A folktale about divorce

Moving away from “Baba of Karo” and Hausaland, last month I read “In the Shadow of the Bush” by P. Amaury Talbot. He was District Commissioner in colonial Nigeria and wrote anthropological texts on people of the South-South region. His work is extensive and covers not just culture and society, but jujus, witchcraft, flora and fauna. “In the Shadow of the Bush” is Talbot’s book on the Ekoi (Ejagham) people.

While reading the chapter about marriage among the Ekoi and how though marriages are polygamous, the first wife is the head of the household. Here’s a folktale about divorce

Why wives sometimes leave their husbands.

Once an animal named Mbaw, and his wife Ma Ndikange, were eating young coco-yams. He said to her, “I will go and set a trap.” So he went to the bush for the purpose. Next morning an Etuk (duiker) was found within. He gave it to his wife and said, ” Boil this, but for you it is tabu, as it is the first animal caught in the trap.” Next day and the next, he said the same, and ate all his kill. On the excuse that each was caught in a new trap, he gave none to Ndikange, though she had cooked it.

The third day he caught a pig. This he took home, and said to his wife, “Boil it well. I think you will eat of this pig.” After the meat was cooked, however, he made the same excuse as before, and ate all himself. Then the woman thought within herself, “What can I do ? All this time I am eating only young coco-yams. Of the beasts my husband traps, he gives me none.” She made a plan.

She got her basket and went out; then collected magic leaves, mixed them together and made “medicine.” Next she went down to the river-side, and poured the medicine into the water. Soon the river dried up because of the magic medicine. So she walked along its bed, and caught four baskets full of fish, of a very good kind, called Noi-oshi. She then went home, cooked these and ate her fill of them, for they were sweet to the taste; but what was over, she left standing upon the fireplace.

At daybreak the husband said he felt very sick, so the woman left him to rest in the house, and went alone to farm. No sooner had she gone, than he sprang up and tasted the fat left in the pot from the fish his wife had caught. At once he said to himself, “Oh, what a sweet taste! This is what my wife ate yesterday.”

Now the fish was inside a native pot, and before the woman left her house, she had put a Juju upon the fish to protect them. So greedy was the husband, that he stuck his head right inside the pot, that so he might more quickly eat up the good fish. When he had done, he would have pulled his head out again, but the Juju caught him and held him fast.

He knocked his head up and down, and tried to break the pot, but still the Juju held, and he could not free himself. All of a sudden, he heard his step-son, the lame boy, salute Ndikange as she came back from farm. The lame boy was the son of the latter. Mbaw did not want to face his wife in that state, so he ran out, his head still covered with the pot, and stuck it in the deep gutter before the house. He thought that all of him was hidden, but alas! his feet stuck out.

The woman said to her son, ” Where is my husband?” The boy answered, ” He has eaten your fish. When he heard you returning he ran outside to hide. Here he is, with his head in the gutter and his feet sticking out.” The woman went and caught her husband by the feet. She pulled him out and said to him: “You killed three animals. All these you ate without giving me any. Look at your head covered with the pot! Obassi sees everything. That is his judgment on you. You have
stolen my fish.”

The husband went out with the pot on his head, and called together his “age class.” When they were all gathered before the house, he said to them: “I have stolen my wife’s fish. When she went away, she left it in the house with some Juju to protect it. Therefore the Juju keeps my head in the pot.” His companions took his part, and said that the matter went
against the woman, and that she must take off the pot.

She said, ” Why should I do so? If the pot be taken off his head, I will not be his wife again for ever.” Then she threw some medicine on to the pot, and it fell away. The man’s neck and head swelled up. The woman ran from them all, and said, “I will be his wife no longer, but will marry another man.”

The husband remained full of sorrow. Then he disguised himself and followed her. He went round by another way, and lay down in the road where she must pass by. When the woman came up to him, he said: “You have left your husband. Here am I. Come marry me.” She said to him, “You are too like my former husband. I will not marry you, but someone else.” She then went on her way.

Again the husband disguised himself, and ran on. He caught her up, and accosted her as before. She said to him: “Very well, I will marry you temporarily, to see how you will be. If you behave badly, like my first husband, I shall divorce myself again, and leave you.” This is the reason why women divorce

This is the reason why women divorce themselves, and marry other men. Whenever they marry a husband, and find that he is good, they stop with him. Ndikange remained with this husband, and had six children by him. She often said to herself, “If I had stayed with my first husband, I should not have done so well as this.” During all this time the husband took such good care of her and her children that she became very rich.

The reason why people sometimes say “Women are too roaming” is because these women have not found good husbands. When they find a good husband they stop with him, and do not want to leave him to go to another.