Story – Nigerian


“Once upon a time, 12 year old Olalube was behind the rest of her family, carrying goods that they had gathered from the farm. In order to get to the main road that leads back home the family had to go through the forest. Everyone just assumed that Olalube was right behind them but when they came out from the forest to the main road they looked behind and Olalube was nowhere to be found. They put their goods down and went through the forest looking for her. She didn’t come back, she didn’t answer. The family went back home crying thinking that a lion had eaten her or that maybe the voodoo man had gotten her. It was actually the lion that had the girl but he did not eat her because he had already eaten his lunch that day. Olalube begged the lion not to kill her for she was a good cook and would make him anything he would like to eat. So the lion went out and killed lots of game and brought it back to Olalube. After skinning the animals and seasoning the meat Olalube cooked the best egusi soup with large chunks of meat and fufu for the lion to eat the egusi soup with. After the lion finished his dinner Olalube grew anxious and frightened as to whether the lion liked her dinner or not. She was so happy and relieved when the lion told her that he was not going to kill her but rather keep her there in the forest for her to cook for him. So everyday the lion would kill goat, antelope, deer, and many other animals to bring home to Olalube for his dinner until one day, Olalube was walking around the forest to get some tomatoes and spices to cook with when a hunter caught a glimpse of her and called her name. Olalube was so scarred when she heard that voice because she was not aware that anyone else except for her family and the lion, knew her name. The hunter was so concerned for her and so she told the hunter the deal she made with the lion. The hunter told her that her family had already believed that she was dead so Olalube told the hunter to tell her family that she was alive and well. Olalube also told the hunter that she would try to talk to the lion and see if he would let her go and visit her family from time to time. She then gave the hunter a secret signal to let the hunter know when the lion wasn’t home and that it was okay to visit. The next time the hunter came back he brought Olalube’s parents. The mother was crying and begged Olalube to return home with them, Olalube refused. She reasoned with her parents and said that the only way she could possibly leave the lion is if she taught him how to cook. So from then on Olalube began to teach the lion how to cook and how to look for the right spices and leaves in the forest. Her parents left and when the lion came back home Olalube proposed the idea of going to visit her parents but the lion said no because that was not the deal he and Olalube had agreed upon. After so many visits from her parents, Olalube’s mother’s agony got to Olalube so she finally agreed that the next time her parents would come to visit she would leave with them to go back home. In the meantime Olalube would spend all of her waking hours making meals for the lion. So the next time her parents came back she left with them. It wasn’t long after she left that the lion came back from his daily hunting expedition, which was out of the ordinary but the lion had a funny feeling that Olalube would leave this day. The lion was somewhat upset but he wasn’t mad he mostly just missed her. That is when the lion began to sing ‘Please come back Olalube so I can make you my queen. You taught me how to cook and I know how to cook. You taught me how to eat and I know how to eat well-seasoned foods. Please come back and be my queen.’”

The subject began telling me this story when I was about five. I didn’t really understand the translation of the story until I was about 16 and I couldn’t remember the words until I was about 17. The subject told me that she had learned the story from her mother. And after years of listening to this story I can see the inherent Nigerian customs and beliefs that are in the story. A significant motif that jumps out is the power of a woman who can cook. In the story this skill essentially saves Olalube’s life. Cooking is part of the rudimentary basics that a girl should have basically mastered by the age of 15. Especially in past generation, it was crucial that the women know how to cook by this age because girls were married anywhere from 14-21. Essentially, if a girl could not cook, she was destined to be a maiden for life and her only purpose would be to help her parents when they grew old.