Hornbill, cousin to Eagle the king


Kofi Dorvlo

Ewe/ Akan people story from the Volta region in Ghana
Hornbill – photo Louise Müller

A long time ago, Eagle was the king of the birds and he was highly revered.
It was even believed that a little sign of dissent to his orders would attract summary capital punishment pronounced at a tribunal. This was instituted by a jury chaired by the Eagle with some like-minded lieutenants who administer justice the way it was understood by them to the disgust of most of the birds.

Some of the birds were apprehensive about this situation. They met secretly and hatched  a plan. At one of their nocturnal meetings, one of them proposed that the solution was to work through the cousin of the Eagle, Hornbill and win him to their side.

They contended that because of Hornbill’s stupidity he would easily accept any of their suggestions. The birds then told him that they saw in him a great king after the Eagle in the near future but because of how strong the Eagle was, it would take a long time for him to become king. They proposed to give him poison to put in any liquid that the Eagle will take so that after his death, he will be enthroned as their king.

Hornbill thought about this and was worried. Initially, he was happy of the idea that he would be king of all the birds but the idea that Eagle, the cousin would be dead was something he would not accept especially if he came to the realization that he was going to be the architect of such a heinous plot. He decided to disclose this to the Eagle.

Eagle was shocked when Hornbill told him this. Eagle told him that the conspirators knew that he was not competent to rule after he was dead. There would be chaos and they would take over and perhaps assassinate him in the process. They decided to hatch a plan. He told Hornbill to collect the poison and pretend to administer it to him.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) ― photo Joke Koppius

On the said day, Eagle died suddenly as a result of the supposed poison. Eagle pretended that he was dead and as a result of the poison he was to be buried immediately.
He was laid in state as custom demanded. As the birds’ file pass his body, Eagle attentively listened and heard all that the birds who were the conspirators said about him and the cousin, Hornbill.

The conspirators mocked Hornbill because of his stupidity and that they would be free to do their wish and mismanage the affairs of the state.
When Eagle saw that the conspirators were near as they were filing pass his body, he pounced on them and give them a heavy beating.
As a result, all the sympathizers ran for their dear lives. The conspirators arrested were summarily executed to serve as a lesson to the citizens. Those who were lucky went into self-exile.

Eagle then called Hornbill to his side and talked to him about all that the people especially the conspirators said about both of them when he pretended that he was dead.






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was a Ghanaian former visiting research fellow of the African Studies Centre Leiden (2019). He was awarded his PhD in 2008 at Leiden University for his study on the documentation of the language and culture of the Logba population in Ghana: A grammar of Logba (Ikpana).

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