Oral Literature: The Turtle

The turtle is an animal that lives in the river and belongs to the family of ‘Guet’, likewise the crocodile, the monitor lizard, the different species of lizards and the tortoise. Once upon a time birds organised a great meal in heaven.

All birds would go and the turtle wanted to go too. He was known to be a dreadful glutton. His problem was that he did not have wings to fly up to heaven. He met with the birds: “My brothers, I wish to go to the feast with you. But I don’t have wings to reach there. I thought that you could help me: each bird could give me one of their feathers.” The birds agreed and gave him their feathers. After fixing the feathers, the turtle tried to fly, and it worked fine.

The birds encouraged him: “Don’t worry, if you get tired on that day we will help and carry you up.” So the day arrived, the turtle started the journey with the birds. When he was tired the birds helped him up until they reached the cloud where the feast had been prepared. They all sat. After a while a paper came where each bird should write his name, so that the organisers will know the attendants.

Each bird wrote his name and the turtle wrote: “l am all-of-you.” They brought the food. The turtle started eating as if all food was his and asked: “Why don’t you call for your food? Who do you think this food is for?” asked the birds. “It is mine,” answered the turtle. The birds called the organisers and asked about the food: “It is for all-of-you.” And the turtle commented: “Do you see, I am ‘all-of-you: It is my food.” The turtle ate the meat and enjoyed the meal while the birds were just looking. When the turtle was satisfied, the birds ate the leftovers. They were upset.

After eating, they left the banquet and the turtle remained in heaven alone with the crow. The turtle sent the crow to his wife: “Tell her that I am coming down. She should prepare a soft place with many clothes where I would land.” The crow said: “I will go to tell her,” but he was also upset and he told something different to the wife of the turtle. “Scatter hard poles to cover the field. The turtle will come tomorrow.”

The next day the turtle jumped down. He fell on the poles and broke his back. The wife called a doctor who could stitch his back, but it remained with many knots as it is now.

(Folktale from Nuer People. South Sudan)

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