30 Nigeria Folktales – Sweet Olden Days Stories

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Do you remember those enchanting nights in Edo State and other parts of Nigeria, when our parents or older ones would gather us around to share captivating stories before bedtime?

Those stories were always a treat, and the ones about the tortoise were especially fascinating! The clever tricks and wisdom of the tortoise would leave us in awe, and we would eagerly look forward to the next night’s tale.

Edo people

Why Tortoise’s Shell is Cracked

  • Tale: Tortoise, known for his boasts, challenges the Eagle to a flying contest. He glues feathers to himself and hitches a ride on Eagle’s back. High in the sky, Tortoise announces his trick, and falls to the earth. He lands on a pile of rocks, shattering his smooth shell. A kindly woman takes pity, piecing it back together, which is why Tortoise now has a cracked, mismatched shell.
  • Lesson: Pride comes before a fall, and even the most cunning can overreach.

A long, long time ago, when animals talked, a terrible famine hit. Everyone was starving! But Tortoise, the cleverest animal around, wouldn’t give up. He wanted food for himself and his family, no matter what.

One day, Tortoise noticed the birds weren’t suffering like everyone else. Hmmm, what was their secret?

Being sneaky as always, Tortoise sweet-talked the birds. “What’s your trick?” he asked. They didn’t want to tell, but Tortoise promised to help them get even MORE food. Finally, they whispered, “The Sky people keep us fed!”

Tortoise’s mind started spinning. He told the birds he’d talk to the Sky people for them. All they had to do was lend him some feathers so he could fly. Everyone knew Tortoise was a smooth talker, so they agreed!

Soon, Tortoise had enough feathers to become a makeshift bird. Off he flew with all his feathered friends to the Sky. The Sky people welcomed them with a feast! Being the show-off he is, Tortoise pretended he was the bird leader. They served him first, and the real birds were not happy about that.

But Tortoise had another trick. He told everyone to pick special Sky names. The birds picked fancy ones, but Tortoise chose “All of You.” When the Sky people brought more food, Tortoise asked slyly, “Who is this for?” They replied, “All of You, of course!”

Tortoise grinned. Since HE was “All of You,” he gobbled up the whole feast, leaving the poor birds furious!

The Tortoise and the Magic Drum

In a small village, the tortoise discovered a magical drum that made anyone who heard its beat dance uncontrollably. The tortoise used the drum to trick his friends and family, making them dance for hours. But when the drum’s owner, the god of music, found out, he was furious. The tortoise had to use his wit to return the drum and appease the god, learning a valuable lesson about respecting others’ property.

Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom

Anansi, the spider trickster, sought to become the wisest being in the land. He discovered a magical pot containing all the wisdom in the world, but it was guarded by a fierce creature. Anansi used his cunning to outsmart the creature and claim the pot. However, he soon realized that true wisdom comes from sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.

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Afiong the Proud Princess

Long ago, Princess Afiong was beautiful, vain, and refused every suitor. Only a handsome prince from far away would do! Then, the MOST handsome stranger appeared in the market. Afiong fell in love instantly, ignoring her worried parents. She took him home, and he asked for her hand. They agreed to marry, and he whisked her back to his distant land.

But after days of walking, they crossed into a strange place…the spirit land! Her handsome prince began to fall apart, piece by piece, until only a grinning skull was left! He’d borrowed a body to trick her!

Trapped, Afiong was forced to live with the skull and his horrible old mother. Yet, she was kind to the old creature. In secret, the mother took pity and used her magic. A spider dressed Afiong like a queen, and a gentle breeze swept her back home!

Her parents were overjoyed! Afiong learned her lesson, and finally married a kind prince from nearby. She understood: never trust a stranger, and true beauty isn’t just on the outside.

The Lion and the Hare’s Race

A boastful lion challenged a swift hare to a race, confident of winning. But the hare, using his quick thinking, tricked the lion into racing in circles while he took a shortcut to the finish line. The lion learned a lesson about humility and underestimating others.

The Farmer and the Gods’ Gift

A kind farmer was granted a magical yam by the gods, which would multiply and feed his entire village. But a greedy neighbor tried to steal the yam, and in the process, it was broken into pieces. The farmer, with the help of the gods, restored the yam and learned that sharing and generosity bring greater blessings.

The Greedy Hunter and the Forest Spirit

  • Tale: A hunter, driven by endless greed, would venture deep into the forest every night, killing without concern for the balance of nature. One night, he heard whistling from the shadows, but saw no one. An icy fear gripped him. Each night, the whistling grew closer, until one night, he felt a chilling breath on his neck. He turned, only to vanish into the darkness, never to be seen again.
  • Lesson: Respect the spirits of the forest and take only what you need, or face their wrath.

The Dog and the Greedy Tortoise

Famine gripped the animals! They planned a terrible solution: eat their own mothers! Dog loved his mom too much, so he hid her in the sky. Every day, he’d sing a secret song, and she’d lower a rope for him to climb up for a feast.

