Story of the Day: The Elephant and the Tortoise

Here is today's story: The Elephant and the Tortoise; or, Why the Worms are Blind and Why the Elephant has Small Eyes. The tortoise is one of the main trickster characters of Africa, and here you can see him at his evil best/worst. For your reading pleasure, here are more stories from Nigeria, and more Africa stories about the tortoise.


When Ambo was king of Calabar, the elephant was not only a very big animal, but he had eyes in proportion to his immense bulk.

In those days men and animals were friends, and all mixed together quite freely. At regular intervals King Ambo used to give a feast, and the elephant used to eat more than any one, although the hippopotamus used to do his best; however, not being as big as the elephant, although he was very fat, he was left a long way behind.

As the elephant ate so much at these feasts, the tortoise, who was small but very cunning, made up his mind to put a stop to the elephant eating more than a fair share of the food provided. He therefore placed some dry kernels and shrimps, of which the elephant was very fond, in his bag, and went to the elephant's house to make an afternoon call.

When the tortoise arrived, the elephant told him to sit down, so he made himself comfortable, and, having shut one eye, took one palm kernel and a shrimp out of his bag, and commenced to eat them with much relish.

When the elephant saw the tortoise eating, he said, as he was always hungry himself, "You seem to have some good food there; what are you eating?"

The tortoise replied that the food was "sweet too much," but was rather painful to him, as he was eating one of his own eyeballs, and he lifted up his head, showing one eye closed.

The elephant then said, "If the food is so good, take out one of my eyes and give me the same food."

The tortoise, who was waiting for this, knowing how greedy the elephant was, had brought a sharp knife with him for that very purpose, and said to the elephant, "I cannot reach your eye, as you are so big."

The elephant then took the tortoise up in his trunk and lifted him up. As soon as he came near the elephant's eye, with one quick scoop of the sharp knife he had the elephant's right eye out. The elephant trumpeted with pain; but the tortoise gave him some of the dried kernels and shrimps, and they so pleased the elephant's palate that he soon forgot the pain.

Very soon the elephant said, "That food is so sweet, I must have some more," but the tortoise told him that before he could have any, the other eye must come out. To this the elephant agreed, so the tortoise quickly got his knife to work, and very soon the elephant's left eye was on the ground, thus leaving the elephant quite blind.

The tortoise then slid down the elephant's trunk onto the ground and hid himself.

The elephant then began to make a great noise, and started pulling trees down and doing much damage, calling out for the tortoise but of course he never answered, and the elephant could not find him.

The next morning, when the elephant heard the people passing, he asked them what the time was, and the bush buck, who was nearest, shouted out, "The sun is now up, and I am going to market to get some yams and fresh leaves for my food."

Then the elephant perceived that the tortoise had deceived him, and began to ask all the passers-by to lend him a pair of eyes, as he could not see, but everyone refused, as they wanted their eyes themselves.

At last the worm grovelled past, and seeing the big elephant, greeted him in his humble way. He was much surprised when the king of the forest returned his salutation, and very much flattered also.

The elephant said, "Look here, worm, I have mislaid my eyes. Will you lend me yours for a few days? I will return them next market-day."

The worm was so flattered at being noticed by the elephant that he gladly consented, and took his eyes out — which, as everyone knows, were very small — and gave them to the elephant.

When the elephant had put the worm's eyes into his own large eye-sockets, the flesh immediately closed round them so tightly that when the market-day arrived it was impossible for the elephant to get them out again to return to the worm. And although the worm repeatedly made applications to the elephant to return his eyes, the elephant always pretended not to hear, and sometimes used to say in a very loud voice, "If there are any worms about, they had better get out of my way, as they are so small I cannot see them, and if I tread on them they will be squashed into a nasty mess."

Ever since then the worms have been blind, and for the same reason elephants have such small eyes, quite out of proportion to the size of their huge bodies.

Story Title: The Elephant and the Tortoise; or, Why the Worms are Blind and Why the Elephant has Small Eyes
Book Title: Folk Stories From Southern Nigeria
Author: Elphinstone Dayrell
Published: 1910
Rights: CC0 Public Domain
Online Source: Sacred Texts
Process: Light editing for paragraphing and punctuation

Story of the Day: Why Mr. Possum Has No Hair on His Tail

Here is today's story: Why Mr. Possum Has No Hair on His Tail. This is a Brer Rabbit story collected by Joel Chandler Harris and published in 1880. Here is a link to more of Harris's stories, and here are more possum stories.


