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Myths Of Origins And The Deluge Of Micronesia

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

DETAILED myths of creation or origin are largely lacking from the Micronesian area, and the fragmentary cosmogonic material varies widely. The belief that this world and the sky-world have always existed, together with an apparent lack of interest in their origin, seems characteristic of the Pelew Group' and the western Carolines; although in the latter islands, at least, the original earth is modified and made habitable. According to this account, Ligobund, a female deity, descended from the upper realm to the earth, but finding this a desert and infertile, she caused plants and fruit-trees to grow, accomplishing it by the power of her mere command. From the central Carolines the material is not much fuller. Here there was in the beginning a deity, Lukelang, who first created the heavens and then the earth; but since the latter was bare and desert, he took trees and plants from heaven and set them in the world which he had made. In the Gilbert Group 4 we are told only that Nareau and his daughter, Kobine, made heaven and earth.

The conception of an original sea, on which a deity floated in the beginning, seems characteristic of the Marshall Group or at least of that portion of it which is comprised in the Ralick Chain. At the very first there was only the sea, which was limited to the south by a low, far-reaching reef and to the north by a swamp. A being named Loa said to the sea, "Behold thy island reef," and a reef appeared; and again he spoke, "See thy sand," and the reef was covered with soil. Once more he said, "See thy plants," and the earth was covered with living things; and when for the fourth time he spoke, "See thy birds," birds appeared. Then one of them, a gull, flew up and stretched out the arching sky as a spider spins her web. That this idea of an original sea was not foreign to the Carolines seems to be shown by a myth reported from Yap, according to which in the beginning a great tree grew upside down, its roots being in the sky, and its branches touching the sea. In the boughs of this tree was born a woman to whom Yelafaz, a sky-deity, gave sand which she strewed upon the sea and thus formed the earth. Although the tale includes a jumble of ideas derived from missionary contact, these features of the tree and of the strewing of the sand upon the primeval sea are probably aboriginal, for the former is known also in Borneo, and the latter occurs widely through-out Indonesia.

The fullest and most interesting creation-myth comes from the little island of Nauru (Pleasant Island), which lies almost exactly on the Equator, just west of the Gilbert Group. Ac-cording to this tale, in the beginning there were only the sea and Areop-Enap, "Ancient Spider," who floated above in endless space. One day Ancient Spider found a great rounded object, a tridacna mussel, and taking it in his hands, he looked at it from all sides, for he wanted to know if there was not an opening in it, so that he might crawl within; but there was none. Thereupon he struck the great shell, and as it sounded hollow, he concluded that there was nothing in it after all. He tried in vain to open his treasure, and at last, repeating a charm and making another attempt, he succeeded in prying the mighty valves slightly apart. At once he crept inside, but could see nothing for it was dark there because sun and moon were not yet made; moreover, he could not stand upright, since the space within the shell was too small. Ancient Spider sought everywhere on the chance that he might find something, and at last discovered a snail. Putting this under his arm, he lay down and slept for three days that he might give power to the snail; then he laid it aside and sought again, his search being rewarded by another larger snail, which he treated like the first. After this, taking the smaller one, he said to it, "Can you lift the roof a little, so that we might sit up?" The snail replied, "Yes," and raised the shell slightly; whereupon Ancient Spider took the snail, set it before the western half of the tridacna shell, and made it into the moon. There was now a little light, and by it Ancient Spider saw a large worm or grub, who, when asked if he could raise the roof still higher, suddenly came to life and said, "Yes." So he laboured, and the upper shell of the tridacna slowly rose higher and higher, while salty sweat ran from the worm's body, and collecting in the lower shell, became the sea. At last he raised the upper shell very high, and it became the sky; but Rigi, the worm, exhausted by his great work, fell and died. From the other snail Ancient Spider now made the sun and set it on the east side of the lower shell, which became the earth.

Another version, admittedly less original, presents interesting similarities to Polynesian and Indonesian tales. According to this, the great primeval divinity was Tabuerik, the deity of lightning and thunder, who, in the form of an omnipotent bird, soared in the beginning over chaos, for the heavens still lay prone upon the earth and seal Then Rigi, a butterfly, flew over land and water and separated them, and other deities thrust the skies up to their proper place. A further possible element of Polynesian type is the fact that in the larger group the first beings were two worms, one of whom (a female) was named Lajnan ("Cliff " or "Rock")."

