The King’s Magic Drum

The Kings Magic Drum is a Nigerian folktale. It tells why the tortoise lives in a swampy area where raffia palm grows.


The Drummer


The King’s Magic Drum

Efriam Duke was an ancient king of Calabar. He despised war and wanted peace to reign all the time. He had a magic drum, and whenever this drum was beaten, it would provide lots of food and drinks to everyone around it. He used this to maintain peace. Whenever a country would declare war against him and his kingdom, he would call all of their leaders and fighters together. He would then beat the drum, and lots of food and drinks would be available to everyone. So instead of fighting, to the surprise of everyone, the tables would be filled with different sorts of foods such as fish, foo-foo, palm-oil chop, soup, cooked yams, and ocros, and plenty of palm wine for everybody. This act would make his enemies so happy because, at the time, food was a little bit scarce. So, they would stuff their face with these foods and leave the kingdom in a happy and contented state of mind.

No one knew the downside to his owning the drum. The rule was that if the owner of the drum walked over any stick on the road or stepped 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 guests very severely. The king never told anyone about this drawback. Everyone believed he would possess the drum forever.

Efriam Duke was a rich man with lots of land, farmers, possession, and wives. He had a total of fifty wives

and many children. Strangely, the women lived together peacefully without any argument, and they were very good mothers to their children. The king was very happy with all of them because he rarely got any complaints.

The king was in the habit of inviting his inhabitants to a great feast every few months; even the wild animals were invited. Animals like: elephants, hippopotami, leopards, bush cows, and antelopes used to come because, at that time, all the animals and men were very good friends, and when they were together, they didn’t kill each other. Every inhabitant of the kingdom was envious of the king’s drum and wanted it but the king, knowing its worth, never parted with it.

One morning, one of the king’s wives, Ikowr Edem, took her daughter to the spring to have her bath to wash away the sores that covered her body. While she was washing her daughter, the Tortoise was up on a palm cutting palm fruits that he would use and feed his family for the day. Some of the palm

fruits fell to the floor, and the Tortoise decided that when he was done cutting the palm fruits, he would go down and pick the ones that fell. 

The queen’s daughter kept crying and begging her mother for

the palm fruits that kept falling to the ground. The queen, Ikwor Edem, who had gotten tired of her daughter’s screams and cries, picked some of the palm fruits and gave them to her daughter to eat. 

While she was eating, Tortoise came down from the palm tree. He greeted the queen and noticed the fibres of the palm fruits on the sides of the queen’s daughter’s mouth. The Tortoise immediately took offence and made up a mischievous plan in his mind to use this situation to his advantage.

“My queen,” he said.  

“This is wickedness. I have very little to eat, and you and your household have more than enough. And now you have gone and picked the only food that my family and I will survive on and

given it to your daughter. I will ensure that the king and the entire villagers know about how you stole food from me,” he threatened. 

The queen knew how bad the situation would look because stealing was a huge offence in the kingdom.

“I saw your palm fruits lying on the ground, and I thought they had fallen, so I picked some and gave them to my daughter. I did not steal it. Why would I when my husband is a very rich man? If you have any complaints to make, I will take you to him myself.”

Tortoise then followed the queen to meet the king. Immediately Tortoise got there, he told the king everything that had happened. When he was done laying his complaint, the king offered him food, slaves, properties, and everything good, but to his surprise, Tortoise kept saying no to every one of them. 

Finally, he asked. “So what then do you want? Go on and ask for anything.”

Tortoise immediately pointed to the drum and said that he didn’t want anything else but that. The king didn’t hesitate. He gave the drum to Tortoise, but he didn’t tell him about the drawback that came with owning the drum, which was that if the owner should step over a stick or a fallen tree, hundreds of Egbo

men would come out and beat him.

Tortoise skipped back home, so happy that he now owned the drum. “I am now a rich man,” he said immediately after he got home to his wife. “Whenever I want food, all I have to do is beat this drum, and lots of food and drink would come my way. I don’t ever have to work again.”

His wife was very happy, and she rejoiced with him. Immediately, his wife and children asked for food as they were all very hungry, and he started beating the drum to show off his newfound wealth, and immediately lots of food and drinks appeared. The family ate to their fill, and they all slept very happily that night. 

