April 1, 2018

The Name Game: A Folktale from Nigeria - C.L. Clickard

Not one of you knows my name...

In the time of tales and tails, Hippo was once mighty king of the land. He had more friends than he could count and more food than he could eat. He had seven fine fat hippo wives and a herd of plump precious children. What he didn’t have was a name. That is, nobody knew his name - except for his seven hippo wives.

One night at Hippo’s feast, when everyone was slurping and burping, Hippo looked out at his friends and frowned.

“HUNH!” he said. “Every day you come and eat my food, but not one of you knows my name.  Where’s the respect? Where’s the love? If you can’t guess my name, then I say this feast is over. You’re going home hungry tonight!“

“Ewo!” cried the guests, sneaking a few more mouthfuls. “Nu-uh, King Hippo. We love you. We respect you. You know that.”

“So my name is …….?”

Nobody wanted to go home empty bellied, so they tried.

“Adebyi the Awesome?” Buffalo guessed.

“Tiwa the Terrible?” asked Antelope.

“Kalu the Courageous?” whistled Waxbill.

“Fred?” squeaked Mouse.

“Fred??!” Hippo bellowed.“Fred? Do I look like a Fred? Wrong, wrong, wrong. This feast is over!”

Furred and feathered faces dove into bowls for one last bite, then grumbling headed for home.

“Not our fault he never told us his name.”

“He got a secret, he can keep his secret.”

One small Tortoise stopped at Hippo’s gate. “Wait! What if I can tell you your name tomorrow?”

“HA-HA-HA-Hooey!” Hippo belly laughed. “Little you? Know my HUGE hippo name? Well, we shall have one more feast tomorrow, and if you guess my name, bitty Tortoise, then I will take my fine fat wives and my precious plump children and go live in the river forever.”

The next day Tortoise waited for Hippo to parade his family down to the river. He counted each hippo wife as they went by: otu, abua, ato, ano, ise, isii, asaa. He counted each ker-sploosh as they hit the water: otu, abua, ato, ano, ise, isii, asaa. Then, Tortoise hurried out to the middle of Hippo’s path and started to dig. When the  hole was bigger than Toad but smaller than Tortoise he wriggled over to hide behind a uko tree.

“Huh-UH-HAAA!” With a tremendous shake and snort Hippo finished his bath and led the way back home. Tortoise counted the hippo wives as they went by: otu, abuo, ato, ano, ise. Only five wives had jiggled past. The last two were far behind.

“Yes!” Tortoise cheered. “This will work perfectly.”

He slipped into the hole, tucked his head in the dirt and left his bottom waggling in the air. Isii. Wife number six strolled right past. But… OOOF!!! Wife number seven tripped on Tortoise’s hard shell.

“Aiiiii!” she cried. “King Isantim, my husband, I hurt my foot.”

“Come home lovely one, and I will kiss it better,” Hippo bellowed back.
Wife number seven giggled and hurried down the road. All alone now, Tortoise wriggled out of the hole and smiled all the way home.  
At Hippo’s feast that night, everyone waited for Tortoise. He strolled past the seven fine hippo wives until he stood before the king.
“Let’s hear it, little one,” Hippo boomed. “Tell me my name and we can all get to eating.”
“Will you keep your promise?” asked Tortoise.
“Ho ho h-of course!” chuckled Hippo. “Are you afraid to guess my name wrong? Here’s a clue:  It’s not Fred.”
“Oh, everyone knows that. Even bitty me, King Isantim!”
Hippo’s mouth fell open so wide you could count his teeth but his guests were too busy eating to try. When the feast was over, Hippo kept his promise. Now he spends all day in the water with his fine fat hippo wives and his plump precious children  -- and only sneaks onto land at night when he thinks no one can see him.
Carrie L. Clickard is an internationally published author and poet. Her books include MAGIC FOR SALE (Holiday House, 2017), DUMPLING DREAMS (Simon and Schuster 2017), VICTRICIA MALICIA (Flashlight Press) and the forthcoming THOMAS JEFFERSON & THE MAMMOTH HUNT (Simon and Schuster, 2019). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals including Andromeda Spaceways, Havok, Myriad Lands, Spellbound, Penumbra, Muse, Haiku of the Dead and Underneath the Juniper Tree.
You can learn more about Carrie & her work at www.clclickard.com.

Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff


AMOffenwanger said...

What a great story. I especially like the counting off of the wives.

Unknown said...

I love how the wise and great are humbled by those thought lesser.

Debby Zigenis-Lowery said...

This was well told! I loved the folkloric cadence and voice, and the delightful personalities of the players. Even King Hippo was jovial and loved his family. I very much enjoyed your story.