The myths relating to the origin of man are as varied as those just considered. Several tales accord a divine origin to mankind. In the western Carolines 16 it is said that Ligobund descended from the sky to the earth, and after making this habitable, gave birth to three children who became the ancestors of mankind. Somewhat more detailed accounts come from the central portion of the group. After Luk had created the earth and planted it, he sent down his daughter, Ligoapup, who, becoming thirsty, drank some water which had collected in the hollow of a tree. Without knowing it, with the water she swallowed a tiny animal, and made fruitful by this, she bore a girl-child. She, when she had reached maturity, became the mother of a daughter, who in her turn gave birth to a boy; and from a rib taken from this boy, after he had grown, a man was derived, who married Ligoapup and became the ancestor of the human race. The incident of the rib is probably an element derived from missionary teaching and well illustrates how such exotic features may be incorporated into native tales; but it becomes especially interesting when taken in connexion with some of the other myths which, though wholly native, ascribe somewhat similar origins to man or deities.

Thus, in the neighbouring island of Mortlok it is said 18 that Ligoapup, after drinking the water from the hollow in the tree, bore a girl-child, and that then from her arm was born a boy, and from one eye another boy, from the other eye a second girl. From these the human race is descended. With this we may compare the origin ascribed to several living beings in the western Carolines, the Marshall Group, and Nauru, these being born or bursting forth from blood-blisters or boils on the bodies of one of the deities.

In Indonesia 23 the belief in the origin or birth of certain of the deities from a rock was well developed in some instances; and it is interesting (and perhaps significant) to find the same concept in the Micronesian area as well, where, in the Gilbert Group, it is said that in the beginning Na Rena or Rigi came out of a rock. It is likewise to be noted that in the Marshall Group we find the theme of Blood-Clot Child again, an origin from a clot of blood being given in the Ralick Chain for two of the deities.

A divine source for the human race is, however, not the only belief which is held, for it is widely asserted that the first ancestors of mankind were made. In the Pelew Group we merely find the statement that the two original deities created the first human beings, the male god making the first man and the female divinity shaping the first woman. In the Gilbert Group, at the other extremity of Micronesia, Nareua was said to have set fire to a tree, and mankind originated from the sparks and ashes, which were carried in all directions. In Nauru 28 Ancient Spider turned stones into men; but these became the supporters of the heavens and were not ordinary human beings. Indeed, no clear statement of the source of mankind appears to be given in this group; some of the deities, even, have no origin ascribed to them. Thus, Ancient Spider set out, after the world was created, to see if there were any other beings beside himself, and he came to a land where he found men and women sitting on the shore in the shade of the trees. Since he could not discern their faces clearly and wanted to know their names, he made, from the dirt under his finger-nail, a being, gave it wings, and told it to fly to the people and find out what they were called. So the bird-like being flew and settled upon the nose of one of the people. Another, seeing this, called out, "Tabuerik! kill it." Thereupon the bird flew to the others, and each time he thus learned the person's name, until he had got them all. Then he returned to Ancient Spider and told him the names.

Throughout Micronesia mankind is believed to have been originally immortal, or intended to be so, and to have become mortal as a result of special causes. Thus in the Pelew Group 29 Obagat wished that men should not die, and for this reason desired to place a stone in their breasts that they might be as lasting and as strong as the stone and not require food; but the Rail was opposed to this view and advised that only breath be put in man's bosom so that he might be subject to disease and death. Obagat, however, unwilling to despair, sent his son to get the water of life to assure immortality to man; but when the liquid was brought in a taro leaf, the malicious bird caused a branch of a tree to strike and tear it so that the precious fluid was spilled upon the tree, which thus acquired long life and immortality, while man remained mortal.

In the central Carolines mortality was decreed for man by Olofat. Luk, the highest deity, asked, "How shall it be with men? Shall they fall ill and die, and then live again?" But Olofat answered, "When men die, they shall remain dead." In the western Carolines a different tale is told. In the be-ginning a woman named Mili'ar had two children, and when she grew old, she said to them, "After I am dead, you must bury me; but on the seventh day come and dig up my body. Thus I shall be alive once more, and beautiful and young again." Soon afterward, the old woman died as she had fore-told and was duly buried; but when the son and daughter came away from the grave together, they saw a fine pandanus-tree and stopped to eat its fruit. Here they lingered for several days enjoying themselves, and only too late did they awake to the fact that the seven days had passed and that they had not fulfilled their promise. They hurried to their mother's grave, but found that she had died a second time, and thus, because of their delay and forgetfulness, all men thereafter were mortal. Although the story embodies one or two details suggestive of missionary teaching, it is clearly aboriginal in origin. Another version 32 from this same region states that in the beginning man did not die for ever, but like the moon, rose again. Each month, when the moon waned and disappeared, men fell into a short sleep; and when it reappeared, they awoke; but an evil spirit did not approve of this and so arranged that death was permanent.

