The Tortoise and the Elephant

Not too long ago, I wrote a post based on a popular Nigerian folktale. I am a lover of our folktales because of the wisdom inherent in them which most of us overlook. And that is the reason I will from time to time, bring them to discuss the lessons learned. Today; it is still a story involving the most popular character in our folktales – Tortoise. Enjoy!

There was a great King who ruled in a far far away Kingdom a long long time ago at a time when animals could talk. The King took very ill for a long period of time and was at the point of death. After several attempts by medicine men from within the Kingdom to heal the king failed, “Ikumejakako”, the dreaded herbalist who dwelt in the evil forest was consulted. He examined the king and pronounced that the King would have to take a special brew made of elephant body parts or die within seven days.

The King and his chiefs wondered how they would capture a big and dangerous animal like an elephant. The King after consultation with his chiefs made an announcement throughout the Kingdom that anyone who would capture an elephant within seven days would get half of the kingdom and his beautiful daughter as a bride.

The tortoise came forward to accept the challenge. He made a request of the King, that a very deep pit be dug and that the pit should be concealed with raffia and mats and that a throne fit for a king should be set on top of the pit. The tortoise made some “akara” balls (bean cakes) soaked in honey and set out into the forest in search of an elephant. The wandered through the forest making inquiries of his fellow animals until the third day when he stumbled on an elephant resting under a tree.

Tortoise: Elephant, what are you doing here…haven’t you heard the news?
Elephant: What news? Do not disturb my siesta tortoise, I do not like gossip
Tortoise: I don’t believe my eyes, a whole King, resting in the forest under a shade!!
Elephant: A King, what King?
Tortoise: YOU!! The king is dead and the elders have decided to make you king over the people.
Elephant: (roars with laughter)….you must be a joker tortoise, who would want to make an old ugly elephant like me a king?
Tortoise: There is no time for explanations, preparations are already at an advanced stage in the kingdom for your coronation, we must make haste, see, I have proof (he brought out one of the “akara” balls and handed one over to the elephant) This akara is only a small part of the delicacies being prepared for your coronation.
Elephant: (putting the akara into his mouth) Hmmmmm….this is delicious…really delicious it must be true, lets make haste.

And so the tortoise led the elephant all the way to the village handing out the akara balls to him at intervals and singing popular coronation songs to him all the way.

Song: A o merin joba
Response: E we ku ewele
Song: Erin to de ade owo
Response: E we ku ewele
Song: Erin to wo ewu oye
Response: E we ku ewele
Song: A o merin joba
Response: E we ku ewele

Song: The elephant is about to be crowned
Response: We are extremely joyous
Song: The elephant who adorns the crown of wealth
Response: We are extremely joyous
Song: The elephant attired in the regalia of the royals
Response: We are extremely joyous
Song: The elephant is about to be crowned
Response: We are extremely joyous

As the tortoise and the elephant approached the palace, news of the capture of the elephant spread like wild fire, everybody came out of their houses and started following the duo to the palace joyous and joining in tortoise’s songs. This all created an atmosphere of festivities reinforcing the belief in the elephant’s mind that he was to be made king.

Elephant: Your story must be true…the people are really joyous to see me.
Tortoise: You know I wouldn’t lie to you, can’t you see them singing that your reign shall be long?

As the throne finally came into sight, the elephant lumbered into it majestically amidst dancing and singing. He sat on the throne and instantly the ground gave way beneath him and he fell into the pit. The king’s warriors immediately descended upon him with spears and clubs and butchered him. Once the king had taken a sip of the elephant broth made for him, he became instantly well and fulfilled his promise towards the tortoise.

Lessons Learned

1. Most times, big problems have solutions – albeit challenging ones
The King was near death and all the medicine men in the Kingdom failed to get a cure. The only man who could cure him did not mince words but made them understand the enormity of the problem and the very hard solution – capturing a live elephant. Most times in our lives, we are faced with these kind of challenges and just give up not knowing that a solution exists although scarce or hard to come by.

2. Those who don’t believe in the impossible always get good incentives
Humans in the Kingdom most likely already passed a death sentence on the King but the tortoise knew the power of possibilities. The incentive to bring the elephant was mouth watering – half of the King’s wealth and his beautiful daughter which might translate to becoming a future King. When we realize the importance of taking up challenges no matter how hard; we are on the way to fulfillment.

3. When you remember Esau, remember the elephant
The lesson to learn from this is to raise one’s price and ensure one’s birthright is not sold for a bowl of porridge like Esau. The bowl of porridge in this case is akara soaked in honey. That was too irresistible for the elephant and he followed the tortoise to his death. What is the ‘Akara’ in your life that lures you a step closer to doom? If you have not taken time to find out and break free; the elephants tale is sure to repeat itself.

4. Be dancing, I am watching your back
From time immemorial; man has mastered the acts of deceit and the ability to cheer someone on to the death. A popular illustration is one popular and loved Nigerian politician/philanthropist who despite his good plans for Nigeria got deserted by some close friends and political associates including his running mate. We know the end of the story. One has to be able to discern when people are singing – Ma jo lo, mo n wo eyin re (Be dancing, I am watching your back). That was the elephant’s undoing – the tortoise knew the weakness of his frail ego and the songs/crowds did a lot to finish the Elephant. A lesson for all of us!

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