Six Fishermen

Taem bifoa is pijin for “Once upon a time”.  

All good stories start like that.  

Frigate

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.

hermit

Told to me by my cousin Kisspioh Guenah, from Rendova.
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Palio and Barubaru

A story from Choiseul.

Palio the sprat* and Barubaru the mudskipper were sharing a pool. They were cut off from the lagoon after the tide had fallen.  Barubaru began to skip and play around the pool, rolling over, splashing and making waves.  This annoyed Palio, who wanted to rest.

As Barubaru played, Palio became more and more cross, and finally ordered Barubaru to settle down and stay quiet, because Palio just wanted some peace and quiet and a rest until the tide came back.

But Barubaru would not stop playing.

Palio became angrier and angrier, working himself up into a frenzy until he broke into a tirade of very unkind abuse, shouting hurtful things louder and louder at Barubaru, and rudely ordering him again to be still.

This is why he has such a big mouth for such a small fish.

Barubaru, who is really a very happy and cheerful, friendly little fish, was greatly upset by the angry shouting from Palio, becoming more and more upset as the abuse continued, until finally he burst into tears.  He cried so hard that his eyes stuck out on the top of his head.

And there they remain until today.

a-mudskipper141

* kotukotu in Roviana

This tale was told to me by Jackson Qalo, September 1985.
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The Crying Baby

Another tale from Simbo.

It was time to harvest the yam. A time when all the women in the village  must join in and work, even the young mothers with newborn babies.  

One young mother lay her tiny baby in the shade of a large tree, and joined the others in the garden. She worked hard, digging up yams  and putting them into baskets woven from coconut fronds.  

After a while her baby grew hungry, and began to cry.  The child’s mother heard the crying, and called out” Wait my child, I shall finish this row and then I shall come to feed you!” 

She carried on digging up the row, and filling her basket with luzu. The baby wailed on.  At the end of the row, the young woman thought to herself, ” I shall work back down the next row until I am near the child, and then I shall feed him”.  To the baby she called out “Wait tuqu, soon I shall come and feed you”.  She continued digging and harvesting, the child continued crying. 

As she passed close to where the baby lay, once more she called out to him to wait just a little more, until she had finished the row she was digging.  She carried on harvesting, and the child continued to wail.  

As she reached the end of the row,  a small bird alighted on her shoulder.  

“Mother’, he said. “I cried and cried for you, but you would not come!”

“I am sorry I did not come to you” said the young mother.  ” Here is my breast!”

“I will not take your breast” said her baby.  ” I am a bird, now.  I shall live in the forest”. 

The woman wept for her baby and reached out to hold him, but he flew away into the forest and began to cry once more.  

As you walk through the forest you may hear him still, crying for his mother’s breast. But you shall not see him.  Always, he hides from sight.  

His name is Kokunu. 

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Cúchulainn & Mórrígan

 

Nine hazel trees grew around the Well of Segais, where the sacred Salmon lived. The hazelnuts were wisdom, and the salmon ate them all as they fell into the pool.

All except one.

I took it.  But that is another story.

It was here long ago, that Fand Fea of the Faery first offered Cúchulainn her love.  He knew her then, and loved her.   But she was a shapeshifter, immortal and busy.  He was a hero.  Their love was intense, but brief, for both were called upon to fulfill their destinies.  Their paths seldom crossed for many months,  and she was always changing.  Nonetheless, she believed that having known her, this hero who had loved her should know her always.

She did not mind that he had other lovers, other wives.  Why should she? She was the Mórrígan.

Yet when she came to him again, in one of her many guises, he knew her not.  She was distressed and angry.  She believed he should have recognised her.  She shifted thrice and each time attacked him while he was in combat with Lóch mac Mofemis.

Three times he wounded her, breaking her arm (some say her ribs), then her leg and finally putting out an eye.  Three times he drove her back until at last she retreated.  Cúchulainn continued the battle with Lóch, and defeated him.

He went on his way, until he encountered an old woman milking a cow.  She was crippled, with a broken arm, a twisted leg and one eye.  She offered him milk which he accepted gratefully.  He drank three cups and with each he thanked her again with his blessing.  Yet even now he did not recognise her as her wounds healed with each blessing.  Despite this she was, for a time at least, appeased.

