Iyeji and Ikinabo (An Adaptation of an old Idoma Folk Tale)


Iyeji and Ikinabo (An Adaptation)

By Veronica Nkwocha


“Grandpa, Grandpa, tell us a story! Tell us a story please?” the chirpy group of children yelled out all at once.

Grandpa Ediga was tired but it was a cool evening and the gentle breeze grazed against his moustache tickling him into a genial mood. He was curved against his Ukonobo, the curved elongated chair made out of polished dark wood old men relaxed in. He toyed with the chewing stick almost permanently attached to his mouth; he only removed it when he was talking or eating. He smiled beckoning the happy group and a few of them called out to the others who were not around. Then they sat in a neat half circle at his feet on mats spread out, the older ones cradled the toddlers who were being lulled to sleep after the evening meal. The full moon sat high up the sky lending some light to the otherwise dark village, candles and lanterns dotting the area, their pale tongues flickering here and there. The evening meal was over and the compound was nice and tidy in readiness for another day. Older women lay sated on mats here and there tired from carrying out the day’s chores and content at having some time to themselves.

Grandpa began the story as he always had and they all listened intently.

“Once Upon a Time, a very long time ago, Iyeji, the hare and Ikinabo, the tortoise were on one of their many fabled long journeys once again. Ikinabo had been promised a feast like never before in the village of his in-laws; mountainous white and fluffy pounded yam, Ohupi garnished with delicious spicy abahi and chunks of the goat meat fattened on the choicest and freshest grass. The never ending flow of fresh palm wine was a given and Iyeji massaged his stomach in anticipation. The journey had taken days and days and they were down to their last supply of the palm kernel nuts they had snacked on along the vast and winding trail.

Iyeji, hoping to outsmart Ikninabo said he needed to sleep. They could see in the horizon the pointed thatched roof tops of the in-law’s village. Ailo was spread over a kilometre wide and they could see plumes of smoke from the evening fires snaking higher and higher and then disappearing as they became one with the clouds. One more sleep and by the next evening, they would arrive at their destination. Ikinabo told Iyeji as they spread out their mats beneath the Mango tree they had chosen to spend the night that he could practically smell the meals the Ailos were cooking as the dusk set in. He droned on describing in detail the evening meal and Iyeji hatched his plan.

Iyeji was tired and dusty and cranky. Seven days it had taken them to walk from their famine filled village, hungry and at the end of their tether, it was the only hope they had for survival. Ikinabo’s in-laws had plenty and would give them seedlings for the planting season to provide succour to their village. He imagined their families, eager and waiting for good news and he longed for home. But he was even more eager for the spread that awaited them at Ailo.

He paused in panic; what if they were only expecting Ikinabo and provided a meal for just one? What would he do? He would be expected to politely decline for that was what decent men did. Never too eager, and able to forgo wants for the greater honour of doing the right thing. Except Iyeji had come too far to be honourable! He needed sly means to ensure he would not face the dilemma that would result in him choosing not to eat!

As is the nature of hares, Iyeji was quick and Ikinabo was the proverbial poster child for slothfulness. It irritated Iyeji to no end. He took forever starting up and no amount of prodding could make him go faster; walking in tandem with him made Iyeji feel he was losing his mind. Ikinabo more than made up for it with his witty and funny tales and Iyeji’s wide smile got so broad it was now frozen in place; his cheeks bulged typical of hares.

“Hrrrr, hrrrrr, hrrrrr”; Ikinabo snored so loud, the mango leaves vibrated. Iyeji tip toed and the rustling of the leaves spread out like a carpet did not give him cause to pause. Once Ikinabo slept, it would take a hurricane to wake him up. Iyeji ran on his hind legs, ears plastered to the sides of his head and he sped along. He was at Ailo as the cock crowed at dawn. He lifted his voice in song. It was the praise song of the Ailo; he sang of their valour at war and the comeliness of their maidens. He sang of their fertile lands and happy children. Ailo women and children already up to do the morning chores sang in their beautiful voices in response.

