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  Princess and her Suitors by Oliver Mbamara, Esq.
Sometime ago, when men and animals lived together in one community, there was a princess who was too beautiful to be married off to just anyone in the land of Nganga. The princess knew she was very beautiful, so she turned down all the men who came to ask for her hand in marriage. When this continued for some time, the King became concerned. One early morning, he called the royal family together for an early morning meeting. It was the custom that such calls should be made before the sun rises because that was when men are most conducive to reasoning and understanding.

At the royal meeting, the King asked the princess why she had continued to turn down all the men that have come to marry her. The princess then stated that she would like any prospective suitor to come with a life elephant. So that she would ride the elephant at her wedding procession. Other members of the royal family tried to convince the princess to make her choice an easier one. "Elephants are very rare to find, please make your request an easier one for your suitors," they begged. But the princess refused and threatened to run away from home if her wishes were not met.

The King would not have her only daughter run away from home. Besides, if the community were to notice any such trouble in the royal family, the King would loose his crown and the throne. On her part, the Queen tried to convince the princess that it would be beneficial for her to be more interested in the individual she would marry rather than in material wealth such as the ability of a suitor to provide an elephant, but the princess would not hearken to reason. "I don't care who the suitor is or how he looks so long as he comes with an elephant," the princess insisted.

In fact the princess stopped talking to anyone, and refused to eat until her father the king would decree that her wish be carried out. Giving in to her daughter's demand, the King then sent out words to the people in his kingdom. "Henceforth, no suitor should enter the king's palace to ask for the hand of the princess in marriage if such suitor does not bring an elephant with him." Everyone knew this was almost impossible as elephants are rare to find in and around the land of Nganga. Even the King knew of this impossibility, so he consulted the high priest and enlisted his support to appease the forces of the land to bring his daughter a suitor with an elephant.

The high priest assured the King that as the greatest high priest on earth, he could get the princess a suitor with an elephant, but there was only one demand. "The Princess must come before the alter and make her wish so that she alone will be responsible for any consequences, good or bad," the high priest stated. The king then sent for her daughter, the princess, to come and make her wish before the high priest. However, before she repeated her request, the priest warned the princess to be careful about what she wished for because she might as well get it. The princess insisted that she wanted to have a suitor who would bring her an elephant that she would ride on her wedding day. "So shall it be." The high priest said, and then sent the princess on her way.

So it was, that the news spread far and wide that even the tortoise at the village square who always wished he could be able to marry the princess heard about it and thought he could give it a shot. Other animals and even some men who heard about the tortoise's ambition simply laughed at the tortoise and dismissed him as a daydreamer. They concluded that the princess would not have anything to do with the ugly tortoise even if he brought 10 elephants with him to ask for the princess' hand in marriage.

Contrary to the expectations of the public, the tortoise believed in himself and thought that he could pull it through. The tortoise had been a long old friend of the elephant, so he set out to the neighboring village of Enyinegbu to meet with the elephant. It had been sometime since the tortoise and the elephant have seen each other, but the elephant was now happily married with family. The elephant's family gladly welcomed the tortoise, and after the tortoise had given the elephant the items he had brought with him, the elephant then asked the tortoise why the tortoise had brought all the items for him. The tortoise took the elephant aside and told the elephant that what he had to say will be better heard by his ears alone. The tortoise figured that speaking with the elephant alone rather than in the presence of the elephant's wife would make it less difficult to convince the elephant.

When they found a quite and lonely place, the tortoise then told the elephant that the village of Nganga will soon be celebrating their annual coming out ceremony for all young ladies in the community and that it is an occasion the elephant should not miss. The elephant thanked the tortoise for the invitation but told him that he was already married and would not want a new wife, at least for the moment. The tortoise then told the elephant that the upcoming event is unique since the princess would be one of the spinsters, and the king had specifically invited the elephant to chair the occasion. "It was him that sent you all the items I carried with me to visit you." The tortoise added.

The elephant knew that his friend the tortoise was usually full of pranks and tricks. So he asked the tortoise why the king would send only the tortoise to him across the rivers and thick forest that separate the land of Nganga and Enyinegbu. The tortoise replied that the King simply wanted to surprise his people by not letting his people know of the elephant's visit until the day of the event, which was the next day. "Besides," the tortoise added, "the King was not sure if you would accept the invitation. That was why he sent me your good old friend to personally appeal to you."  The tortoise then added that the King had hinted him that he has a ripe young girl for her if he would come.

