Tortoise, the bald-headed elf.

That is how Tortoise succeeds in everything.


My alo is about Tortoise and the elephant.

The bald-headed elf one day told the other animals that he would ride the elephant, but all the animals said: “No, you can’t ride the elephant.”

The bald-headed elf said: “Well, I will make a wager that I will ride the elephant into town.” And the other animals agreed to the wager.

Tortoise went into the forest and met the elephant. He said to him: “My father, all the animals say you are too stout and big to come to town.”

The elephant was vexed. Ile said: “The animals are fools. If I do not come to town it is because I prefer the forest. Besides, I do not know the way to town.”

“Oh!” said the bald-headed elf, “then come with me. I will show you the way to the town, and you can put all the animals to shame.”

So the elephant followed him.

When they were near the town the bald-headed elf said: “My father, I am tired. Will you kindly allow me to get, on your back.”

“All right,” said the elephant. He knelt down, and Tortoise climbed -up on his back. Then they went on along the road.

The bald-headed elf said: “My father, when I scratch your back you must run, and when I knock my head against your back you must run faster; then you will make a fine display in the town.” The elephant said: “Very well.”

When they came near the town, the bald-headed elf scratched the elephant’s back, and he began to run. He knocked his back with his head, and the elephant ran faster.

The animals, when they saw this, were frightened. They went into their houses, but they looked out of their windows. And Tortoise called out to them: “Did I not say I would ride my father’s slave to town?”

“What do you mean by ‘your father’s slave’?” said the elephant, growing angry.

“I am only praising you,” said Tortoise.

But the elephant saw the other animals laughing, and grew more angry. “I will throw you down on the hard stones here, and break you to pieces,” he cried.

“Yes, yes, that is right,” said the bald-headed elf.

“Throw me down here. That will be all right. ‘Then I shall not die; then I shall not be hurt. If you really want to kill me, you ought to carry me to a swamp. There I shall die at once, for the mud and water will drown me.”

The elephant believed the bald-headed elf. He ran to the swamp, and threw Tortoise into the mud.

Then he stretched out his foot to kick him, but the bald-headed elf dived in the mire, and came up in another place.

The other animals were there, looking on, and Tortoise called out to them, “Did I not say I would ride my father’s slave to town?”

When the elephant found that he could not catch the bald-headed elf, he ran away at full speed back to the forest.

When he reached there he said to the other elephants, “Do you know what that broken-back [1] has done to me?” And he told them the story.

The other elephants said, “You were a fool to carry that broken-back to town.”

Since then the elephant has not come to town any more.

[1. An epithet of the tortoise. It probably refers to the notched appearance of the back.]


My alo is about a woman named Adun.

Adun was very beautiful, and all the men wanted her. They were always entreating her, but she always refused.

One market-day a person borrowed legs from one, arms from another, and a body from a third. He joined all together, and went to the market. He wanted Adun, and he would have her.

His appearance pleased Adun, and they talked together. Although he belonged to a distant country, she consented to go with him. She took him to the

house and showed him to her mothers.[1] Her mothers said, “Very well, go with him.”

They went. On the road, the master of the legs took away the legs, the master of the arms took away the arms, and the master of the body took away the body. Nothing was left but the head. And the head went on, on, while Adun, nearly dead with fear, could not run away.

They arrived at the house of the head.

Next morning, before he went to work in his plantation, the head said to Tortoise, “If Adun tries to run away, sound the horn to warn me.”

The head had scarcely gone out of sight when Adun took her bundle, and began to run away.

Then Tortoise sounded the horn. “Head, head,” he cried, “Adun is going. She has tied up her calabaslies, she has gathered her dishes.”

The head ran up and made big round eyes. “Where are you going?” he asked. “I am going to relieve nature,”[2] said Adun. “You are running away,” said the head.

Every day Adun tried to run away, but without success. Then she went to ask the babalawo what she should do.

The babalawo said, “Go and buy some ekurus.[3] Buy plenty of them. Soak them in palm-oil, and

[1. The wives in the household.

  1. The ordinary excuse of a native who has no pretext ready.

3. Ekuru is a cake made of the flour of a white bean called ere. It is very dry, and a proverbial saying, said of a tedious visitor, runs, “He chokes me like ekuru.”]

stuff them into Tortoise’s horn.” “Very good,” said Adun.

She did as she was told. Then she took up her bundle and started off. Tortoise took the horn to blow it. The ekurus came into his mouth. He ate, ate, ate, and Adun ran away.


My alo is about a maiden named Buje, the slender.

There was a young maiden named Buje, the slender, whom all the men wanted. The rich wanted her, but she refused. Chiefs wanted, and she refused. The king wanted her, and she still refused.

Tortoise came to the king, and said to him, “She whom you all want, and cannot get, I will get. I will have her, I.” And the king said, “If you succeed in having her, I will divide my palace into two halves and will give you one half.”

One day, Buje, the slender, took an earthen pot and went to fetch water. Tortoise, seeing this, took his hoe, and cleared the path that led to the spring. He found a snake in the grass, and killed it. Then he put the snake in the middle of the path.

When Buje, the slender, had filled her pot, she came back. She saw the snake in the path, and called out “Hi! hi! Come and kill this snake.”

Tortoise ran up, with his cutlass in his hand. He struck at the snake, and wounded himself in the leg.

Then he cried out “Buje, the slender, has killed me. I was cutting the bush, I was clearing the path for her. She called to me to kill the snake, and I came quickly. Buje, the slender, Buje, the slender, I have killed the snake, but I have wounded myself in the leg. Oh, Buje, the slender, Buje, the slender, take me up on your back like a child. Take me up on your back and hold me close.”

