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The children of Umuagbedo agwu of Enugu Ezike loved nothing better than Christmas and the days preceding it when preparations were in full gear. They waited patiently for the last moon before Christmas called onwa December to have the fun of their lives. This period was very special due to the fact that even those whose parents never allowed them to go out at day time were allowed to go out as soon as onwa December reared its beautiful head.

That night, the moon illuminated the normally dark village cheerfully. The children called out to one another screaming and singing joyfully. They all gathered together at the village square with some still singing the praises of onwa December.  They played games with hide and seek being the prominent of them all. They formed a big circle to dance one after the other while Adaaku, the eldest of them all sang and moderated the activities of the night.

“It is story time” one of the children announced happily when they had finally sat down hurdled together. The harsh harmattan wind blew angrily making the younger children quiver with cold while the older ones braved it like it was ceiling fan in a hot afternoon.

“Yeeees!” they all chorused. Story time was always the most anticipated.

“Who has a story for us?” Adaaku asked and several hands went up. She had one herself and was dying to share it with them.

“I guess many of us have a story today so we will start according to our age. I am the oldest so I will go first” she said smiling up to the sky.  The rest of them concurred and she sat in front, facing them. “You all know we don’t tell a story here without going through our normal ritual right?”

“Yesssss” they chorused excitedly.

“Good! So you will all sing the song to encourage me right?”

Yeeees” some of them clapped.

“Okay” she replied and cleared her throat.

Storyteller: onweru akiko m ga’ako n’unu…               there is a story I’ll tell you…
All: ko ko k’osiso anyi n’ege nchi                                    tell, tell, tell quickly, we are listening
K’anyi ma ife ineku                                                            to know what you are saying
Ko di uso, k’one kwe kwa anyi nwota                            if it’s sweet, if we will understand
K’osiso , ka mmadu nu                                                       tell quickly, let people hear.

“Hmmmmm, you did not sing it loud enough. I will not tell you my story if you refuse to sing this song properly o. See, Uche was not singing it at all, likewise Obinna” she complained bitterly, folding her arms across her midsection. All the children turned their gaze at the culprits. They looked as guilty as charged. She soon repeated the call and they all sang on top of their voices, making their parents at home chuckle in gratitude to God.

“Okay that is enough for now. My story is about Mbeku Odobo who challenged Agwu Odobo, the king of the jungle.

Once upon a time in the land of the animals, Agwu Odobo the king of the animals called his subjects together. He needed help with his vast farm work.

“My people of Kutuje land” he began after roaring so loudly to gain their attention. “I, the king of the jungle who keeps the wild on its knees have a request to make” he announced proudly with his beautiful queen and princess seated at both sides of him.

“We are listening your highness” they all chorused except Mbeku the tortoise who was the last to arrive.

“You all know I have a vast farmland and it takes collective effort of all my subjects to till it. It has come to that time of the year when you all have to come together to show gratitude to your king by working in his farm” he said with his usual air of superiority.

“Yes your highness, we are always at your service” they all chorused again except Mbeku who seemed to be in a deep thought.

“Good my people. We shall meet in a fortnight from now. You should all come with your farming tools but don’t worry, I shall feed you to the brim on that day”

All the animals went berserk with excitement at the mention of food. They all soon started discussing excitedly about that day among themselves.  Mbeku cleared his throat, lazily crawled up to the king and whispered something to him.

“Silence my people” the king roared bringing the animals to their knees in fright. “Mbeku the tortoise has something to say to us. “Go on little one” he beckoned to him to start speaking.

“Hm…hm” he cleared his throat yet again. “I have a challenge for the igwe…” he paused. The animals looked at one another in shock and back at Mbeku.

“That is outrageous!” they murmured among themselves. The king roared again and they became as silent as the graveyard with some quivering frightfully.

“Go on Mbeku!” he commanded in a grim voice.

“I know how important this work on the farm is to you your highness…” he bowed slightly. His smooth shell glistened in the midmorning sun. “But I think it is a waste of our time since you will still kill anyone of us you want for food anyway”

“How dare you talk to the king like that you little thing?” Abadu Odobo the Hyena retorted from among the crowd. He had always been a show-off and wanted to be in the king’s favour.