And so he went forth to do the deeds for which he became famous.

Three times more would he meet her.

She it was, the wise crone Cailleach, who offered him dog stew.  Though he was forbidden by his geis  to eat dog, he also could not deny the hospitality of a woman and thus doomed himself.

Had he recognised her how might it have been different?

Nor did he realise it was she, the Washer at the ford, who wept and mourned his coming death as he rode to combat against Lugaid.

Lastly, even as he was dying, it is said he did not know her.  She it was, the battle-crow Badb, who landed on his shoulder just in time to distract him while the third spear of Lugaid found his fire, and quelled it.

As he leaned against a standing stone, determined to die on his feet, she yet perched by his cheek, caressing it with her cruel beak and whispering in his ear.

Who knows? Perhaps at this very last he knew her, and maybe then she forgave him.

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Tagimaucia

A story from Fiji
  • Version 1
A young girl was playing when she was supposed to be doing her chores. Her mother kept reminding her of what needed to be done, but the girl ignored her. The mother became so annoyed that she grabbed a bundle of sasas (mid ribs of coconut fronds), which she had been using as a broom, and spanked the girl with them telling her to get out of their bure (house) and never come back.The girl was so upset that she ran away. She ran and ran with tears in her eyes. She could not see where she was going and after a long while she encountered a flowerless vine hanging from a tree and became entangled in it. She could not free herself and lay down and fell asleep crying. Her tears turned from salt water to blood and fell on the vine where they turned into beautiful red flowers.When she awoke she was able to free herself from the vine and ran home. She discovered that her mother had forgotten all about their quarrel and so they lived happily from then on.
  • Version 2:
Once upon a time, a princess was about to be forced by her father to marry her predestined husband.However, she was in love with another man and, in desperation, she fled from the village into the mountains and, completely exhausted, she fell asleep on the banks of the lake. While she was sleeping, she cried and in her dream tears trickled down over her cheeks and turned into beautiful red flowers. … And the red flowers engendered the Tagimaucia plant.
  • These versions are probably bowdlerised versions of the original.  I heard it differently though probably just as changed from the original:
    Version 3:
    (Work in progress)
    (Photo is a low-res copy of an original attributed to  Dr Paddy Ryan)
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Simbo Moon

The people of Simbo, in Solomon Islands, are pekipeki (crazy).

I shall tell you of how once upon a time, they tried to capture the moon.

One night, as the full moon shone overhead, an elder of the village exclaimed what a fine thing it would be if Popu the moon were to stay forever above their village, so that they might always have light in the night, and so that everyone on the neighbouring islands would see how great they were to keep such a treasure.

The villagers agreed that this would be a fine thing indeed and so, with their best and largest  fishing net, they went to the highest part of their little volcanic island and climbed the tallest tree that grew there. It’s name is Kalala, according to one old man, but an old woman told me it was called Ambolo.

Whatever it was called, everyone could see it was so very high that it reached almost to the moon.  All night they tried in vain to throw their net over Popu. They threw the net again and again, but to no avail.  The moon ignored them and their efforts.  It drew slowly away towards its sleeping place.

At last the villagers could see there was no hope of capturing Popu and keeping it forever over their island.

Angry and frustrated, some of the young men threw their spears at the moon.  A few spears, thrown by the strongest of them, grazed Popu as he carried on west, leaving the angry men behind.  Even today, you can see marks on the moon, that are the scars left by the spears of the men of Simbo.   

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Stirling Ranges

 A long, long time ago, two Noongar tribes lived near each other on the Great Southern. They fought over the land for many years, and hundreds from both tribes were killed in battles and skirmishes.  Finally after the biggest battle of all, as the remaining survivors mourned and grieved, an enormous cloud descended and obscured the countryside in a foggy shroud.

When it finally lifted, there where once were rolling plains, between the two tribal grounds lay a giant noongar. He lies on his back, staring up at the heavens.  His profile with its protruding stomach can still be clearly seen by those who care to look from the right viewpoint.  Or so it is said.  I have looked and looked, and I cannot see him. 

Maybe next time, from another direction.    

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