African culture: Storytelling by the Yorubas

Yoruba people of Nigeria

Hello guys, I have received quite a few emails from a lot of people who would love to hear more stories about African folktale/culture. So I decided to start a small series of various African folktales and stories.For the first series, I shall start with the Yoruba people of Nigeria.

Before I start, I should give a very brief background information of the Yoruba people.


Who speaks Yoruba?

This is a very good question, Yoruba speaking people can be found in Nigeria, Brazil, Togo, Benin republic and Cuba to name a few. The transatlantic slave trade clearly played a huge part in this, however a lot of Yoruba kingdoms in the past also stretched from present day Nigeria to Togo (I will write a separate piece on this one day). The majority of Yoruba people can be found in Nigeria, there are approximately 40million Yoruba people living in Nigeria today according to the CIA Factbook.

Yoruba Myths and Legends

Many African societies are known for their strong emphasis on storytelling and folktale (sometimes to their own detriment as there is little written record of these wonderful tales), these folktales served as a means of passing down tradition and cultural values from one generation to the next.

The Stolen Soup and the Aroma

A long time ago there lived a poor woman in a Yoruba village. This woman was so poor that she did not have any soup for her Eba. (Eba is a starchy paste made from cassava flour and it is rather unappetising to eat all by itself).

Across the street from this poor woman lived another woman who cooked Egusi soup every day. One day, as the poor woman was sitting down to her only meal for the entire day, a small bowl of just Eba, the aroma from her neighbour’s cooking wafted down through her window.

“Perhaps she will be kind enough to let me have a little soup for my Eba” she thought.

So she took her bowl of Eba and headed over to her neighbour who was busy stirring a big pot of Egusi soup. “Please, may I have a little soup for my Eba”, the poor woman asked.

The woman stirring the Egusi soup looked up to see her raggedy‐looking neighbour and replied, “If you can’t make your own Egusi soup, then you don’t deserve to have any.”

The poor woman went back to her own hut and sat outside her doorsteps where the aroma from her neighbour’s Egusi was very strong. She would scoop some Eba with her hands, inhale a big dose of Egusi soup aroma while she swallowed the lump of Eba. The Egusi woman, seeing this destitute neighbour eating her soup’s aroma got very angry. She ran out and yelled at the woman “Stop eating the aroma from my soup!”

But the poor woman did not stop, she kept inhaling the aroma from the Egusi soup while she ate her Eba. She found the aroma from the soup very satisfying. Everyday, whenever the rich aroma of Egusi soup wafted into the poor woman’s hut, she would quickly make a little bowl of Eba and go outside to inhale the pleasant aroma.

The Egusi woman was getting very furious and she decided to take her case to the Oba, the king of their village.  “This woman steals the aroma from my Egusi to eat her Eba. She must be punished.”, screamed the Egusi woman. The Oba heard the story and agreed that the poor woman should indeed be punished for stealing soup aroma and he ordered the Egusi woman to carry out the punishment. “She stole your aroma therefore you shall flog her shadow”, the Oba told the Egusi woman. “You shall flog her shadow forty times” and she was given the big stick with which she would carry out her justice.  The Egusi woman, wielding the big stick to beat the poor woman’s shadow felt very foolish. She felt so foolish that she asked the poor woman for forgiveness and offered to give her real Egusi soup from that day on.


I am going to guess that you may already have a sense of the morale of the story. I personally feel that we are meant to embody the characteristics of the ‘poor’ woman – Humility, patience and adaptability. I say adaptability because, the poor woman was willing to find a way to make her meal taste better – even if this meant sniffing the aroma of the soup whilst eating the Eba.

On the other hand, with the Soup lady we can see that her selfish behaviour is frowned upon in the story. The Oba’s decision to make her flog the poor woman’s shadow is meant to make her feel stupid for causing all this ‘wahala’ over the SMELL/AROMA of her soup.

P.S – ‘wahala’ means problem in Pidgin.

Story Source:


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