“It’s Iyeji, the friend who is like a brother to our in-law Ikinabo!”

“Welcome, welcome friend and brother of our in-law.”

They danced and the men welcomed him to the Itakpa, the stand alone parlour with verandas.

Okute scolded his junior wife,

“Quickly, bring the water to bathe his feet”.

She scurried away and called Ichanya the fourteen year old son of the first wife and delegated the task. She knew his mother would need her to help prepare the pounded yam and Ohupi.  Ichanya brought the bowl and Iyeji felt the cool waters and he closed his eyes at the sheer pleasure of water for his feet and a bowl of the same to quench his thirst.

In a few minutes he could smell the Ohupi soup wafting from the fires of the hut behind the Itakpa. The best gruel made from guinea-corn he had ever tasted was placed by his side. He sipped gingerly even though he felt like gulping it all in one go. He tried really hard not to forget his manners.

Okute and the other men in the Itakpa asked,

‘All is well with your friend and brother Ikinabo?’

‘He sends his greetings’ Iyeji answered,

‘He took a detour to check the state of his empty granaries on the east side of Ihatokpe”,

“He sends his apologies as he will no longer be coming and said I should come in his stead as I’m quicker. That I should bring a message as he would like to go back home from checking the granaries to be with Ada because she might be coming to spend some moons with you soon.”

They all broke out in happy murmurs. The news was a hint that Ada was with child. There was a happy silence. Ichanya came bearing a towel and fresh clothes and showed Iyeji the bathroom. Once clean and dry, he returned to the Itakpa and almost passed out at the meal spread out for the feast.

Iyeji joined Ikinabo’s in-laws in great anticipation. He immediately got down to the business of eating. He ate and ate and ate; from noon till the evening sun was a huge ball of orange in the horizon. Iyeji became a rotund mass; his friends could barely recognise him. He was so drunk on palm wine he kept rolling and laughing. He momentarily forgot about Ikinabo until he heard Ikinabo’s croaky, tired and feeble voice singing the praise song of the Ailo he himself had sang earlier as he approached the homestead. His ears perked up immediately.

His lie must not be found out! He looked at his plate and saw only the bones from the delicious goat meat, the empty bottom of the plates and bowls which recently held pounded yam and Ohupi stared at him he could almost see his reflection. He ran as fast as his spindly legs could support his rotund belly and barely got to Ikinabo before the rest of the family desended on him in welcome. Shouts of “Ikinabo, Ikinabo” rent the air. Iyeji quickly whispered into Ikinabo’s ears,

“Please forgive me, I slept off beneath our Mango tree and woke up at Ailo, em, em, em, you know I sleep walk, I must have done so without being aware *hic*!”

“My voice was hoarse from all the dust on our long journey and when I tried to explain to your in-laws that you would be arriving shortly, they must have misunderstood and thought you were no longer coming to Ailo because they insisted I eat everything immediately. I’m truly truly *hic*, *belch*, sorry”!

“Ikiniabo”, Okute called out, “we thought you were on your way back to Ada and we’ve eaten all that was prepared for the feast, there’s nothing left to eat. It’s really late now and the fires have been put out and the hearth dispersed for the night” he said apologetically.

Ikinabo’s face fell; and dropped into his shell. His stomach growled in anger and hunger. He massaged it but it refused to stay silent. It roared loud, louder than the din created by his in-laws welcome and they looked at him with pity. The meal had been polished off to the last bit. Unfortunately, Ikinabo and Iyeji had to be sent off before light the next morning before any fires would be lit, before any meals, cooked. They had to leave very early to begin the long journey back in order to give the seedlings for planting to their kin before the early spring showers dried and made the soil too hard for planting. They would have to send him back to his village hungry.

Okute had an idea; they still had a lot of meat stock from the earlier meal. It would be a shame for Ikinabo to return to his village emaciated and skinny and about to drop dead from hunger. It was the pride of in-laws to send their sons or daughters in-law back with more flesh than they came to them. It showed they were prosperous and generous. He suggested they pump Ikinabo full of the liquid stock and block all the orifices he didn’t need to breathe in-order to stop it pouring out. At least he would arrive at his home as rotund as Iyeji.