Sneaky tortoise spied on Dog, overheard the song, and tried to steal his trick. But just as tortoise climbed the rope, Dog saw him! He sang a warning to his mother, who cut the rope. CRASH! Tortoise landed hard, shattering his shell. He glued it back together, but that’s why his shell is rough and cracked to this day!

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Why Antelope Lives In the Bush

Goat and Antelope lived with a farmer who warned them never to eat his crops. But Goat was greedy! Each time the farmer’s wife brought home yams or vegetables, Goat would sneak out and gobble them up. The wife would beat Goat, but Antelope always sympathized and helped her friend heal.

One day, Antelope was tempted too. She ate vegetables the wife left out, and got a terrible beating! Goat pleaded, “We need more than grass! If they won’t share, we must take.” But Antelope was too scared.

Things only got worse. They ate the farmer’s beans meant for dinner, and got beaten so badly they needed treatment. Antelope had enough! She ran off, knowing she could survive in the wild. Goat pleaded for her to stay, but Antelope was determined.

Again they ate the farmer’s food, and Antelope fled just in time. Goat, however, stayed with the farmer. She tried to tell herself she was stronger for enduring the beatings, but deep down, she envied Antelope’s freedom. That’s why, even today, goats live with humans, while antelopes roam free.

Emotan, the Woman with the Heart of Iron

  • Tale: Emotan, a kind market seller, found a lost, injured prince from the royal palace. She hid him, nursed him back to health, and defied threats to reveal his location. Years later, that prince became Oba. Emotan, honored as a heroine, passed away soon after. It’s said her spirit still protects Benin, but children who are unkind or disrespectful feel the cold touch of her disappointed ghost.
  • Lesson: Kindness and courage will be remembered long after you’re gone.

The Woman and the Moonlight Drum

  • Tale: In a distant village, a beautiful woman danced only under the full moon. She’d drum a haunting rhythm that drew men to her, but they would soon disappear. One young man, suspicious, followed the drumming one night. He saw her transform, her beauty fading, replaced by a monstrous crone who feasted on her victim’s flesh. He barely escaped, spreading the warning.
  • Lesson: Appearances can be deceiving, and not everything beautiful is good.

The Tortoise and the Talking Skull

  • Tale: Tortoise, eternally in trouble, once found a skull that spoke, offering a fortune in exchange for food offerings. Tortoise, thinking himself very clever, cheated at every turn, giving the skull only scraps. Angered, the skull cursed him, and from that day on, no matter where Tortoise went, misfortune and bad luck followed close behind.
  • Lesson: Don’t break your promises and beware those who seem to offer something for nothing.

The Tortoise, the Leopard, and the Well

  • Tale: Always hungry, Tortoise spots a fat leopard basking near a well. He boasts he’s caught more prey than any hunter. Furious for having his pride wounded, the leopard challenges Tortoise to a contest. Tortoise cleverly ties one end of a rope to the leopard, and the other to a heavy bucket. He goads the leopard into chasing him, and as the leopard leaps down the well, the bucket plummets, trapping the leopard below. Tortoise feasts on the leopard’s catch and outsmarts a stronger foe.
  • Lesson: Cleverness and wit can overcome brute strength.
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Tortoise Tricks the Sky Gods

  • Tale: A great famine falls upon the land. Tortoise, ever selfish, devises a plan. He collects bits of food from all the animals, telling them it’s an offering to appease the angry Sky Gods. He climbs a tall tree, carrying the feast. “Sky Gods,” he calls, “I bring your tribute!” and pretends to throw it up. Instead, he gobbles it down, boasting he’s fooled the gods themselves. The other animals, hungry and angry, learn their lesson about trusting Tortoise.
  • Lesson: Cheaters may prosper for a time, but eventually, their trickery leads to trouble.

Tortoise and the Magic Yam

  • Tale: Tortoise finds a yam field tended by an old farmer. He steals one yam each night, leaving a riddle. The farmer, frustrated, plants a magic yam that, when eaten, makes Tortoise dance uncontrollably. Tortoise can’t resist, steals it, and dances for hours until the farmer catches him and forces him to work as punishment.
  • Lesson: Greediness leads to consequences, and stealing brings misfortune.

Short Edo Folktales

  1. The Midnight Market: A child disobeys and wanders out late, finding a bustling market where the sellers have no shadows and only accept strange, shimmering coins.

  2. Gift from the River: A fisherman finds a beautiful mask washed ashore. He wears it, and it whispers secrets to him, but his face starts to change to match its twisted grin.

  3. The Palm Wine That Never Ends: A lazy man finds a gourd that magically refills itself with palm wine. His greed grows until the gourd swallows him whole.

  4. Song of the Nightbird: A haunting song heard only at midnight makes villagers lock their doors. One curious child follows the melody, and only their shoes are found the next morning.

  5. Shadow in the Well: A girl sees a face that isn’t hers reflected in the well water. Each day, it grows closer, more distinct, until it reaches out…

  6. The Tree that Grew Overnight: A strange tree sprouts where none was before, bearing sweet but unnatural fruit. Those who eat it disappear, and the tree grows taller.

  7. The Drums that Play Themselves: Faint drumming echoes in an abandoned village. It lures the foolish in, but no one who follows the rhythm is ever seen again.

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