The elephant considered all he could gain by honoring the invitation and decided to take the offer. He quickly got himself in his best attire and then told his wife that there was an emergency that he had to go and keep with the tortoise. "It might take a day or two but I will be back," the elephant said to his wife and children as he hurried out with the tortoise in the direction of Nganga land. The event was the next day and they must hurry because it would take a day to get from Enyinegbu land to Nganga land.

When they approached the outskirts of Nganga village, the elephant and the tortoise could hear the sound of the drums and the noise of the cheering people of Nganga. They seemed to have made it in time but the tortoise was lagging behind, dragging one step sluggishly after the other. The elephant was very excited and called on the tortoise to hurry up. "You know my legs are not as large as yours and my steps are not as long yours," the tortoise said to the elephant. "You will have to bear with my short steps or you can as well help me by carrying me on your back, so we can make it in time to the occasion," the tortoise concluded. The elephant thought of the tortoise's suggestion and agreed that it made sense. "Why did you not say that a long time ago?" the elephant queried. "We should have been there a long time ago. Come on, here, climb up," the elephant said as he stooped low to let the tortoise mount his back.

The tortoise tried several times to get on the elephants back, but each time he fell short. His legs were too short, and he could not jump onto the elephants back also. The tortoise then suggested that it could be easy for him to get on the elephant's back if he could find a rope to tie on the elephant's neck and then hold on it to get on top. "Just get the rope, tie it and get up there, we are wasting time here," the elephant replied. "I will hate to come all this way and be late," the elephant concluded. The tortoise then quickly found a rope from one of the trees around and tied it to the elephant's neck. He held on to it and easily mounted the elephant's back.

The journey continued and after a while, the tortoise and his big friend, the elephant, arrived at the village square where the 'coming out ceremony' was just about beginning. When the crowd saw the tortoise riding triumphantly into the square on the elephant's back they quickly concluded that the tortoise had brought the elephant to ask for the hand of the princess in marriage. No one had believed a man could easily find the elephant, capture him, and bring him alive into the village just to marry the princess. But the tortoise seemed to have done that and more. He practically rode into the village on the elephant's back.

As the crowd cheered and applauded the feat of the tortoise, the elephant nodded his head in appreciation thinking that the applause was meant for him. Carried away by the applause and praises, the tortoise called out for the king, "your highness, I have brought the elephant." The elephant was not sure of what he heard the tortoise say. "Who did I hear you say that you have brought?" the elephant asked. "Oh no," the tortoise replied. "I was saying - may the earth bless and keep the elephant and it sounded like I said - I have brought the elephant," the tortoise quickly said. "Don't worry, you will be the chairman, and I am behind you, my friend," the tortoise assured the elephant.

When the tortoise and the elephant finally got into the main court of the village square, the King stepped down from his stool to take a closer look and make sure that his eyes were not deceiving him. "Tortoise," called the elephant, "I think we have reached our destination. You can climb down now, the King awaits us." The tortoise then held firmly to the rope he had tied around the elephant's neck and climbed down. With the rope still in his hand, the tortoise bowed to the king and then handed the rope to the king. "Your highness," he said, "here is the elephant I have brought to ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage." Before the elephant would understand what was going on, he had been surrounded and trapped by the King's men.

While holding the rope in his hand, the King looked over at his daughter the princess who was all dressed in the most regal and glamorous attire of the land. She had prepared for a great 'coming out' event, and not to be betrothed to short, poor, ugly tortoise. The King saw it in the princess' face that she was not willing to take the tortoise for a husband regardless of the feat of bringing the elephant with him. He therefore quickly consulted with the high priest who was standing beside him, but the high priest made it clear to the king that the forces of the land have granted the wish of the princess. "She must take it for she asked for it. There is no going back," the high priest concluded.

The people have not been happy that the princess rejected all the fertile and strong men in the land who asked for her hand in marriage, so they cheered and applauded what was unfolding. The arrogant princess will be humbled by a marriage to the tricky, short, and ugly tortoise. There is no going back.