Princesses & Fairytales

Story, Story!

I have got more Yoruba folktales! I need to share this particular story because I want to explain how much such stories tormented me in my childhood and why today I have sympathy for the evil sister/witch archetype in fairy tales. I hinted this in an earlier post of mine, the truth is I have always been troubled by the fairy/folk tales that employed the evil sister/witch/step-mother trope because I could not rationalize why I should not feel sorry for them even though they are supposed to be the evil villains. I guess I could not accept that and it lingered on till today. This post will contain the story and the following post will be my exposition. All emphasis mine!

My story is about a woman whose little girl made palm oil. One day when she had made palm-oil, she took it to the market to sell. She stayed in the market selling her palm-oil until it was quite dark. And when it was dark, a goblin came to her to buy palm-oil, and paid her with some cowries.

When the little girl counted the cowries she found that there was one short and she asked the goblin for the cowry that was wanting. The goblin said that he had no more cowries, and the little girl began crying; ‘My mother will beat me if I go home with a cowry short.’

The goblin walked away and the little girl walked after him.

‘Go away’ said the goblin; ‘turn back, for no one an enter the country where I live.’

‘No’ said the little girl; ‘Whereever you go I will follow, until you pay me my cowry.’

So the little girl followed, followed a long, long way, till they came to the country where the people stand on their heads in their mortars and pound yams with their heads. Then they went on again a long way, and they came to a river of filth and the goblin sang;

‘Oh! young palm-oil seller, you must now turn back’

And the girl sang; ‘Save i get my cowry, I’ll not leave your track.’

Then the goblin sang again; ‘Oh! young palm-oil seller, soon will lead this track to the bloody river then you must turn back.’

And she; ‘I will not turn back.’

And he; ‘See yon gloomy forest?’

And she; ‘I will not turn back.’

And he; ‘See yon craggy mountains?’

And she; ‘I will not turn back. Save i get my cowry, I’ll not leave your track.’

Then they walked on again, a long, long way, and at last they arrived in the land of the dead people. The goblin gave the little girl some palm-nuts, with which to make palm-oil, and said to her; ‘Eat the palm-oil and give me the stringy remains’. But when the palm-oi was made the little girl gave it to the goblin and eat the leftovers herself, and the goblin said, ‘Very well.’

By and by the goblin gave a banana to the little girl, and said: ‘Eat this banana, and give me the skin.’ But the little girl peeled the banana and gave it to the goblin and ate the skin herself. Then the goblin said to the little girl; ‘Go and pick three calabashes. Do not pick the ones that cry ‘Pick me, pick me, pick me’, but pick those which say nothing, and then return to your home. When you are half-way back break one calabash, break another when you are at the house-door and the third when you are inside the house.’ And the little girl said; ‘Very well.’

She picked the calabashes as she was told and returned home. When she was half-way, she broke one calabash and behold, many slaves and horses appeared, and followed her. When she was at the house-door, the little girl broke the second calabash and behold, many creatures appeared, sheep, and goats, and fowls, more than 200 and followed her. Then when she had entered the house, the little girl broke the last calabash and at once the house was filled to overflowing with cowries, which poured out of the doors and windows. The mother of the little girl took twenty countrycloths, twenty strings of valuable beads, twenty sheep and goats, and twenty fowls and went to make a present to the iyale (head wife). The head wife asked whence all these things came, and when she had been told, she refused to accept them. She said she would send her own child to do the same and that she could easily get as much.

Then the head wife made palm-oil, and gave it to her own little girl, and told her to go and sell it in the market. The little girl went to the market, the goblin came, bought palm-oil of her, and paid her with cowries. He gave the proper number of cowries, but the little girl hid one and pretended that he had not given her enough.

‘What am I to do?’ said the goblin. ‘I have no more cowries.’

‘Oh’ said the little girl, ‘I will follow you to your house, and then you can pay me.’

And the goblin said: ‘Very well’

Then the two walked together, and presently the goblin began singing, as he had done the first time. He sang:

‘Oh young palm-oil seller, you must now turn back.’

And the little girl sang; ‘I will not turn back.’

And the goblin; ‘You must leave the track.’

And the little girl; ‘I will not turn back.’

Then the goblin said; ‘Very well. come along.’

And they walked on till they reached the land of dead people. The goblin gave the little girl some palm-nuts, and told her to make palm-oil. He said: ‘when the palm-oil is made, eat it yourself, and bring me the stringy remains.’ And the little girl ate the palm-oil and brought the leftovers to the goblin. And the goblin said ‘Very well.’ Then the goblin gave a banana to the little girl, and told her to peel it. He said: ‘Eat the banana yourself and bring me the skin.’ And the little girl ate the banana and carried the skin to the goblin. Then the goblin said: ‘Go and pick three calabashes, do not pick those which cry ‘pick me, pick me, pick me,’ but pick those which say nothing.’ The little girl went, she found the calabashes which said nothing and left them alone. She found others which cried, ‘pick me, pick me, pick me,’ and she picked three of them. Then the gobin said to her; ‘When you are halfway homebreak one calabash, when you are at the door break another, and break the third when you are inside the house.’

Half-way home the little girl broke one calabash, and behold, numbers of lions, and leopards, and hyenas, and snakes appeared. They ran after her, and harassed her, and bit her till she reached the door of the house. Then she broke the second calabash, and behold, more ferocious animals came upon her and bit her and tore at the door, the door was shut, and there was only a deaf person in the house. The little girl called to the deaf person to open the door, but he heard her not. And there, upon the threshold, the wild beasts killed her.

My two cents coming up soon! Oh and lest I forget, the story above is from ‘The Yoruba Speaking Peoples’ by A.B. Ellis.


  1. Myne, my take will be up soon! i just hope it makes sense…puregoldlady, welcome into the planet ^^ i think such tales are actually widespread throughout Nigerian because like Myne i've encountered different versions usually from central Nigeria, states like Benue.

  2. A lot of African folk tales have very similar lines of thought. I find the ending a little bit disturbing lol.

  3. I read this to my mom and she hadn't heard it but said the theme of greed is common in folk tales from her region (Akwa Ibom State). Now I'm going to make her share these tales!

  4. hey Jc! the ending is indeed disturbing and i've discovered even more disturbing African fairytales. fairytales need to be banned or at least rated 15. puregoldlady, that's great! i've never come across folktales from Akwa Ibom before so please do share them.

  5. I've read a Western version of this fairytale as well, I think by the Brothers Grimm. I wonder what in the world we're supposed to learn from this though?! To nag our debtors till we get our money? To eat banana peels given by dishonest mythical creatures? I imagine any child would be repulsed and baffled…

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