This post contains 5 popular Nigerian folk tales. Some of these stories often come in different versions, but they usually contain the same lesson. Folk tales have always been an integral part of culture in Nigeria. Many of the most popular Nigerian folk tales come from unknown origins, and are believed to be passed down since ancient times. Most Nigerians can testify that they grew up hearing some of these stories.
Nigerian folk tales are often used to teach moral lessons, contain a proverb with deep meaning, or used to explain why things are the way they are. They sometimes contain certain myths to scare or dissuade kids from doing certain things and are sometimes full of conundrums.
Most of the popular Nigerian folk tales involve the use of animals, attributing certain characteristics to them. One of such examples is the tortoise. The tortoise is often used as a symbol of greed and wittiness in many Nigerian folk tales. The lion too is often used as a symbol of power and the elephant as a symbol of strength. However, not all Nigerian folk tales contain animal characters.
Below are 5 popular Nigerian folk tales many Nigerians grew up hearing:
Why the dog became man’s best friend
This is one of the most popular Nigerian folk tales used to give an explanation for why certain things are the way they are.
This story begins in the animal kingdom. According to the story, there was once an animal kingdom that was apart from human territory. The animals lived in fear of humans and were ruled by them. The humans would often come into the animal territory to raid and loot what they can.
One day, the lion, king of the animal kingdom, called for an urgent village meeting to find a solution to the problem. Then the tortoise proposed a solution. He suggested that they should select a day that they would steal the humans’ weapons and start a rebellion. The dog was in this meeting as well, but he was very loyal to the humans. So he went in the dead of night to warn the humans about the rebellion.
The rebellion was easily nipped in the bud before it had the chance to escalate. When the animals found out it was the dog that snitched, he was ostracized from the animal kingdom. That is why the dog doesn’t live in the jungle and has been closed to humans ever since.
Why the tortoise’s shell is cracked
This is another popular one from back in the day. The story is meant to teach a moral lesson about greed and gluttony. It also gives an explanation of why things are the way they are.
In this story, the tortoise is known in the animal kingdom as a very greedy and lazy individual, and everyone avoided him. Whenever it was planting season, he would never leave the house. But when it was time to harvest, he would always look for opportunities to loot others. One day, he walked out of his house and saw Bird, his neighbor. Tortoise approached his neighbor and asked where he was coming from.
Bird explained that the bird community always hosted a feast in the clouds once every year and they were making preparations. Tortoise was instantly interested when he heard there would be a feast, and he asked if he could be invited. Bird invited Tortoise to the feast, but there was the problem of actually getting there. Then Bird proposed a suggestion that all the birds donate a feather to make Tortoise a pair of makeshift wings.
On the day of the feast, Tortoise flew with Bird to the clouds and sat amongst the birds at the feast. Being his witty self, Tortoise proposed that they each give themselves nicknames. Each bird named themselves, and when it was his turn, he named himself “All of us”. When it was time to eat, he asked the host who owned all the food on the table. The bird host answered and said “well, it’s for all of us.” Tortoise then smiled and declared himself the owner of the feast because his name was “all of us”. He wolfed down the feast, much to the annoyance of the birds.
They left the feast in anger one at a time, and when it was time for Tortoise to leave, he discovered that he was too heavy for his makeshift wings. Tortoise pleaded for more feathers but the birds ignored him. Tortoise plummeted down and clashed on solid ground. However, because of his thick shell, he did not die, but his shell became cracked ever since.
How tortoise became the king of the jungle
This story shows the usefulness of being clever.
Once upon a time, the Lion was the king in the animal kingdom. He was very mighty and liked to brag about his strength. One day, he was very bored, and so he decided to show the people his might. The king ordered a village gathering of all the strongest animals in the animal kingdom.
He issued a challenge saying that he would present a bowl of boiling water, and whoever could drink it in one gulp would take his throne and be declared the new king. And so, the villagers lined up, but no one was able to drink the bowl of water in one gulp. Then suddenly, a voice rang from amidst the audience.
“May I try your majesty.” Everyone turned and saw that it was Tortoise who had spoken. They jested him and said he couldn’t do it. The king presented Tortoise with the bowl of boiling water and then Tortoise declared saying “so that everyone will see that I am not a cheat, I will show you all that the water is really boiling hot.” Then tortoise walked into the crowd, showing each and everyone present that the bowl was steaming hot. Tortoise was very clever, and he knew that by the time he was done presenting it to everyone, it would have run cold.
When he was finished, he stood before the king, and to everyone’s surprise, he drank the bowl of water in one gulp and became the next king of the animal kingdom.
Why the bat comes out only at night
There were once two very good friends, Bat and Rat. Everyday, the rat would leave his home to visit the bat. Bat was a very good cook, and Rat loved his cooking very much.
One day, Rat asked Bat “what is the secret of your delicious cooking.”
Bat answered and said, “Oh, the secret is that I use my body to boil the water I want to use to cook because my body is very sweet.”
So bat offered Rat a demonstration. He got a pot of water and dipped himself inside while the water boiled. Bat then used the water to prepare another very delicious meal.
Rat was very impressed and thought in his heart that he must try it when he got home. At home, he told his wife he would be cooking that night and told her to go and get some ingredients. When she was gone, Rat dipped his body inside a pot of water and boiled it. By the time his wife arrived, she found her husband dead in a pot of boiling water. She was very sad and angry, so she reported the matter to the king. Bat was hunted everyday by the king’s guards, and so he decided he would never come out in the day time. Bat only came out at night ever since.
This is one of the popular Nigerian folk tales that teaches people to value what they have.
There was once a sculptor who used to gather rocks for his work. He had always wished to become the greatest of all.
One day, he was out in the field with his hammer and chisel, hammering away at a rocky mountain. He was tired and when he stopped to rest, he saw a tree sitting idly receiving free nutrients from the sun and providing shade for the animals. Then he thought to himself and said. “I wish I was the tree, that way I wouldn’t need to work and I would be the greatest as everyone would depend on me for food and shade.”
The gods answered his wish and suddenly, he became the tree. He was content for a while, until the drought came. His leaves shriveled up and became dry as he waited for the rain. Then he thought to himself. “Surely the rain is the greatest for it to be able to have me at it’s mercy. I wish I was the clouds so I can allow or take the drought whenever I wish.”
Once again the gods heard and answered him. Be became the clouds and flooded the homes of those he thought were wicked, while granting to those he beloved were good a moderate amount of rain. He was content for a while until the sun came and cleared away the clouds. Then he thought to himself again. “Surely the sun is the greatest to be able to clear away the clouds. I wish I was the sun.”
He became the sun and was content to provide warmth to the land, and sometimes intense heat whenever he willed. Everything trembled and melted away at his intensity, except for the mountain. Then he thought to himself, “Certainly the mountain is the greatest existence because it doesn’t tremble before anything. I wish I was the mountain.”
Again the gods answered his prayer, and he became the mountain. The storm came, floods and even drought, but the mountain stood strong. He was content for a while, until a small man came along with his hammer and chisel, and began hammering away at the mountain. The man was astonished. He sighed and said again, “for the mountain to succumb to the man, then being a man is not so bad. I wish to become a man again.” The gods granted his wish, and he lived the rest of his life content with being a man.