He cried this many times, and at last Buje, the slender, took Tortoise and put him up on her back. And then Tortoise slipped his legs down over her hips, and violated Buje, the slender, from behind.

Next day, as soon as it was light, Tortoise went to the king. He said, “Did I not tell you that I would have Buje, the slender? Call all the people of the town to assemble on the fifth day, and you will hear what I have to say.”

When it was the fifth day, the king sent out his crier to call all the people together. The people came. Tortoise cried out, “Everybody wanted Buje, the slender, and Buje refused everybody, but I have had her.”

The king sent a messenger, with his stick, to summon Bujo, the slender. When she came the king said, “We have heard that Tortoise is your husband; is it so?”

Buje, the slender, was ashamed, and could not answer. She covered her head with her cloth, and ran away into the bush.

And there she was changed into the plant called Buje.[1]

[1. There is a version of this story, current among the English and Americans, which makes Buje be ravished by a deformed man, instead of by the Tortoise. It is to be found, I believe, in “Central Africa,” a work I have not seen, but which was written. by Mr. Bowen, an American Missionary, and published at Charleston, United States of America. in 1857. All natives are agreed that this version is incorrect, and that Tortise was the ravisher, and the only probable explanation of the mistake seems to be that Mr. Bowen learnt the story from a native who spoke French, and either confused la tortue with le tortu, or concluded that the narrator meant the latter when he said the former. If the hearer had never heard of the mythical personage, the antbropomorphic Tortoise, he, thinking it impossible that Buje could be violated by a tortoise, would very naturally suppose that the narrator meant to say le tortu, and erred through an insufficient knowledge of French.

The pulp of the fruit of the Buje-shrub turns black when exposed to the air, and is used by the natives to stain the skin in imitation of tattooing. It leaves marks like lamp-black.]


My alo is about Tortoise.

There was a famine, and there was a great scarcity of food all through the country.

One day the lizard was in a plantation searching for something to eat, when he found a large rock full of yams.

The owner of the plantation was near the rock. He cried “Rock, open,” and the rock opened. He went in and took yams, and came out again. Then he said, “Rock, shut,” and the rock closed up.

The lizard saw all this. He heard also what the man said, and he went home.

Next morning, at cock-crow, he went to the rock. He said, “Rock, open,” and the rock opened. He went in and carried out yams to take home and eat. Then he said, “Rock, shut,” and the rock shut. Every day the lizard did this.

One day Tortoise, the bald-headed elf, met the lizard on the road carrying yams. He said to him, “Where did yoti get your food from, comrade?

The lizard said, “If I were to tell you that, and take you to the place, I should be killed.” The baldheaded elf answered, “No, I will not say a word to anyone. Please take me.” And the lizard said, “Very well, then; come and call me to-morrow morning at cock-crow, and we will go together.”

Next morning, long before cock-crow, Tortoise came to the house of the lizard. He stood outside the house and cried “Cock-a-doodle-do.” [1] Again he cried “Cock-a-doodle-do.” Then he went in and woke the lizard. “The cock lias crowed,” he said.

“Let me sleep,” said the lizard; “it is not yet cock-crow.” “Very well,” said Tortoise. And they both went to sleep till cock-crow.

Then the lizard got up, and the two went together. As soon as they arrived at the. place the lizard said, “Rock, open,” and the rock opened. The lizard went in, took yams, and came out again.

He said to Tortoise, “It is time to go. Take your yams and come.” “Wait a mimite,” said Tortoise.

“Very well,” said the lizard. “Rock, shut.” And he went away without waiting.

Tortoise, the bald-headed elf, helped himself to yams. He put yams on his back and yams on his head; he put yams on his arms and yams on his legs.

[1. In Yoruba, kekere-ke, an onomatopœic word supposed to resemble the crow of a cock. It is from keke, which, like our onomatopœic word “cackle,” means the cry of the hen.]

The lizard had already gone home. He lighted a fire. Then he lay on his back, with his feet in the air, as if he were dead; and he remained like that all day.

When Tortoise, the bald-headed elf, was ready to go, he wanted to make the rock open. But he could not remember what he ought to say. He said many many words, but not the right words; and the rock remained shut.

By-and-bye came the plantation-owner. He opened the rock, and found Tortoise inside. He took him and beat him. He beat him badly.

“Who brought you here?” asked the man. “It was the lizard who brought me,” replied Tortoise. Then the man tied a string to Tortoise, and took him to the lizard.

When the man reached the house of the lizard, he found the lizard lying on his back, with his feet in the air, as if he were dead. He shook him. He said to him, “This bald-headed elf says it was you who took him to my plantation, and showed him my store of yams.”

“I?” said the lizard. “You call see for yourself that it is impossible. I am not in a state to go out. I have been sick here for three months, lying on my back. I do not even know where your plantation is.”

Then the man took Tortoise and smashed him. And Tortoise, groaning and moaning, said in a pitiful voice, “Cockroach, come and mend me. Ant, come and mend me.”

And the cockroach and the ant mended him. And the places where they mended him are those parts of Tortoise which are rough.[1]

[1. In this tale, Tortoise’s usual cunning fails him. It is to be noted that, whenever be is shown as being over-reached or unsuccessful, the want of success is due to greediness-as in the first tale, where be eats and drinks till he falls asleep, so that Sigo is rescued from the drum; and in the fourth talc, where he is so busily engaged in eating the ekuras placed in the horn, that he forgets to sound it. Here his greediness wakes him stay behind, to get more yams.]


This article is borrowed from https://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yor/yor12.htm


Leave a Reply