The King’s Magic Drum: A Nigerian Folktale
Posted on: September 3, 2021.

Author: Prabhukrishna M, Content Creator/Chief Editor, Yokibu Editorial

Ancient Calabar had a good, kind king named Efraim Duke—a peaceful man who did not believe in war. King Efraim had a fantastic possession—a magic drum that, when beaten, provided plenty of good food and drink.

If an enemy kingdom ever declared war against Calabar, King Efraim would only call his enemies together and beat his magic drum—and instead of battle, would embrace them by virtue of a pleasant surprise…

…tables and tables spread with all sorts of dishes—fish, foo-foo, palm-oil chop, soup, cooked yams and ocros, and plenty of palm wine—for everybody!

Instead of fighting, good king Efraim would keep his kingdom quiet by sending his enemies away with full stomachs, and in a happy and contented frame of mind.

The possession of this magic drum, however, had only a singular vile—if the owner of the drum were to walk over a stick on the road, or step over a fallen tree…

…all the magically-arranged food would immediately go bad, and three hundred Ekpe men—mysterious spirits that dwell in the jungles—would appear—with sticks and whips—to beat the owner of the drum, and all the guests invited by him, black and blue.

Besides the Magic Drum, Good king Efraim was a rich man who had many farms and hundreds of slaves, a large store of kernels on the beach, many puncheons of palm-oil, fifty fine healthy wives, and many children.

Once every few months, King Efraim would invite all his subjects to a big feast magically-arranged by the magic drum. Even wild animals were welcome—elephants, hippos, leopards, bush cows, antelopes…

…for in those days beasts and humans were friends and did not harm each other. Beasts and humans alike were envious of King Efraim’s magic drum and wanted to possess it, but the king would not part with it.

Ikwor Edem, one of the king’s wives took her little daughter—covered with yaws, bad sores, all over the body—down to the spring to wash her one morning…

…when on the palm tree above the spring, a tortoise was gathering nuts for his midday meal. Now, one of the nuts fell to the ground, just in front of the child, who, seeing the good food cried for it.

Queen Edem picked up the palm nut and gave it to her sobbing daughter to console and appease her, not knowing that it belonged to the tortoise in the palm tree above.

Seeing this, the tortoise came down and asked her for his nut. She replied that she’d given it to her child who’d eaten it. The tortoise took this as an opportunity to bargain with the king for his magic drum.

Thinking he’d start by making a huge palaver over this, he asked of Queen Edem—”I am poor and climbed the tree to get food for myself and my family, when you took my palm nut and gave it to your child…”

Knowing this was a serious crime according to native custom, the tortoise so threatened, “I shall take this matter to the king, and see what he has to say, hearing one of his wives has stolen my food!”

The Queen retorted saying, “Thinking only that it had fallen from the tree did I give it to my child to eat. I did not steal it from you. I will take you before the king. Complain to His Highness if you must!”

After the king listened to what the tortoise had to say, he asked him what he would accept as compensation for the loss of his palm nut—money, cloth, kernels, palm-oil—but the tortoise refused it all.

“What will you take, then?” asked the king to the tortoise. “You will have anything you like”. Immediately, the tortoise asked for the king’s magic drum. “Very well. Take the drum!” replied the king.

He could think of no other way to get rid of the greedy tortoise, but the king also deliberately did not tell him about the bad things that would happen to him if he stepped over a fallen tree, or walked over a stick on the road.

Gladly, the tortoise took the drum home, beat it every time he and and family needed food and drink, and even began to imitate his king by sending feast invitations kingdom-wide—to both people and animals.

Soon, the tortoise came to be known as one of the richest subjects in the kingdom—even King Efraim attended those magically-arranged feasts. However, after a few weeks of possession of the magic drum, things did not go well for the tortoise.

He stopped doing work, ate a lot of food, and drunk a lot of palm-wine, while his family had gotten as fat as possible without bursting. While returning home, late one evening, in a deeply drunken state, the tortoise stepped on a stick lying on the road.

The “Ju Ju” of the magic drum—its benevolent magical element—was thus broken, which of course the tortoise had no way to know… and the next morning when it was beaten, only its malevolence manifested.

The 300 Ekpe men suddenly appeared and flogged the tortoise, his wife, and children with sticks and whips, inflicting unbearable pain. Planning revenge, the tortoise sent out invitations for another big feast.

This was for all the guests to suffer the malevolence of the magic drum as well, for the tortoise felt that it was only befitting of them, having enjoyed—as the tortoise and his family had—of its delicious food and drink.

It was not everyday that people get to enjoy a big, delicious feast, and that too at somebody else’s expense—this second time around the feast witnessed the biggest number of attendees thus far.

After the unwitting guests had assembled, the tortoise discreetly sealed the gates, hit the magic drum, and hid under a bench where he could not be seen. His wife and children had long been sent away to a safe place.

The 300-strong Ekpe appeared with their sticks and whips. The flogging lasted two hours as the guests had no means of escape—so bad, that the crippled guests had to be carried away on the backs of their friends.

After the gates opened and the guests had fled, never to return, the tortoise crept out of its hiding place, summoned his wife and children back home, and went to the king’s palace to return the “cursed” drum.

The tortoise, however, returned home much happy, for King Efraim had given him another gift—a magic foo-foo tree that would yield as much foo-foo and soup as needed—but only once a day, no more.

However, the tortoise’s wicked son used a trail of wood ash to follow his father one morning to the foo-foo tree—for it had been kept a secret—and made the mistake of returning the same day for more food.

For the second time, the “Ju Ju” of a magic object had been broken for the tortoise and his family—the magic foo-foo tree was no longer accessible—a dense mass of prickly tie-tie palm now hid the tree from view.

Hence, from that day onwards, people see tortoises living under prickly tie-tie palms, as they have nowhere else to go to for food.

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