Listen to the story in Ishɛ language while you read along below
Onoŋ o ushi a sho ni igbɛm ni ejɛ a ahãrã. Imbɔɔ a yesha oyesha a tara ni a na acɛki e icima o uyir e imbɔɔ sha jẽa igbɛmhano. A ba a kpam unom a ajẽi kɛm e imbɔɔ sha jẽẽbɔɔ.
Eŋgbɛnɛu e hɛɛ ni indɔk e iye ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti, “Inte onoŋ o ushi ke she jẽẽ yir igbɛm ni ejɛ a ahãrã.” Ikuruŋgbɔk a hɛɛ ni indɔk e iye eŋgbɛnɛu ɛti, “Ime in bema me abai hɛ ime shi in shei me ni icar amma bik shu yikiwa ime u hɛɛ ni onoŋ ɛti kusu, a mãã a jawa ime icar ni iŋo u tũ u jawa ni ke jẽẽ yir utɔk.” Eŋgbɛnɛu e yesha onoŋ o ushi a hɛɛ ni imbɔɔ ɛti, “Tɔ indɔkpe mi a bemi abai hã a shoi ni icar shãhã ma sha mãã a jawa icar ni ke kɔukpe iye ocu e ete she ba ni a gui a jawa yir bɛɛ?” Imbɔɔ a bema.
Onoŋ o ushi o tusha icarhano ocuha o jẽhẽ ni eŋgbɛnɛu, eŋgbɛnɛu a kõ a ba. Ba hɛɛ ni indɔk e iye ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti, “Icarke iyɛɛ.” Iye a ai icarhano a tuk ni iworke e iye. Unom e igbɛmŋwe shu yɔk. Imbɔɔ sha shok ajẽãi, ko cak e imbɔɔ ko inyãã a kõ ni imeile e iye. E wurta kɛm a na asho ni abur a anɛŋ, imbɔɔ a rusha adɔkbɔɔ ɛti, “Inte she jẽẽ nɛ fa? Ni enɛŋ e igbɛmhano bik a rusha inte ɛti ecok ete e gõõni be inyãã inte she hɛɛ ɛti uŋwɛ̃?” Onoŋ o ushi ko inyãã a hɛɛ ecok e iye, ko inyãã a hɛɛ ecok e iye. Unkpoŋ ɛti iye shi ga a hɛɛ ɛti iye a gõõni ‘Unkpoŋ’, a ba ni ikuruŋgbɔk kɛm, ikuruŋgbɔk a hɛɛ ɛti ecok e iye e gõõni ‘Ko cak’.
Imbɔɔ a shok ajẽẽi a jẽẽbɔɔ. A jẽẽ a yɔk ni enɛŋ e imbɔɔ sha nyi azhe, e tũã ekpai kɛm. Ko inyãã sha le ubin a alea, iye ka rusha imbɔɔ ɛti, “Ecok e inyime e gõõni be inyãã?” Imbɔɔ ka hɛɛ icok e imbɔɔ. Unkpoŋ a rusha iye e ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti, “Iŋo fa?” Ɛti, “Ime in gõõni ‘Ko cak.’” Tɔ abuhane ma sha ɛɛk sha hwa ne, ko cak a sho e ime, iye a ai abui a hwahe.
Imbɔɔ ga shok a jẽẽbɔɔ, ga jẽ a yɔk ni enɛŋ e imbɔɔ sha tũã ehwɛile, iye ga kpea ku uyir mo odeshek.
Imbɔɔ e jẽa kɛm ni enɛŋ e igbɛmŋwe, a jẽẽ a nyi a kõ amɛ̃ she hwa a aishi ajẽẽ a ba, ba tuk imbɔɔ udɔk ni a jẽhẽ imbɔɔ amɛ̃i. A sha ai amɛ̃i a kpam ugɔhɔ mi u durbɔɔ. Iye ka rusha imbɔɔ ɛti, “Inyime a hwɛŋ ecok e ime e gõõni ko cake? Amɛ̃hane a sho e ime ko cak.”
A jẽẽ a nyi ni enɛŋ e igbɛmŋwe a jẽhẽbɔɔ enɛŋ a asherta. Ɛti, “Iŋo u gõõni inyãã?” Unkpoŋ a hɛɛ ecok e iye. Inceu a hɛɛ ecok e iye, ijok a hɛɛ ecok e iye, eŋgbɛnɛu a hɛɛ ecok e iye, ko cak e imbɔɔ a hɛɛ icok e imbɔɔ. Bik a ba ni iye ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti, “Ocok e ime o gõõni ko cak.” Ɛti, “Tɔ enɛŋ a asherta e inyime com.” Iye a hɛɛ ni abom e imbɔɔ ɛti, “Enɛŋ a ashertai e sho e ko cak, ime in gõõni ko cak, uneke a nɛke asherti ni ukpoukpe.” Abom e imbɔɔ a dɛ̃ɛ̃shɛ̃ɛ̃ idɔr, iye a aak a sher e kala enɛŋe.
