Longlong agowomen grew beards. They were not like the beards of men. Women's beards were longerthickerand more beautiful than those of men. The women took great care of their beards. Some became so proud of them that they looked down on menincluding their own brothers and fathers and husbands. One of the proudest was Nkemdiche. She and her three sisters were the daughters of a man named Enyioma. They were admired for their beautybut especially for their beards.
Near their home lived a wealthy and good king named Enyi Mba. His favorite treasure was a gold ring. His daughters were also of good heart. One of them saw one day that the servants were very busyand decided to help them by washing all the plates in the household herself. She picked them all up but did not notice that one of the plates was the plate on which the ring was kept. She took the platesring and alldown to a stream to wash them. She never saw the ring slip off the plate into the stream. The rushing waters carried away the ringand soon a fish swallowed it.
Downstreama boy was fishing. He caught enough fish that day to sell some and bring the rest home to his family. After he roasted a fish for himselfhe cut it open and found the ring. Excitedhe took the ring to town the next day and sold it to Nkemdiche.
The king was known and respected far and wideboy the boy did not know that the ring was the king's. Nkemdiche didbut was too proud and selfish to return it to its rightful owner. Instead she hid the ring inside her longthick beard.
It was not long before the king discovered that his ring was missing. No oneincluding his daughterhad any idea what had happened. The news of the missing ring was announced throughout the kingdom. The little fisher-boy heard of it and realized whose ring had been in the fish. Knowing that the king would not punish him for his ignorancehe ran to the king's servants and told them how he had found the ring andnot knowing whose it washad sold it to a town-woman named Nkemdiche.
The king's servants searched everywhere for Nkemdichebut no one knew where she was. She had hidden herselfhoping to think of a way to keep the ring. Unable to find herthe king's servants suggested that the king offer to marry any woman who could bring back his ring. No one in town had been told why the servants were searching for Nkemdiche. There was confusion everywhere while the women searched every corner of the town.
Soon Nkemdiche came walking proudly into the king's presence. "I know where the ring is" she announced. "I have it." The king asked for his ringand she pulled it from its hiding place in her beard. All the servants realized what she had done. The men-servants were shockedbut the women-servantsever proud of their beardswere amused at how Nkemdiche had fooled the searchers.
The king sent all the womenincluding Nkemdicheout of sight and hearing and took counsel with the menservants. They talked of how much contempt the women were showing them because of their beardsand how Nkemdiche had used hers to steal the ring. At first the enraged king wanted to have Nkemdiche put to deathbut he was wise enough to wait till he had calmed down. With his anger cooledhe gave another order instead.
"Let the beards of all the women be shaved. Let every bit be scraped from their faceseven the faces of my wife and daughters. For these beards are full of evil. We know of a paste that will cause hair not to grow- let it be put on the jaws of all womenso that no girl or woman will ever again grow a beard to trouble men with." This the king declared with a growl upon his throneand it was done. Since thenwomen have not grown beards.