He did this continuously for a week, and his children and wife got very fat because they were eating good food and the food was in excess.

He wanted to show off his wealth, so he invited the entire community to a feast in his house. Many people who saw the invitation laughed as they could not believe that Tortoise, who was very poor, could suddenly acquire so much wealth. So they didn’t go for the feast. The turnout for the feast was not as Tortoise expected, but the king and his wives were in attendance. So Tortoise beat the drum, and lots of food appeared immediately. The people that came ate to their fill, and they left happily. 

When they returned, they told the other villagers how grand the event was and how much they ate. Everyone who didn’t attend the feast was sad and promised themselves that they would attend the next feast the Tortoise hosted.

Tortoise got very pompous with his newfound wealth and began over-drinking every night. One night, as he was returning home from drinking, he didn’t see the stick in front of him, and he stepped over it. When he got back home, his wife met him. The woman told him that she was very hungry and that Tortoise should make food available for her and her children. 

Immediately Tortoise started beating the drum, hundreds of Egbo men came out and severally flogged him and his wife. After the beating, Tortoise got very angry and said,

“So I called the entire village for a feast, and when they came, these Egbo men did not appear to beat them, but when I and my family were hungry, and I once again beat the drum, hundreds of Egbo men came out, and beat my family and me. Well, I must ensure that everyone in this village gets the same treatment.”

With that thought in mind, Tortoise invited the entire village for a feast, and everyone came. No one wanted to miss a good meal as before. Fortunately, the king and his wives were not in attendance. Once everyone was in the hall, Tortoise locked the door and beat the drum. Again, hundreds of Egbo men

came out and beat everyone. The beating lasted one hour, and no one could run out because the door was locked. Tortoise and his family had gone to a room to hide while the villagers were being tortured. 

When Tortoise was tired, he unlocked the door, and everyone ran out. Then he beat the drum, and the Egbo men disappeared.

The next day, Tortoise carried the drum back to the king and told him that he was not satisfied with the drum and would want to exchange it for something with the same value. He told the king that he would accept slaves, food, and properties. The king refused to give him what he requested but out of pity, he

decided to help Tortoise and his family. He knew that because Tortoise had the drum, he hadn’t worked for a while. Tortoise had gotten very lazy. The king provided him with a magic foo-foo tree that would make him food if he kept to a specific condition.

The condition was that he was not to ask the tree two times for food. All he was to do was get enough foo-foo and soup that would last his entire family for the day, and then the next day, he would go back and ask again. Tortoise thanked the king and left with the magic tree. When he got home, he told his wife everything, and they got enough food for the day. While they were eating, one of his children asked.

“Tell me where you get food because we know the drum is no longer working.” Tortoise refused to answer, and the boy still insisted. Tortoise didn’t tell his son because he was scared that if he told him about the tree, he would go back and ask the tree for food for the second time in a day and ruin his Ju-Ju, but his son was determined. He, however, couldn’t succeed because his father was extremely careful to not be followed when going out, and he always went alone. 

Soon the son hatched a plan. He took a calabash and placed ash in it. He then turned the calabash around and put the calabash

into a bag that his father always used when he went out. He made a small hole in the bag to allow the ash to fall as his father was walking.

The next morning, his father left to get food for the day. As he walked, the ash fell to the ground leaving a trail, and his son followed the trail, ensuring that his father did not notice him. Tortoise finally got to the tree, and his son watched as he got the supply for the day. When his father returned home, he

went back home as well, and the family had a good meal. 

The next day, after Tortoise had gotten the supply for the day, his son went back to the tree and got another, thereby breaking the Ju-Ju.

The following day after that, Tortoise went to the foo-foo tree to get more food, but when he got there, he couldn’t see the tree anymore. What stood in the place of the tree was a large density of trees. There was nothing to be seen but a dense mass of prickly tie-tie palm. Tortoise immediately knew that the Ju-Ju was broken.

He went back home and called his family to ask which one of them did such an evil thing. No one admitted to it, and with a broken heart, Tortoise took his family to the prickly tie-tie palm and said—

“My dear wife and children, I have done all 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 for food.


Moral Lesson

Never be greedy. Learn to be contended with what you have.



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