Without paying heed to the interruption, he continued…

“I, Mbeku Odobo can stop all the animals from going to work at the king’s farm” he announced, looking squarely at the enraged king.

“Ah! Ah!!” exclamations rent the air.

“Enough my people!” the king raised his right paw, making their exclamations die off in their throats. “I accept your challenge Mbeku, the cunning one but note this, if peradventure you were not able to stop even one animal from going to work, I will have your head on a pike at the entrance of the jungle. But if you succeed, I will give you half of my kingdom and my daughter as wife” he said, sure enough that he was never going to succeed. The king was very fond of his daughter and using her like that meant he took the challenge to an extreme.

The assembly was dismissed with the animals leaving with pent up anxiety as to the impending demise of their friend, Mbeku.  While he went home joyful about his impending marriage to the beautiful princess and the fortune he would accumulate. He did not let anyone talk him out of his plans despite all attempts by his friends to make him go back to the king with dust on his head to apologize for publicly challenging him. He remained adamant and went about his normal business as if nothing had or was going to happen.

On the d-day, he strung his old drum across his shoulders at exactly the second cock crow and climbed a tall mango tree which was right beside the king’s farm. Anyone going to the farm would pass that tree. He waited there until he sighted the first animal with his hoe and cutlass walking towards the tree. He cleared his throat and began to sing.

Mbeku: Obishi I’jeko wenu                    tortoise: Cat where are you going to
 Chorus : Tumangwe                               response: tumangwe (meaningless)
Obishi: e je k’om oru Eze                        Cat: I’m going to the king’s work
Tumangwe                                                Meaningless
Mbeku: Oru Eze k’aria gi mma              Tortoise: if you prefer the king’s work
Tumangwe                                                meaningless
G’aba oru Eze                                           go to the king’s work
Tumangwe                                                tumangwe
Une k’aria gi mma                                    if you prefer this song
Tumangwe                                                 tumangwe
Gbaba une, tumangwe                            dance to this song
Che che che, tumangwe                          (sound of drumming)
Iche che ri che, tumangwe x2                (sound of drumming)

The melody of the song and the sound of the drum were too good to ignore. Obishi danced and danced, throwing his farm tool aside. Ugodu soon met them there and he repeated the same song to him, asking him the same questions and beating the drum rigorously. Ugodu the dog also joined in the dancing, dancing to the beating of the drum and the sweet melody of the song. All the animals joined them in the dancing. The song was so enchanting that none of them remembered the king’s work.

The king sent one of his guards to go check on the workers in the evening. He found them under the mango tree, dancing to a song with no source since Mbeku was well hidden on the mango tree.  He climbed down the tree when he saw the king’s guard. All the animals were shocked to see him and then remembered they were supposed to be at the king’s farm but then, it was too late for that. With shame, they all went back home thinking of the excuse to give the king.

The king thought of ways to kill the tortoise with none of the other animals suspecting it was his doing. Days after days passed yet none of his plans succeeded.  Due to Mbeku’s cunningness, he was able to escape the king’s traps but not without openly reminding him of his promise. The king, not wanting to look weak before his subjects, not wanting to be termed a king who doesn’t keep to his word decided to do as he had promise. He split his kingdom into two and gave one half to tortoise. He also gave him the beautiful princess as wife and they lived happily ever after.

“That is the end of my story” she breathed out and relaxed. The children chattered among themselves about the tortoise’s song with most of them still humming it. “So what did you learn from my story?” she asked looking around contentedly.

“I learnt that we should be brave and bold no matter who the adversary is” Obinna said.

“I learnt that we should not bend to pressure especially when we know what we are doing” Ahunli said.

“I learnt that we should always make use of our talents because if tortoise had not known how to sing and beat the drum, he might have probably died” Nduka said.

“I learnt that we should always know how to plan our moves. If tortoise had not planned his moves well, he would have died for sure” Kachi said.

“Ah! I can see you children listened well. But wont you agree Mbeku was a little too rude to the king? Children, this is just a story o, don’t go and challenge the king of our village like that o, it is rude and children should not be rude to their elders or leader. You have learnt well though. The next person will tell us his story tomorrow. Now let’s go home”

The children left the village square in twos and threes still excited about Adaaku’s story.

Author: Nwamaka Ophelia

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