How the Tortoise got its rough shell.

Narrated by Hannatu Gamba.

Once upon a time, the gods invited the birds to heaven for a party. They were very excited about it and for several days they could talk about anything else. The tortoise heard about this party and for several days he could think of nothing else. It is a common practice in Africa for someone to turn up at a party uninvited. There is always food for those extra mouths. The problem, in this case, was that the party was specifically for the birds and nobody else. It would be awkward for any of the non-flying animals to go.

The tortoise wanted to attend this party. He came up with a plan. He went to visit the birds and asked them what the party plans were. The birds did not know what was expected of them. They told the tortoise “We do not have any plans, we are just going to fly, to heaven and knock at the door. The tortoise said, “No, no you don ‘t just barge into somebody’s house just like that. You need a go-between to introduce you to the host and speak to him on your behalf. I am very good at this kind of things and would be very to help. You have to look important

The birds liked the Tortoise’s idea and asked him to be their spoke person. There was just one problem; the tortoise could not fly, as he had no wings. The birds asked the tortoise how he would fly to heaven when he did not have wings. The tortoise replied, “That won’t be a problem if each of you lends me a feather, I can make myself a pair of wings. “The birds contributed feathers and the tortoise glued them together and made himself a pair of wings.

At last the great day arrived. The tortoise was the first to arrive at the appointed place of meeting. They took off and arrived in heaven without any problem for the big party. The servant showed them into the party hall where they waited to be introduced to their hosts. While they were waiting, the tortoise advised them that it would be a good idea for each of them to have a name by which he would use to introduce them to their hosts. The birds did not have individual names as they were identified by their species. Each of them thought of a name. The tortoise called himself “All of us”.

Their hosts came in; the tortoise introduced the birds and himself. After the introduction and pleasantries, food was served. As the servants laid out the food, the tortoise asked, “Is the food for all of us?” The servant answered, “Yes.” The tortoise told the birds to wait for their own food for this one belonged to him. He said, “you heard the servant said the food belonged to “all of us”. You know my name is “All of us?” The tortoise ate up the food. The birds waited and waited but no other food was served.

Next, the servants served palm wine. Again the tortoise asked if the wine was for “all of us?” The servant answered, “Yes.” The tortoise told the birds to wait for their own wine as this was obviously meant for him alone. He greedily drank everything without giving the birds. He got so drunk that she fell asleep. After a while, the birds realised that the tortoise had tricked them. They were very angry at the tortoise. They decided to teach him a lesson. Each of them pulled out the feather they had lent him. The tortoise was left without wings. The birds flew back to earth and left the tortoise behind.

The tortoise woke up from his drunken stupor a few hours later. It was already getting dark and when he realised that the birds had not only gone without him but had taken his wings as well. He began to panic. He was not very sure he would be welcome to stay in heaven. He did not want to stay in heaven because his family was still down on earth. The fact he cheated the gods would not allow him to stay even if he wanted to. He walked to the gate and tried to think of a way out. This time there was none.

In desperation, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath and jumped. He landed on his back with a crash and all his shell shattered into many pieces. The birds jeered as the saw tortoise lying on his back helpless. His wife and children came and carried him home. They gathered all the broken bits of his shells and tried to stick them together. They managed to put together a very rough shell that looked like a patchwork. The gods got to hear about tortoise’s deception. They were angry with him. As a punishment, they declared that all his descendants would henceforth be born with this patchwork on their backs. This is to remind the future generations of tortoises of what their ancestor had done. As young tortoises grew they would ask their parents why they have a shell-like broken pot. They would be told the story of the deceit and greed of their forefathers.

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