Posted in Prose

Tortoise, famine and the other animals


Noel Ihebuzor

Once there was famine in the land of the animals. Animals starved. Every animal was emaciated. Hunger played music on their empty stomachs. Hungry played tricks on their minds. Things got more desperate with each passing day. The tortoise, the wisest and most cunning of all the animals, suggested that each animal kills his/her mother. If they did this, the gods would be struck by the enormity of the sacrifice that the animals were making and perhaps end the famine. Besides, by eliminating their mothers, the heroic animals would be reducing the number of mouths to feed during these hard times, tortoise persuasively argued. Some of the animals – the cock, the dove, the elephant and the bat initially objected but gradually tortoise wore down their objections.  In the end unanimity was reached. Difficult times required difficult decisions; special situations demanded special sacrifices, tortoise had argued and real heroes and nationalists never hold back from making tough decisions and carrying them out. Only cowards and the short-sighted hold back when destiny beckons, tortoise pontificated. The animals all agreed. Fiam, gbam, gbum, kagbum – each animal went home and fell on his/her mum and killed her. Matricide became the sign of courage and belongingness.

Unknown to the other animals, tortoise had hidden his own mum in the skies. He had designated a spot on a hill where his mum would send a rope from the skies to enable him climb up to visit her, chat with and enjoy all the joys of a mother’s love and care. And he would go up in most evenings to send her portions of choice meat from the slaughter below.

One day, the rest of the animals found out what the tortoise had done. A mixture of shame, regret and anger took hold of them and they set off to go and capture the tortoise. On sighting them, tortoise took off and started racing to the spot where his mother would normally let down the rope. As tortoise’s mum sent down the rope for her son to climb up to the skies, the other animals caught unto the rope and the agile ones – the cheetah, the leopard, the chimpanzee – all started climbing up and chasing after the tortoise. Soon they were catching up with him. When tortoise saw this, he shouted to his mum to cut the rope. The mum cut the rope and all of the animals came crashing down to earth, including tortoise. Tortoise broke his back in the fall. He also got a good beating from the rest of the other animals for his deceit. His back had to be patched and stitched together in hundred places as a result of the fall and the beating that he got. This is why the back of the tortoise looks so patched up always.

The morale of the story is that people should always be very suspicious of the person or group of persons who tell you to kill your mum whilst they secretly keep theirs safe, alive and very healthy. As with Tortoise and the animal kingdom, so with contemporary politics, and those politicians who invite you to commit matricide whilst their own mothers are safe and alive.


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

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