THE KING’S MAGIC DRUM

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EFRIAM DUKE was an
ancient king of Calabar. He was a peaceful man, and did not like war. He had a
wonderful drum, the property of which, when it was beaten, was always to
provide plenty of good food and drink.

So whenever any country declared war
against him, he used to call all his enemies together and beat his drum; then
to the surprise of every one, instead of fighting the people found tables
spread with all sorts of dishes, fish, foo-foo, palm-oil chop, soup, cooked
yams and ocros, and plenty of palm wine for everybody. In this way he kept all the
country quiet and sent his enemies away with full stomachs, and in a happy and
contented frame of mind. There was only one drawback to possessing the drum,
and that was, if the owner of the drum walked over any stick on the road or
stept over a fallen tree, all the food would immediately go bad, and three
hundred Egbo men would appear with sticks and whips and beat the owner of the
drum and all the invited guests very severely.

Efriam Duke was a rich
man. He had many farms and hundreds of slaves, a large store of kernels on the
beach, and many puncheons of palm-oil. He also had fifty wives and many
children. The wives were all fine women and healthy; they were also good
mothers, and all of them had plenty of children, which was good for the king’s
house.
Every few months the
king used to issue invitations to all his subjects to come to a big feast, even
the wild animals were invited; the elephants, hippopotami, leopards, bush cows,
and antelopes used to come, for in those days there was no trouble, as they
were friendly with man, and when they were at the feast they did not kill one
another. All the people and the animals as well were envious of the king’s drum
and wanted to possess it, but the king would not part with it.
One morning lkwor Edem,
one of the king’s wives, took her little daughter down to the spring to wash
her, as she was covered with yaws, which are bad sores all over the body. The
tortoise happened to be up a palm tree, just over the spring, cutting nuts for
his midday meal; and while he was cutting, one of the nuts fell to the ground,
just in front of the child. The little girl, seeing the good food, cried for
it, and the mother, not knowing any better, picked up the palm nut and gave it
to her daughter. Directly the tortoise saw this he climbed down the tree, and
asked the woman where his palm nut was. She replied that she had given it to
her child to eat.
Then the tortoise, who
very much wanted the king’s drum, thought he would make plenty palaver over
this and force the king to give him the drum, so he said to the mother of the
child–
“I am a poor man,
and I climbed the tree to get food for myself and my family. Then you took my
palm nut and gave it to your child. I shall tell the whole matter to the king,
and see what he has to say when he hears that one of his wives has stolen my
food,” for this, as every one knows, is a very serious crime according to
native custom.
Ikwor Edem then said to
the tortoise–
“I saw your palm
nut lying on the ground, and thinking it had fallen from the tree, I gave it to
my little girl to eat, but I did not steal it. My husband the king is a rich
man, and if you have any complaint to make against me or my child, I will take
you before him.”
So when she had finished
washing her daughter at the spring she took the tortoise to her husband, and
told him what had taken place. The king then asked the tortoise what he would
accept as compensation for the loss of his palm nut, and offered him money,
cloth, kernels or palm-oil, all of which things the tortoise refused one after
the other.
The king then said to
the tortoise, “What will you take? You may have anything you like.”
And the tortoise
immediately pointed to the king’s drum, and said that it was the only thing he
wanted.
In order to get rid of
the tortoise the king said, “Very well, take the drum,” but he never
told the tortoise about the bad things that would happen to him if he stept
over a fallen tree, or walked over a stick on the road.
The tortoise was very
glad at this, and carried the drum home in triumph to his wife, and said,
“I am now a rich man, and shall do no more work. Whenever I want food, all
I have to do is to beat this drum, and food will immediately be brought to me,
and plenty to drink.”
His wife and children
were very pleased when they heard this, and asked the tortoise to get food at
once, as they were all hungry. This the tortoise was only too pleased to do, as
he wished to show off his newly acquired wealth, and was also rather hungry
himself, so he beat the drum in the same way as he had seen the king do when he
wanted something to eat, and immediately plenty of food appeared, so they all
sat down and made a great f east. The tortoise did this for three days, and
everything went well; all his children got fat, and had as much as they could possibly
eat. He was therefore very proud of his drum, and in order to display his
riches he sent invitations to the king and all the people and animals to come
to a feast. When the people received their invitations they laughed, as they
knew the tortoise was very poor, so very few attended the feast; but the king,
knowing about the drum, came, and when the tortoise beat the drum, the food was
brought as usual in great profusion, and all the people sat down and enjoyed
their meal very much. They were much astonished that the poor tortoise should
be able to entertain so many people, and told all their friends what fine
dishes had been placed before them, and that they had never had a better
dinner. The people who had not gone were very sorry when they heard this, as a
good feast, at somebody else’s expense, is not provided every day. After the
feast all the people looked upon the tortoise as one of the richest men in the
kingdom, and he was very much respected in consequence. No one, except the
king, could understand how the poor tortoise could suddenly entertain so
lavishly, but they all made up their minds that if the tortoise ever gave
another feast, they would not refuse again.
When the tortoise had
been in possession of the drum for a few weeks he became lazy and did no work,
but went about the country boasting of his riches, and took to drinking too
much. One day after he had been drinking a lot of palm wine at a distant farm,
he started home carrying his drum; but having had too much to drink, he did not
notice a stick in the path. He walked over the stick, and of course the Ju Ju
was broken at once. But he did not know this, as nothing happened at the time,
