TORTOISE and Pigeon were often seen walking together, but unfortunately Tortoise treated his friend rather badly, and often played tricks on him. Pigeon never complained, and put up with everything in a good-humoured way. Once Tortoise came to him and said:
I am going on a journey to-day to visit my cousins; will you come with me?
Pigeon agreed to accompany him, and they set off. When they had go ne some distance they came to a river, and Pigeon was forced to take Tortoise upon his back and fly across with him.
Soon afterwards they reached the house of Tortoises cousins. Tortoise left his friend standing at the door while he went inside and greeted his relatives. They had prepared a feast for him, and they all began to eat together.
Will you not ask your friend to eat with us? said the cousins; but Tortoise was so greedy that he did not wish Pigeon to share the feast, and replied:
My friend is a silly fellow, he will not eat in a strangers house, and he is so shy that he refuses to come in.
After some time Tortoise bade farewell to his cousins, saying, Greetings to you on your hospitality, and came out of the house. But Pigeon, who was both tired and hungry, had heard his words and determined to pay him out for once.
When they reached the river-bank, he took Tortoise up once again on his back; when he had flown half-way across, he allowed Tortoise to fall off into the river. But, by chance, instead of falling into the water, he landed on the back of a crocodile which was floating on the surface, and when the crocodile came up to the bank, Tortoise quickly descended and hurried away.
Pigeon saw what had happened, and that Tortoise had safely reached the land; so he flew ahead of him until he came to a field where a dead horse was lying.
To trick Tortoise once more, Pigeon cut off the horses head and stuck it in the ground, as if it grew there like a plant.
When Tortoise reached the field and saw the horses head, he went straight away to the King of the country and told him that he knew of a place where horses heads grew like plants.
If this is true, said the King, I will reward you with a great treasure; but if it is false, you must die.
The King and a large crowd of people accompanied Tortoise to the field, but meanwhile Pigeon had removed the head. Tortoise ran about looking for it, but in vain, and he was condemned to die. A large fire was made, and Tortoise was thrown on to it.
But now Pigeon repented of the trick he had done, and quickly called together all the birds of the air. They came like a wind, beating out the fire with their wings, and so rescued Tortoise.
When Pigeon had explained this trick, the King pardoned Tortoise, and allowed the two friends to depart in safety.
TORTOISE was always fond of making mischief between harmless people. One day as he walked along the river-bank he came upon the Elephant and said to him:
The Hippo is boasting that you are only a weakling, and that you have not strength to pull a log out of the river.
That is false! cried the Elephant, and to prove his strength he allowed Tortoise to tie a strong rope to his trunk and attach the other end to a log in the river.
Tortoise went clown to the water holding the rope, and said to Hippo:
The Elephant is boasting of his strength, and he declares that you are a weakling and could not pull down a tree.
That is false! cried the Hippo. I can pull down any tree.
Tortoise then said that he had attached his rope to a tree, and would fasten the other end to Hippos horn. This he did, and the two animals began to pull, one on each end of the rope. Elephant pulled and pulled, and the Hippo pulled and pulled, and neither gave way.
After some time Hippo rested, and Elephant came down to the water to quench his thirst, and then they saw the trick that had been played on them.
Snorting with anger, they began to look for the mischievous Tortoise, but by this time he was, you may be sure, very far away.
Five ancient concepts are essential to an understanding of Yoruba aesthetics.
(1) Ase means “power” or “authority”. However, the meaning of Ase is extraordinarily complex. Ase is used in a variety of contexts. One of the most important meanings is the “vital power, the energy, the great strength of all things.”11 Ase also refers to a divine energy manifest in the process of creation and procreation. Ase invests all things, exists everywhere, and is a source for all creative activity. Again, Ase often refers to the inner power or “life force.” Ase also refers to the “authority” by which one speaks or acts.
(2) Ori is the “inner spiritual head” in humans or “personal destiny,” not mind or soul as these terms are used in the West. But Ori can mean the enabling power that represents the potential that life contains.
(3) Iwa can mean “character” or “essential nature.” Two classifications of usage of Iwa are generally recognized: the ontological-descriptive and the ethical evaluative. The ontological-descriptive meaning enables one to identify the quantitative existence of a person as revealed by their behaviour, the “lifestyle” or manner in which they exist in the world. The ethical-evaluative meaning represents a qualitative judgment of how good or bad is their iwa.
(4) Ewa is an aesthetic term as well as an expression of iwa, a person’s essential nature. Ewa means “beauty”, referring in some contexts to physical beauty of a person or object, but mostly to the qualities of beauty of a person or object. The term can be used to describe how a work of art captures the essential quality of the subject.
(5) Ona means “art” or it can refer to an artist’s ability to create or design. In Yoruba “art” cannot be defined outside of the context of the processes of creation, the purpose of creation, and the skill of the artist in capturing the first two contextualities in order to produce a physical object that embodies meaning.