One time old Brer Possum, he get so hungry, he did, that he pleased for to have a mess of persimmons. He monstrous lazy man, old Brer Possum was, but by and by his stomach begun to growl and holler at him so that he just had to rack 'round and hunt up something; and whiles he was racking 'round, who should he run up with but Brer Rabbit, and they was hail-fellows, 'cause Brer Possum, he ain't been bothering Brer Rabbit like them other critters.

They sat down by the side of the big road, and there they jabber and confab among one another, till by and by old Brer Possum, he take and tell Brer Rabbit that he 'most perish out, and Brer Rabbit, he leap up in the air, he did, and smack his hands together, and say that he know right where Brer Possum can get a bite of persimmons. Then Brer Possum, he say where, and Brer Rabbit, he say which it was over at Brer Bear's persimmon orchard.

In them days Brer Bear was a bee-hunter. He make his living finding bee trees, and the way he find 'em he plant him some persimmon-trees, which the bees, they'd come to suck the persimmons and then old Brer Bear, he'd watch 'em where they'd go, and then he'd be mighty apt for to come up with 'em.

The persimmon patch was there just like I tell you, and old Brer Possum mouth begun to water soon as he hear talk of 'em, and most before Brer Rabbit done telling him the news, Brer Possum, he put out, he did, and it weren't long before he was perch up in the highest tree in Brer Bear persimmon patch.

But Brer Rabbit, he done determined for to see some fun, and whiles all this was going on, he run 'round to Brer Bear house, and holler and tell him which they was somebody destroying on his persimmons, and Brer Bear, he hustle off for to catch him.

Every now and then Brer Possum think he hear Brer Bear coming, but he keep on saying, says he, "I'll just get one persimmon more and then I'll go; one persimmon more and then I'll go."

Last he hear Brer Bear coming sure enough, but it was the same old tune— "One persimmon more and then I'll go" — and just about that time Brer Bear busted into the patch, and give the tree a shake, and Brer Possum, he dropped out along of the other ripe persimmons, but time he touch the ground he got his foots together and he lit out for the fence same as a race-horse, and across that patch him and Brer Bear had it, and Brer Bear gaining every jump, till time Brer Possum make the fence, Brer Bear grab him by the tail, and Brer Possum, he went out between the rails and give a powerful jerk and pull his tail out 'twixt Brer Bear tooths.

And, lo and beholds, Brer Bear hold so tight and Brer Possum pull so hard that all the hair come off in Brer Bear's mouth, which, if Brer Rabbit hadn't've happen up with a gourd of water, Brer Bear'd got strangled.

From that day to this, Brer Possum ain't had no hair on his tail, and neither do his chilluns.

Story Title: Why Mr. Possum Has No Hair on His Tail.
Book Title: Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings
Author: Joel Chandler Harris
Published: 1880
Rights: CC0 Public Domain
Online Source: Project Gutenberg
Process: I have removed the frame material and the eye-dialect, along with editing for paragraphing and punctuation.
Additional Notes: For additional notes, see my Brer Rabbit blog: Chase 27.

Story of the Day: Why the Cat Kills Rats

Here is today's story: Why the Cat Kills Rats. This is a story about a rat in love... but things do not turn out well for the poor rat! Here is a link to more folktales from Nigeria, or maybe you want to read more stories about cats. Enjoy! If you have questions or comments, you can find me at Twitter: @OnlineCrsLady.


Ansa was King of Calabar for fifty years. He had a very faithful cat as a housekeeper, and a rat was his house-boy. The king was an obstinate, headstrong man, but was very fond of the cat, who had been in his store for many years.

The rat, who was very poor, fell in love with one of the king's servant girls, but was unable to give her any presents, as he had no money.

At last he thought of the king's store, so in the night-time, being quite small, he had little difficulty, having made a hole in the roof, in getting into the store. He then stole corn and native pears, and presented them to his sweetheart.

At the end of the month, when the cat had to render her account of the things in the store to the king, it was found that a lot of corn and native pears were missing.

The king was very angry at this, and asked the cat for an explanation. But the cat-could not account for the loss, until one of her friends told her that the rat had been stealing the corn and giving it to the girl.

When the cat told the king, he called the girl before him and had her flogged.

The rat he handed over to the cat to deal with, and dismissed them both from his service.

The cat was so angry at this that she killed and ate the rat, and ever since that time whenever a cat sees a rat she kills and eats it.

Story Title: Why the Cat kills Rats
Book Title: Folk Stories From Southern Nigeria
Author: Elphinstone Dayrell
Published: 1910
Rights: CC0 Public Domain
Online Source: Sacred Texts
Process: Light editing for paragraphing and punctuation.