“Great idea” they all agreed.

Ikinabo opened his mouth wide and they poured and poured the stock in and his flat stomach increased in size with every tipping of the bowl. By early morning at the first cock crow, he was rotund and fat and he waddled to his delight.

They set forth at dawn. A much slower pace than earlier but Iyeji was contrite and happy as Ikinabo had forgiven him.  Ikinabo’s mouth had been stuffed shut with small piece from a cob of corn to prevent the stock from spilling out and his silence meant there were no stories to urge them along. Iyeji didn’t mind too much as he accepted it as some form of penance. He felt guilty after the fact for mistreating his friend. The good thing was they had bags of seedlings and would arrive home on time. He wasn’t looking forward to the steady diet of palm kernel nuts but still longed for the warmth of home and his loved ones and he still had memories of Ailo’s delicious feast to tide him until the next harvest.

Ada raced out, past the withering banana plants to welcome her husband. Ikinabo was chubby and healthy; she danced around him and showed him off to her friends, he was a testament of her people’s prosperity.

“Look at Ikinabo, wow! And Iyeji” they exclaimed clapping in envy. They could picture Ada’s village which they could tell was full of plenty from Ikinabo’s fresh look. Ikinabo found the cob stuffed in his mouth uncomfortable but it was worth the price as his cheeks were nicely rounded, filled to the brim with stock. Iyeji said Ikinabo had picked up a throat infection and was not allowed to speak. Ada and the others were too cheery to mind the unusual silence from her husband.

Ikinabo and Iyeji distributed the seedlings to a grateful crowd of waiting men and women. He pranced and waddled here and there showing off his girth. He allowed Iyeji tell the story of the delicious food ‘they’ had at Ailo. Iyeji embellished generously titillating their senses with vivid descriptions.

In the midst of Iyeji telling the tale one more time, Ikinabo felt a need to cough. He tried to signal Iyeji to get him away from the crowd quickly but he was so engrossed in charming a group of eager damsels with more lying tales, he paid him no mind. Ikinabo tried to race to the corner behind the pile of banana leaves but as is the nature of tortoises, his movement was painfully slow; and so he coughed, right there in front of everyone; and because he coughed, out popped the cob; and because the cob popped, he lost the liquid stock! And so he shrank before their very eyes to an emaciated version, very different from the Ikinabo that had returned earlier, triumphantly, a picture of plenty. The shame of it all, Ikinabo and Iyeji had been found out and they had to apologise to everyone for lying so brazenly. They promised to tell the truth from then on and they were forgiven by their kinsmen and women. They all worked very hard planting the seedlings and had a great and bumper harvest.”

“And that is the end of my story”, said Grandpa Ediga bringing the story to a close.

“Thank you Grandpa”. “It was a very nice story”. “But Iyeji was a bad friend and they both lied!” the children exclaimed, each trying to get heard.

“He was. The moral of the story is, one should tell the truth and not lie. Ikinabo was found out even though he had gone to great lengths to hide the fact that he had only been surviving on palm kernel nuts. Another lesson is, if Iyeji had waited and arrived at Ailo with Ikinabo, he wouldn’t have lied to the in-laws about Ikniabo’s whereabouts and there would have been enough for both of them to eat.  It’s important to share with your friends no matter how little. They would not have needed to fill Ikinabo with liquid stock and subsequently lie.” Grandpa Ediga explained.

“What other lessons are there in the story?” he asked.

“Even though they were wrong to have lied, they did some good by bringing seedlings for their village and that saved them from the famine” he said providing the answer.

Grandpa Ediga looked at them, a smile on his face; he knew that like him, when he was young and nimble, a lot was going on as they ruminated over the story. There was silence as the children pondered life’s lessons and resolved in their minds to do the right thing; and if they got it wrong the first time, to try and make amends, to go to great lengths for the greater good of the community.

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