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Why Tortoise lives in the bush

In olden days, Chicken, Pigeon, Duck, and Tortoise were friends, and they lived in the same house. They always ate together. Nearby, there was a blind man who cultivated his field, and planted a lot of corn. Good.

In olden days, Duck could fly like the vulture. So one day, she went to steal corn in this man's field. When she came home, they cooked the corn and the four of them ate together. Good.

Among the four, Tortoise ate more than the others. So Duck said to him, "Look here, since you ate most of the corn I brought, over there is the place where I got it. Go and get some yourself now. But be careful that you don't get caught."

So Tortoise went away. He went to get the corn, and then he came back home. When Tortoise came back, Duck was not there. Duck and her children had gone to the river for water. So when Tortoise came home and Duck was not there, he called Partridge, and Pigeon and Chicken to come and eat with him.

When they finished eating, Chicken said, "Where is Duck's part?" Tortoise said, "I believe Duck has eaten already." Then, Duck came back and found nothing. Angry, she went to tell the farmer that Tortoise had been stealing his corn.

Now, when the animals gather at home, it is Cock who is their chief. The farmer asked Cock to call together all of his birds. He said, "I have something to ask them." Cock ordered all of the birds to come together, and he told the farmer to speak.

The farmer said, "Tortoise took my corn without asking me for it." Tortoise said, "No, it is not like this. I did not know your field. The duck showed me the way." Duck said, "No, it is Cock himself who showed me, for one day he came home with a grain of corn in his mouth, and I saw it".

Cock said, "I never go into the field. I found the corn in the market. The market place is the place where I stay, and everybody knows that I am never found in the fields. The day she saw me I was coming home from market."

Everybody had his turn. Cock finished talking; Duck finished talking; Pigeon also finished talking. Cock said to the farmer, "Whom was it who stole your corn?" The farmer said it was Tortoise.

Tortoise said, "I am going to take my case to Dada Segbo." So they all went to Dada Segbo. Dada Segbo asked them what they came for. Tortoise said, "The others stole the corn, and now I am being blamed."

But all the others said, "It was Tortoise alone who stole." Good. Dada Segbo said, "Now, I cannot get to the bottom of this. Do you want to remain with these birds?" He asked the Tortoise. Tortoise said, "No. No, you must separate us."

So Dada Segbo said to Duck, "You always stay at home, with your friends Cock and Pigeon. Man must build your house for you. You, Tortoise, you go to the bush, and make your bed. You must make an open nest." And Dada Segbo said, "Go away far, otherwise you will be killed."

That is why Tortoises now can be found in the bush. And their nests are open, just as Dada Segbo had ordered. In his open nest, anyone passing can see Tortoise at once.



Adapted from: M.J. & F.S. Herskovits: Dahomean Narrative, Northwestern Univ. 1998.

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