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The kings magic drum.
From Folk Stories from Southern Nigeria, West Africa by Elphinstone Dayrell.
Start of Story
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
One morning Ikwor 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
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
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 feast. 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.