It happened one time that Ijapa the tortoise owned a fine white horse with beautiful trappings. When Ijapa sat on his horse, he felt proud and vain because he was the center of all eyes. Instead of working his garden, he rode from place to place so that everyone could see him. If he came to town on market day, he rode his horse through the crowded market so that he might hear people say: “What a distinguished stranger! What an important person!” If he came to a village in the evening in the evening, he rode before the headman’s house so that his presence would be properly noted. And because Ijapa appeared so distinguished on his white horse, the headman would provide him with food and a place to sleep and then send him on his way with dignity. Never had life been so good for ijapa.
One day Ijapa arrived at the city of Wasimi. As he rode through the streets, he attracted great attention. People said, “He appears to be an important merchant,” or, “He looks like a hero returning from battle.” Word went to the compound of the oba, or king, that an important personage had arrived. When Ijapa appeared at the oba’s palace, he was welcomed with courtesy and dignity. The oba’s family took him to the guesthouse and brought him food. When night fell and it was time to sleep, they said: “We shall take care of the horse.”
But Ijapa said: “Oh no, I will keep him here with me in the guesthouse.”
People said, “A horse has never before slept in the guesthouse.”
Ijapa said: “My horse and I are like brothers. Therefore he always shares my sleeping quarters.” So the horse was left in the guesthouse with Ijapa, and the oba’s household slept.
Ijapa cried out out: “My horse! My horse!” Ijapa’s cries awakened everyone. The oba’s servants came. They tried to console Ijapa and quiet him. But he would not be consoled. He kept crying out: “My horse! My fine white horse! He is dead! He is dead!
Members of the oba’s family came. They said: “Do not cry out so. In their time, all horses die. Be consoled.”
But Ijapa went on mourning the death of his horse in a loud voice that was heard everywhere. At last the oba himself came to the guesthouse. He listened to Ijapa’s cries, and he said: “Do not cry anymore. To soothe your misery, I will give you one of my own horses.”
One of the oba’s best horses was brought into the guesthouse. Ijapa stopped crying. He thanked the oba. People went back to their beds. Once more, the night was quiet. Ijapa kept the torch burning so that he could see his new horse. Then, suddenly, he began to cry again: “Oh, misfortune! Oh, how awful it is! See how I am suffering! Who has brought this terrible thing to happen!”
The servants came back, The oba’s family came back. They couldn’t quiet Ijapa. Then the oba appeared. He said: “Why do you continue this way? Your lost horse has been replaced.”
Ijapa said: “Sir, I cannot help crying out when I think of my bad fortune. The horse you gave me is a fine one. So was my own white horse that died. If he had not died, how lucky I would have been, for I now would have two horses instead of one.” And again Ijapa broke into loud cries: “Oh, misery! Oh, misfortune! How awful it is!”
They could not stop him. So the oba said: “Very well, if it is only your need for two horses that keeps the city awake, think no more about it. I will give you another horse.” The servants brought another horse. Ijapa stopped crying. He thanked the oba for his kindness. Everyone went back to bed. They slept. Only Ijapa couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about his good fortune. He had come with one horse. Now, he had two,
Then his eyes fell upon the dead horse. He began to cry: “Oh, great misfortune! Oh terrible thing! How awful it is! Bad luck falls on my head! Oh, misery!” He went on crying.
Again the household was awakened. Again they came and tried to console him. Again the oba himself had to come. The oba said: “This grief for a dead horse is too much. Many men have horses. Their horses die. But men cannot grieve forever.”
Ijapa said: “Sir I cannot help it. I looked at my dead white horse. I realized that only a few hours ago he was alive. Had he not died, I would own three fine horses and be the most fortunate of men!”
The oba was tired. He was cross. But he ordered another horse be brought for Ijapa. “You are now the most fortunate of men,” the oba said. “You own three fine horses. Now let us all sleep.” The family and the servants returned to their beds. They slept.
And then, just when everything had become quiet, Ijapa began crying out in grief again: “Oh misery! Oh misfortune! What a terrible thing has happened!” It went on and on. The oba called his servants. He gave them instructions. They went to the guesthouse and took the oba’s three horses away. They took Ijapa to the gate and pushed him out.
He had no horses at all now, and he went on foot like ordinary people; He returned to his own village in shame, for he had ridden away like a distinguished person and now his legs were covered in dust.
The Yoruba Trickster, Ijapa
The animal trickster here (or villain) appears in countless Yoruba – Ijapa the tortoise – plays a role in Yoruba lore that is almost identical to that of Anansi the spider among the Ashanti and to that of the hare in other regions of West Africa.