A kõ ubin a alea a ba, iye ga gui a rusha imbɔɔ ɛti, “Ubin a aleahane sha kõ a ba ne ko cak, u sho e inyãã?” Imbɔɔ ɛti, “A sho ete ko cak.” Iye ɛti, “Tɔ ko cak a sho ecok e ime, uneke a nɛke abaŋi.” A kõ amɛ̃ she hwa shãhã abu bɛɛ a kõ a ba, ba hɛɛ ɛti, “Abu e inyime kɛ ko cak.” Iye a ai abuhano a hwahe kidoki ɛti ecok e iye e gõõni ko cak.
Igbɛmhano i yɔk inom itar imbɔɔ a nɛnɛ ahwa e ihã ni hɛ ecok com e iye sha jẽhẽ ece e iye. Ko uŋwe sha kõ a ba, a sho e imbɔɔ ko cak. Ecok e iye e gõõni ko cak. Hã a sho ihãã shi cika imbɔɔ sha hwa ni enɛŋ e igbɛmhano ni hɛ ecok e ikuruŋgbɔk sha tarke ece e iye ɛti ko cak.
A sha maa igbɛmŋwe she guishibɔɔ oshoi kɛm. Onoŋhano o haa ni akele e imbɔɔ ɛti, “A! Unerhanɛ a kpea ninɛ ni a kpea wa inte uyirhanɛ? Iye a shu oshuu ni inte tɔhɛ a gui a jawa inte ihã ishɔhɔ nɛ.” Imbɔɔ a yesha abom e imbɔɔ, a tũã oye ocuha, a kpam oyei ɛti imbɔɔ she aishihe icarke e imbɔɔ, imbɔɔ a hɛɛ ni eŋgbɛnɛu ɛti, “Iŋo u tuk inte ni ihãhanɛ. Hɛɛ ni indɔk me e iŋo no ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti a jawa yir icarke ete.” Eŋgbɛnɛu a gõõ acaa a ajẽẽi a ahɛɛi. Ko cak e imbɔɔ a shok ocuha ni uham a jẽẽ. Ko shu shɔŋ ni imbɔɔ a hɛɛ ni ikuruŋgbɔk ɛti, “U jaa icarke e ime, u jaa icarke e ime.” A aishihe icarke e imbɔɔ ko cak ni a bɔrke ikuruŋgbɔk. A tena a babɔɔ ni a nɛke iye ni ejɛ a ahãrã.
Eŋgbɛnɛu sha sho indɔk hɛ e inyoŋ e eni, iye a sher ni iye, bik a sha maa a shok e ba kɛm, ikuruŋgbɔk a hɛɛ ni iye ɛti, “Tɔ iŋo shu jẽẽ ŋo, jẽẽ u hɛɛ ni ucɛ̃ e ime ɛti a tara abin a anɔɔ ko tintiriŋ ni ime in ba ba in cikpa ni hum, iye ɛti ãhãã.”
Enɛu sha ba ni udẽi, ni a nã ahaai ni akele e iye ubin e iye shu kpea ni enɛŋ e igbɛm ni ejɛ a ahãrã, iye a hɛɛ ɛti, “In bik in nɛke unerhane, a shina hwɛŋɛ ɛti iye a jawa ime ihã ni abom e ime onoŋ o ushihane.” Iye a ba a hɛɛ ni ucɛ̃i ɛti, “Ucako ɛti iŋo u hwɛŋ iworke e iye i sho icer icer ni iyɔɔ, hɛ e ishɔuhɔ no, u bei ikuli e itɛi u ŋwɛ̃ ni enɛŋ e com e iye sha cikpa no, iye bik a sho ni acikpii ni iye a ba yik adake hum ker iye a hwɛrke a tukadẽẽ e iŋo.”
Ucɛ̃i e iye a yaa itɛi a bɛtɛ ni obe ni ujĩĩ e iye sha ba a cikpa. Iye sha sho ni abai, dik a ba per iworke ni itɛiha, iworke i lɔtɔ iyɔɔ. Iyɔɔ i tuk u jɛ̃ iwor e ikuruŋgbɔk shi sho ni ara ka acɔɔ acɔɔ ni hɛ o oɛ̃ɛ̃.
Ke she gõõ nɛ, ke sher ni ehwɛŋe ɛti, isha, shãhã oɛ̃ɛ̃ o bi ce. Bik u le kidoki iŋo shu ce kidoki iŋo. Ke gõõ ni e maa ubiŋe.
The birds of the bush had a feast at the market of the sky. They called a call and gathered and began to get into discussion about the way they would go to that feast. They came and agreed the day of departure when they would go.
Dove said to his friend, Tortoise, “We birds of the bush will go to a feast in the market of the sky.” Tortoise said to his friend, Dove, “I want to come but I don’t have feathers. If you will help me, say to the birds, ‘Please give me feathers.’ Remove them and give them to me so we can go together.”
Dove called the birds of the bush and said to them, “Well, my friend wants to come, he doesn’t have feathers but would you be willing to give feathers for us to lend him them when we come and when he returns he can give them back?”
