Märchen – Yoruba

Ijapa Ati Aja

Ijapa ati Aja lo si oko oloko lati lo ji isu.  Aja mu isu ni won ba.  Ijapa se ojukokoro, o di apere ti okun.  Ko wa le gbe. O wa bere si korin si aja bayi:

Aja duro ra mi leru, Ferekufe

Bi O ba duro ra mi leru, Ferekufe

Ma Kigbe oloku a gbo, Ferekufe

A gbe wa de A gba wa ni isu, Ferekufe

The Tortoise and the Dog

The tortoise and the dog went to a farm to steal some yams.  The dog took a few yams while the tortoise took a basket full.  The dog left, but the tortoise could not carry his load.  He began to singing out loud for help thusly:

Dog, wait! Help me carry my load, Ferekufe

If you don’t wait to help me, Ferekufe

I will shout and the farmer will hear me, Ferekufe

He will capture us and take our yams, Ferekufe

Abiola learned this story when she was around eight years old.  When she went from Lagos city to visit her grandmother in the village.  At night in her grandmother’s compound, elders would sit the children down in a communal area and tell stories to them.  The stories were usually told in a call and return format.  This particular story has a refrain which is repeated throughout which the listeners can repeat.  The line “Ferekufe” holds no actual meaning other than to add a rhythm to the telling.

This story features the most popular character in Nigerian tales.  Ijapa is the tortoise.  He is the conniver in most Nigerian trickster tales.  The tortoise is always shown as conniving, greedy, and deceitful.  In this particular tale, the tortoise and his friend the dog decide to steal yams from a neighboring farmer.  The dog takes only as many yams as he can carry away, but the greedy tortoise takes a basket so full of yams that he can barely drag the basket behind him.  The word used to describe the tortoise’s greed “ojukokoro” literally translates to ant eyes.  It is an expression that denotes that ants often carry loads many times their size.  It is similar to the English saying that someone’s eyes are bigger than his or her stomach.

Abiola states that the story teaches on not to be greedy because even as the tortoise threatens his friend the dog that he will scream if the dog does not help him, one should be able to recognize that even if the tortoise attempts to call attention to the dog, he will only get himself caught first.  She says that one should take away from the story

that he/she cannot blackmail others to solve problems that one has created for him/herself.

Another version of this story can be found in a book compiled with Nigerian tales.

Annotation: Owomoyela, Oyekan. Yoruba Trikster Tales. University of Nebraska P, 1997. 83-86.

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