and eventually he arrived at his house very tired, and still not very well from
having drunk too much. He threw the drum into a corner and went to sleep. When
he woke up in the morning the tortoise began to feel hungry, and as his wife
and children were calling out for food, he beat the drum; but instead of food
being brought, the house was filled with Egbo men, who beat the tortoise, his
wife and children, badly. At this the tortoise was very angry, and said to
himself-
“I asked every one
to a feast, but only a few came, and they had plenty to eat and drink. Now,
when I want food for myself and my family, the Egbos come and beat me. Well, I
will let the other people share the same fate, as I do not see why I and my
family should be beaten when I have given a feast to all people.”
He therefore at once
sent out invitations to all the men and animals to come to a big dinner the
next day at three o’clock in the afternoon.
When the time arrived
many people came, as they did not wish to lose the chance of a free meal a
second time. Even the sick men, the lame, and the blind got their friends to
lead them to the feast. When they had all arrived, with the exception of the
king and his wives, who sent excuses, the tortoise beat his drum as usual, and
then quickly hid himself under a bench, where he could not be seen. His wife
and children he had sent away before the feast, as he knew what would surely
happen. Directly he had beaten the drum three hundred Egbo men appeared with
whips, and started flogging all the guests, who could not escape, as the doors
had been fastened. The beating went on for two hours, and the people were so
badly punished, that many of them had to be carried home on the backs of their
friends. The leopard was the only one who escaped, as directly he saw the Egbo
men arrive he knew that things were likely to be unpleasant, so he gave a big
spring and jumped right out of the compound.
When the tortoise was
satisfied with the beating the people had received he crept to the door and
opened it. The people then ran away, and when the tortoise gave a certain tap
on the drum all the Egbo men vanished. The people who had been beaten were so
angry, and made so much palaver with the tortoise, that he made up his mind to
return the drum to the king the next day. So in the morning the tortoise went
to the king and brought the drum with him. He told the king that he was not
satisfied with the drum, and wished to exchange it for something else; he did
not mind so much what the king gave him so long as he got full value for the
drum, and he was quite willing to accept a certain number of slaves, or a few
farms, or their equivalent in cloth or rods.
The king, however,
refused to do this; but as he was rather sorry for the tortoise, he said he
would present him with a magic foo-foo tree, which would provide the tortoise
and his family with food, provided he kept a certain condition. This the
tortoise gladly consented to do. Now this foo-foo tree only bore fruit once a
year, but every day it dropped foo-foo and soup on the ground. And the
condition was, that the owner should gather sufficient food for the day, once,
and not return again for more. The tortoise, when he had thanked the king for
his generosity, went home to his wife and told her to bring her calabashes to
the tree. She did so, and they gathered plenty of foo-foo and soup quite
sufficient for the whole family for that day, and went back to their house very
happy.
That night they all
feasted and enjoyed themselves. But one of the sons, who was very greedy,
thought to himself–
“I wonder where my
father gets all this good food from? I must ask him.”
So in the morning he
said to his father–
“Tell me where do
you get all this foo-foo and soup from?”
But his father refused
to tell him, as his wife, who was a cunning woman, said-
“If we let our
children know the secret of the foo-foo tree, some day when they are hungry,
after we have got our daily supply, one of them may go to the tree and gather
more, which will break the Ju Ju.”
But the envious son,
being determined to get plenty of food for himself, decided to track his father
to the place where he obtained the food. This was rather difficult to do, as
the tortoise always went out alone, and took the greatest care to prevent any
one following him. The boy, however, soon thought of a plan, and got a calabash
with a long neck and a hole in the end. He filled the calabash with wood ashes,
which he obtained from the fire, and then got a bag which his father always
carried on his back when he went out to get food. In the bottom of the bag the
boy then made a small hole, and inserted the calabash with the neck downwards,
so that when his father walked to the foo-foo tree he would leave a small trail
of wood ashes behind him. Then when his father, having slung his bag over his
back as usual, set out to get the daily supply of food, his greedy son followed
the trail of the wood ashes, taking great care to hide himself and not to let
his father perceive that he was being followed. At last the tortoise arrived at
the tree, and placed his calabashes on the ground and collected the food for
the day, the boy watching him from a distance. When his father had finished and
went home the boy also returned, and having had a good meal, said nothing to
his parents, but went to bed. The next morning he got some of his brothers, and
after his father had finished getting the daily supply, they went to the tree
and collected much foo-foo and soup, and so broke the Ju Ju.
At daylight the tortoise
went to the tree as usual, but he could not find it, as during the night the
whole bush had grown up, and the foo-foo tree was hidden from sight. There was
nothing to be seen but a dense mass of prickly tie-tie palm. Then the tortoise
at once knew that some one had broken the Ju Ju, and had gathered foo-foo from
the tree twice in the same day; so he returned very sadly to his house, and
told his wife. He then called all his family together and told them what had
happened, and asked them who had done this evil thing. They all denied having
had anything to do with the tree, so the tortoise in despair brought all his
family to the place where the foo-foo tree had been, but which was now all
prickly tie-tie palm, and said-
“My dear wife and
children, I have done all that I can for you, but you have broken my Ju Ju; you
must therefore for the future live on the tie-tie palm.”
So they made their home
underneath the prickly tree, and from that day you will always find tortoises
living under the prickly tie-tie palm, as they have nowhere else to go to for
food.

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