the tortoise and the snail
Short story | Folktale

The Tortoise and The Snail

Once upon a time, in a certain land, the king of the animals gave a directive to his servant and said, “Use the wooden gong and announce to all my subjects that there is a task I’ll show them, that anyone that first finishes his own, I’ll give him my daughter in marriage.”

The king’s servant then did as his master instructed. When the day dawned, the tortoise awoke, picked up his matchet and went to the snail. He suggested that they go and know why the king is calling them.

Along the way, they started arguing about who’ll get to marry the princess. When they got to the palace, they greeted the king by his title names. After they finished greeting the king, they told him why they had come. The king then directed his servant to show the two of them the task; that anyone that finishes first will be given the princess in marriage. So, the servant divided the task into two for both and they started working.

As they were working, one of the king’s wives came around and pleaded with the tortoise to follow her and pick up a palm nut that fell into a hole for her, but the tortoise vehemently refused.

She approached the snail and pleaded with him on the same issue. The snail obliged her and picked up the nut for her, saying in his mind, “It’s the day one buries someone that he buries himself. If a wild animal is feely itchy, it scrubs its back on the tree trunk but if a human is feeling itchy, he looks for another to scrub him.”

All these he thought as he hoped that the good he has done will bring him good also. After he had picked up the nut, the queen told the snail to hit her on the back, that he’ll see labourers that will do the work for him.

The snail did as he was instructed. Lo, in a twinkle of an eye, ten strong men jumped out of her body. They all took matchets and finished up snail’s task in a short while and vanished.

It amazed the snail; he went and narrated to the tortoise all that happened. The tortoise shouted at once in disbelief.

Before the snail has finished his narration, the tortoise took to his heels after the queen and when he got close to her, he said, “Please queen, did you ask me to come and pick up palm nut for you?”

But the queen did not reply; the tortoise went ahead and hit her so hard on the back that she fell on the ground and died.

When the tortoise realized that he now has a corpse on his hands, he became terrified and developed goose pimples.

He ran to a soothsayer to ask what will happen next. The soothsayer told him a proverb: “When a great soothsayer performs sacrifices, it appears as if he fed the spirits by hand”.

On hearing it, he took to his heels, gathered dead leaves and covered the corpse. When he had done this, he went back to the snail and said to him, “Get your rifle, let go –a-hunting for monkeys that have destroyed the cereals on my farm”.

On hearing this, the snail greatly rejoiced, walked briskly into the house and took up his rifle, hung his hunting bag on his neck and picked up his hunting dog and off they went.

On their way, the tortoise told the snail, “Follow me, wherever I point at, shoot there!”

The snail rejoiced because he has always desired monkey meat.

When they got to where the queen was lying, the tortoise said, “Snail, look at a monkey here, shoot and kill it.”

The snail immediately shot at where he was directed and started rejoicing that he has shot a monkey; and that they now have meat.

The tortoise then removed the leaves he used to cover the corpse and shouted with a loud voice, “Come and see ooo, you’ve killed a human being!”

The snail shouted, “Ewoo! But you told me to shoot?”

The tortoise told him, “If I tell you to shoot, are you blind? Don’t you look before shooting? If I tell you to get to the bush and eat faeces, are you going to eat?”

The tortoise took to his heels without looking back, leaving his friend behind.

The snail was greatly terrified because the law of the land is A HEAD FOR A HEAD. It is said that no head is greater than the other.

He then approached the soothsayer to get advice on what he might do. The soothsayer told him to borrow long apparel, anklets and a white cap; after putting on these, he should meet the tortoise and tell him the king gave him those for killing his wife which he had been thinking of how to kill secretly because of her envy.

When the snail got all these, he went to his friend’s house, who on seeing him, ran away without recognizing that it was the snail.

When the snail beckoned to him, he recognized his voice and came out of his hiding place. When he saw him, he inquired from where he got all he was putting on. The snail told him that the king gave him those for the king considered what the snail did as a favour.

On hearing this, the tortoise shouted and began narrating to his friend how things went and how he killed the queen.

He said, “Please let’s go to the king so he could collect all these things from you because I’m the one that killed his wife but he took all these and gave you. How can I finish washing hands and crack kernels for chicken? This is impossible!”

But his friend did not pay attention to him at all.

The tortoise ran to the king and started complaining, “It is I that killed your wife but you went ahead and gave all these things to the snail without knowing from where water entered the pumpkin flute, please collect all those things from him and give me for he who works must eat!”

The king shouted the tortoise down and called his servants and gave an order that the tortoise be dealt with, but he gave his daughter in marriage to the snail.


Moral: When you’re scheming against people, watch out lest the plan backfires.

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