Epo ni mo ru, ko ni yangi ma ba t’emi je.
This was a story of two men.
One, called “Elepo” because of the nature of his merchandise, which was palm oil. The other called “Oniyangi” also because of the nature of his own merchandise, which was sharp sand.
One day a long, long time ago which no one living can actually define, Elepo and Oniyangi set out from opposite directions to dispose off their merchandise.
After travelling many days by foot, which was the only means of transportation in those days, they met at a narrow path, which iya agba called “ese-k’o-gb’eji”.
It was such a narrow path that only one person could go through at a time. Elepo insisted on the right of way. Oniyangi would have none of it.
Both argued until other travellers met them there and a long queue soon formed behind both men.
Still, neither Elepo nor Oniyangi would bulge.
According to my grandmother, both had a stubborn streak in them simply because when they were born, the first water used to bathe them was taken from the same river.
According to the customs then, newborn babies were also given the same water to drink. The name of the water is called “kain-kain”.
Having failed to pacify both men, some wise travellers suggested a way out – that both men should slug it out; whoever won the contest should have the right of way.
The suggestion sat pretty with both men.
Quickly, each man set down his merchandise by the roadside and they squared up one to the other.
The battle was ferocious and long; in the end, Elepo had the better of Oniyangi, lifted him off his feet and landed him on the floor.
The crowd roared!
But as Oniyangi hit the floor, one of his outstretched legs caught Elepo’s merchandise and tilted it. Immediately, the content, which was palm oil, gushed out on the bush path.
Furious, Elepo reached out for the merchandise of Oniyangi and flung it upside down on the road and its contents, which were sharp sand, poured out on the roadside.
Oniyangi got up from the floor, dusted himself up, ignored the jeers of the crowd who had started hailing Elepo for winning the bragging rights, as football fans call it these days, and began to pack his merchandise (sharp sand) into its container.
Having done that, he respected the agreement by stepping out of the narrow path for Elepo to have his right of way.
But Elepo stood transfixed on a spot.
His own merchandise had been irretrievably wasted and could not be salvaged as Oniyangi had salvaged his.
Were Elepo to keep throwing out Oniyangi’s merchandise, all Oniyangi would lose was the trouble he would take packing his sharp sand back into the container.
Elepo won the contest, but his victory was pyrrhic. Whereas he won the right of way, he had no more trips to make since his wares had been wasted.
This was the origin of the Yoruba song, “Oniyangi ma ba t’emi je, epo ni mo ru” which warns anyone carrying palm oil to beware of the man carrying sharp sand.
In other words, if you are in a very delicate position, beware of someone who has little or nothing to lose.