Taem bifoa is pijin for “Once upon a time”.
All good stories start like that.
Taem bifoa, long long ago, six fishermen went out to catch fish.
Kutu the rat, Veke the flying fox, Koba the hermit crab, Meki the dog, Belama the frigate bird and Vangolo the tern paddled out together in their canoe to catch Makazi, the bonito.
Kutu sat at the stern of the canoe. ” I am in the fishing position” he said. “Give me the bamboo pole’. He took the fishing pole and then ordered “Now! Paddle everyone!”
Off they went, speeding over the waves to where the bonito were splashing and leaping, chasing the small fish. They trolled through the schools of fish swirling in the water around them.
Suddenly Kutu cried “I have one!” he whipped the bamboo forward but there was not a fish on it. He had caught the frond of a banana tree.
They threw it back into the sea.
Veke was seated in front of Kutu. “Give me the pole” he said. “You know nothing about catching Makazi”. He took the fishing pole and called out “Paddle everyone!”
After the bonito they went again. Soon Veke called out “I’ve caught one!”
But he had not. He pulled in the stem of a banana tree.
They threw it back into the sea.
“I shall try” said Koba, and he did. Soon he too called out that he had a catch, but once again it was not Makazi on his pole. This time he pulled in a bunch of bananas. “Well it is not fish” said Koba, “but it is food. We are a little bit lucky”. He shared the bananas around, and everyone ate.
When they had finished eating, Meki said that he would try next, and he would surely be the one to catch Makazi. They set off again after the fish. In a short while Meki cried out that he had a fish, but when they looked they all saw he had only banana skins on his hook.
“You don’t know how to fish!” said Vangolo. “Let me show you”. Again they paddled after Makazi. But Vangolo caught only a tiny fish. The kind that Makazi likes to eat.
Belama said.”It is my turn now. Let me try.” He took the bamboo. “Now, paddle fast through the school as they leap and chase the small fish”. Once more they paddled hard and in a very short time Belama called out as he pulled in a very large bonito.
Everyone was very happy. They called out in wonder at the size of the fish Belama had caught.
Koba was so excited he farted. He blew off so strongly that he made a hole in the canoe. It filled with water and sank. The bonito swam free. Koba could not swim. He sank to the bottom of the sea. Slowly, he walked home along the floor of the lagoon.
Belama, Vangolo and Veke flew away towards the land.
As the canoe foundered, Meki began to swim for shore. Kutu leapt upon his back, then climbed into his ear. So Kutu had a free ride home and didn’t even get wet.
Meki was in a very bad mood indeed by the time he came to shore. He shook himself bad temperedly. Kutu then seemed to suddenly appear before him, and Meki saw that Kutu was dry.
“How did you stay dry?” he asked.
“I rode in your ear!” said Kutu.
“How?” asked Meki.
“In your ear!” said Kutu.
“How?” asked Meki again.
“In your EAR!”
Meki still could not hear what Kutu was saying, but he thought Kutu must have had something to do with the sinking of the canoe. He was very angry. He caught Kutu in his jaw and began to shake him. Kutu jumped free, and ran away.
Meki chased him.
Veke came by about this time, but when he saw how angry Meki was, he flew up into a tree, and would not come out until after dark.
Meanwhile Kutu ran down a hole, belonging to Tupe, the coconut crab. Meke tried to follow Kutu and would not give up his hunt. He dug down deeper and deeper into the earth, but still he could not catch Kutu.
Suddenly a big wind came up out of the hole and blew Meki high into the air. He flew up over the lagoon all the way to the mountain on Nusa Roviana. You can still see him there, turned to stone on the mountainside.
But Kutu is still afraid, and still hides in holes. Veke too, hides in the trees and comes out only at night. Even now, both of them eat only bananas and cannot catch fish.
Koba was so ashamed of what he did that he found an empty sea-shell and put his backside into it. To this day he carries the shell around with him wherever he goes.
Vangolo still cannot catch Makazi, and must content himself with the little fish that Makazi chases.
Only Belama can catch Makazi.
The six are friends no more, though Vangolo and Belama still fish together where Makazi chases the little fishes.
Told to me by my cousin Kisspioh Guenah, from Rendova.