The Chief and the Singer

Main Piece

“It must’ve been before I was in 5th grade — over the course of a few nights, my dad told a story to me, my brother, and my sister. In hindsight, it was very obviously something completely made up on the spot, but I think we were too young to realize.

Back home — ‘home’ referencing Nigeria, where my dad is from — there was an evil village chief. He was a vicious conqueror that took people’s lands, stole from the poor, and amassed a massive amount of wealth. Accordingly, his house was gigantic, and sat on a huge plot of land. One day, the chief captured a princess.”

(Informant MN then noted that he forgot if there was a reason the chief captured the princess, and assumes the story had minimal exposition).

“The chief held the princess in another building on his property. He planned to have her killed the next day. That night, the king was in his bed when he heard the sound of someone singing. He was confused, unsure of where the sound could be coming from, but soon realized the sound was coming from the princess’ cell. While he usually would have put a stop to it, the king instead decided to listen to the song. In fact, he was so taken aback by her voice that when the next day came, he decided to delay the execution until the next morning.

Night falls, and the voice returns. The king, again, is obsessed with her voice–rizz god!–and the next day, delays the execution even further.

This goes on for a while, and to be honest, the details fall away past that point. I think the king ends up marrying the woman, and there’s a sort of ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.”


Informant Interpretation: MN notes that “Nigerian parents do this thing where they tell you nothing about their childhood” and have “no photos of their upbringing,” especially as it pertains to things that happened while they lived in Nigeria. Thus, “you end up forming this fantasy-like [imagination] of what home was like for them,” and stories like this “feed into the fantastical imagery I have of that time and place. As roughly patched-together and made up as that story is, it’s as real as most of the made-up details about my dad’s confusing ass life that I call true.”

Personal Interpretation: I drew connections between this story and “One Thousand and One Nights”–an anthology frame tale that I don’t know well, but I recall contains a similar story about a brutal king and a storyteller woman, who he permits to live night by night as she tells him stories. To me, MN’s story read as an oicotypical variation of this concept, underscored by the fact that he changed between referring to one of the primary figures as “chief” and “king,” and the other as “princess,” “singer,” and sometimes just “woman” (though some of these changes may be attributable to memory). I also think MN’s personal connection to the story, belief that it was entirely made up by his father, and its role in shaping his childhood understanding of Nigeria makes the story feel like more than a tale to me–not a myth as it’s not something he claimed to believe in, but something that shapes his beliefs about a place in the real world. In that sense, it felt somewhere in the gray area between tale and legend.


Informant MN is a current student at USC studying Aerospace Engineering. He grew up in Redmond, Washington and lives at home with his siblings and Mom. He notes that this story was told to him a long time ago, and he has some “amount of amnesia about the particular details of [his] childhood.”

MN is Nigerian and male-presenting.