They wanted to do it. The birds of the bush removed those feathers now and gave them to Dove, Dove took them and he came. Then he said to his friend, Tortoise, “Here are the feathers,” and Tortoise put them on his body.
The day of the feast arrived. When they rose to go, every single one of them ‘carried his food’ hungry and looking forward to the feast. They came out, and were still in their back gardens when they asked one another, “As we go now at the place of that feast, if they ask us what name we are called what will we say?”
The birds of the bush each one of them said his name, each one said his name. Plantain-Eater said that he would say he is called Plantain-Eater. It came to Tortoise. Tortoise said that his name is called “All”. They rose to go and went. They went and reached the place where they would rest. They put down their loads and each one would eat the things to eat. Tortoise asked them, “The name that they call you is what?” They said their names. Plantain-Eater asked Tortoise himself, “What about you?” Tortoise said, “I am called All. Well this porridge you poured out to drink here, All of it is mine.” He received the porridge and he drank it.
They rose again, they went. They went on again and reached the place where they would unload a second time and Tortoise did as he had done before.
They went to the place of the feast, they went and entered and someone brought drinking water for the visitors. They came and the host welcomed them and gave them water. They were very glad to get the water; thirst had caught them! Tortoise asked them, “Didn’t you know my name is called All? This water is all mine.”
They went and entered the place of the feast and were given a place to sit. “What are you called?” the hosts asked. Plantain-eater said his name. Hawk said his name. Guinea-fowl said his name. Dove said his name. All of them said their names. When it came to him, Tortoise, he said, “My name is called All.” “Well, there is a place for you all to sit down.” Tortoise said to the rest of them, “The place to sit down is for All. I am called All. Let everyone stop sitting in the chair.” The others then stood up and Tortoise just sat down and stretched out in the place.
Someone brought things to eat. He came and Tortoise repeated it, he asked them, “This food that he brought here, it is for who?” They said, “It is for All.” He said, “Well, All is my name. Let everyone stop touching it.”
Someone brought water to drink or thin porridge. He brought it and came and said, “It is all your porridge,” and Tortoise took the porridge and he alone drank it and said that his name is called All.
That feast lasted three days. They really suffered because of this name that he gave himself. Whatever someone brought and came with it was for all. His name was called All. It was not a small amount of suffering. They really suffered in the place of that feast because the name that Tortoise had given himself was All.
When they finished the feast they had to return home. Those birds thought to themselves, “Oh! What did this person do? What is this method that he used on us? He made a request to us and then he responded by giving us suffering like this here!” They called the rest of them and held a discussion. They put into action what they discussed: that they would take back their feathers. They said to Dove, “You got us into this suffering. Say to this friend of yours there, Tortoise, that he must give us our feathers.”
Dove was ashamed to go and say it. All of them rose up now in anger and went. Every one of them said to Tortoise, “Give me my feather! Give me my feather!” They took back all their feathers and abandoned Tortoise. They ran and went off and left him at the market of the sky.
Dove was his friend and out of sympathy he sat with him. When they had finished they rose to go and Tortoise said to Dove, “Well, when you have gone there, then say to my wife that she should gather the mattresses so that I can come, then I will come down there.” He said, “OK.”
Dove came to the road and continued to think to himself about the thing that Tortoise did in the place of the feast at the market of the sky. He said, “If I leave this person to it he will not know that he gave me suffering along with my colleagues, these birds of the bush.”
He came and said to the wife, “Your husband says that you know his body is very important. Because it is like that, look for solid stones to put in the place where he will come down. When he is coming down he will accompany his friends there and land in your compound.”
Tortoise’s wife packed stones. She spread them out on the ground at the point where he would come and land. While Tortoise was coming he just came and hit his body on the stones. His body made a loud crunching sound.
That is why you see Tortoise’s body has cracks in a pattern because of his greed. When we hear this we sit knowing that jealousy or greed is bad. If you eat alone you will die alone. We hear and we learn this thing.
This is an ancient tale, portrayed in print in Europe as above in 1500s, but clearly one of the old Pan-African fables. One of the distinctive features sometimes missed out in, say Tinga-Tinga’s version (see below), is the way Tortoise chooses a cunning name which he uses to trick everyone. It’s not just that he rushes ahead, but he’s selfish and manipulative but gets taught a lesson. Chinua Achebe uses the tale in a different way in Things Fall Apart, suggesting that the tortoise may represent predatory (but foolish) colonists undone by the group of indigenes. In Moses Sabo’s version above we see the moral as being clearly stated at the end: “If you eat alone, you will die alone.” Selfish greed and manipulation may gain in the short term, but it’s better to share.
This may be true and convincing but it’s worth comparing how the good news of Jesus and his kingdom is even more compelling: those who are brought into God’s family by Jesus can and should give up a grasping attitude to life, since we know that solid joys and lasting treasures are assured us now but even more so in the lasting kingdom beyond death.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! ‘No-one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.Matthew 6:19-24 [NIV]