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The Palm-oil Daughter (An African story)

There was once a very rich woman who lived in a country-side near a stream. She had lots of palm oil trees; every week, she and her servant collected the fruits from the trees, crushed out the oil and put them in oil jars. When the market price for palm oil was high, she sold it and made lots of money. But, though she was very wealthy, the woman was not happy because she had no child. In the evenings, while the young men and women danced in the moonlight, the woman sat alone crying, ''Oh! How I wish I had a child!''

One morning, the woman went to the market with her servant to sell a few pots of oil. As soon as they had gone, a strange happened: some palm oil began to flow out of the largest oil jar; the oil went straight up into the air, and turned into a beautiful golden-brown girl.

She sang this song: Palm oil flow, palm oil flow,
Mother needs firewood, who will go?
Who will fetch the water, sweep the floor,
Who'll watch the plates, pound the millet?
Come forth, maidens four, there's work for you all!

As she sang, four other young girls like her gradually came out of four other jars.

''What shall we do now, Manuba?'' they asked eagerly. Manuba sang her song again and the four other oil girls immediately set out to work: they swept and cleaned the floor, watched the dirty cloths and dishes, also they dusted the chairs and pounded the millet. When they had finished, all the four girls including Manuba went back into the oil-jars they came out from.

When the woman and her servant came back home, they were surprised to see all the housework already done. At first, the woman asked her neighbours but they all said they knew nothing about it. The same thing happened the next day and the next. The woman did not know what to do.

After a few days, the woman decided on what to do. She hid outside the door. When she saw the girls and sighted Manuba singing, she quickly ran and held her by the arm. The other girls quickly disappeared. Manuba wanted to escape too, but, after much begging and pleading from the old woman, at last, she decided to stay. But, however, she warned the woman never to allow her go near the fire. The woman gladly agreed to this.

For a few weeks, hey lived happily together. But, the woman was foolish, she did not allow Manuba do any work. Instead, she made her maid do it all. This made the maid to be angry and she wasn't pleased.

Several weeks passed, and the maid grew more and more angry with Manuba. ''Why should I do all the work while she does nothing?' She continuously asked herself. One day, the woman went out to her farm. When she saw that the woman had gone, the maid called Manuba: ''Manuba, come here and blow on the fire, or the meal won't be ready in time for supper.'' ''Oh no!'' exclaimed Manuba. ''If I go near the fire, I shall melt and die.''
''Nonsense! You are just being lazy,'' shouted the maid, not believing her. The servant caught Manuba and dragged her towards the fire. Suddenly, Manuba began to melt, and she melted away before her very eyes. Very frightened, the maid ran away.

In a nearby tree hung a bird who had been watching all these while. It flew down and dipped its tail in the oil on the floor where Manuba had melted, and flew away to find Manuba's mother. Manuba's mother was working on the farm when the bird suddenly flew down and sang this song:

Oil is spreading across the floor,
Manuba's mother, Manuba's mother.
Your lovely daughter is no more,
Manuba's mother, Manuba's mother.
To prove to you that my story is true,
I have dipped in my tail and now show it to you!

At first, the woman refused to believe this, but when she saw the bird's tail, she quickly dropped her things and ran home. But, it was too late. She found only a dark wet, red stain across the floor. She never saw her lovely daughter again !

Contributing Story Teller Ms. NUO Nwando Obianyor is a teacher by Occupation at Kaduna, Nigeria

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