Of the origin of the sun and moon several contrasted beliefs are held. In the Pelews the two original deities were said to have shaped them from stone with an adze and then to have cast them up into the sky; whereas in the Gilbert Group the sun and moon, together with the sea, were the offspring of the first two beings created by Na Reau. After he had formed the first pair, Na Reau departed, saying, "I leave you here so that you may watch over this land, which is mine. See to it that you do not increase, for I will not agree to have any children here. If you disobey my commands, I shall punish you." De-Babou and De-Ai, however, did not heed the words of their creator, and De-Ai bore three children, the sun, the moon, and the sea. Informed by the eel, his messenger, that his commands had been disobeyed, Na Reau took his great club and came to the island where he had left De-Babou and De-Ai; but in terror they fell down before him, begging him not to kill them, for, said they, "We find that our children are a great aid to us, since the sun makes it light, so that we can see; and when it goes to rest, the moon takes its place; and our third child, the sea, abounds with fish and supplies us with food." When Na Reau had heard their plea, he saw that it was just, and forbearing to execute his intention, he went away.

The source of fire is variously explained. In the Pelew Group, Obagat, who is here a friendly deity, seeing an old woman suffering from sores about her mouth, due to eating raw fish and taro, took pity on mankind and taught them how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together. In the central Carolines 36 Olofat was the owner or lord of fire, which he sent down to earth by the aid of a bird, who took the flame in its beak, and flying from tree to tree, put the seed of fire into them in order that men might extract it by rubbing sticks together.

In Nauru two tales relating to fire are told. According to one of them, the retreating tide once left two fishes imprisoned in a tiny pool, but this soon evaporated, and the fishes perished. From the maggots engendered in the rotting fish were derived two women, one of whom wished, one evening, to go fishing, but had no fire with which to light her torch. She sought everywhere, but being unable to find any, she took two sticks and rubbed them together; and after a while her finger came in contact with the groove which she had made by rubbing and was burned. Looking into the groove, she saw fire and sang,

"Fire, Fire, whence do you come?
Fire, Fire, do you come from the nails of my finger?
Fire, Fire, do you come from the nails of my toes ?
Fire, Fire, be warm, become hot, make the sparks glow,
Very hot, frightfully hot, terribly hot;
It is called e-kainir."

Then the flame blazed up, and she was able to light her torch; and thus the Nauru people first got their fire. The other tale is not so much of the origin of the fire, but it presents features of interest for comparison. According to this, Areop-It-Eonin ("Young Spider") was born miraculously from a boil upon Dabage, the tortoise; and when he had grown up to be a boy, he determined to visit the heaven-land. He climbed up through all the heavens until he came to the last, where were only Lightning and Thunder and Ancient Spider, the latter of whom called to Young Spider and asked, "Whence do you come?" The boy replied, "O! no, I do not come from a distant country, but from below;" whereupon Ancient Spider said, "How can you ascend hither, if your home is in your distant land?" The boy answered, "I was running about and saw this country, and I saw you and came hither." "Very well," said Ancient Spider, "you may stay here, and we will live in my house;" but Ancient Spider laughed, for he knew how clever Areop-It-Eonin was and what was his origin, so he said, "Go, and get some fire from the house of Lightning, so that we may cook our fish." Young Spider started off, and as he went, the old man said to him, "You must not wave the brand about, else you will wake up the old woman's husband, Thunder, and then he will strike you." Young Spider, however, laughed scornfully at this warning, and coming to the house of Lightning, he said to her, "Give me a fire-brand." She got one for him, and shaking her head, said, "You must not clap your hands in impatience, for my husband will wake and beat me, and I shall flash out at you;" but the boy cried out loudly, "Give me a fire-brand." Accordingly she gave it to him, and as he went away, he whirled it round and round; and then Thunder woke up, for the fire flamed brightly, and he ran after the youth to strike him; but the latter turned about and broke one of Thunder's arms, so that he fell weeping to the ground. The similarity of this to the Polynesian tales of Maui's bringing of fire is most significant.

Flood-myths have thus far been reported only from western Micronesia from the Pelews and the western Carolines. In the latter, it forms the conclusion to a long tale. A man and his wife, who was of supernatural origin, had endeavoured in vain to satisfy the hunger of her father, whose name was Insatiable, and who also was of heavenly origin, but had grown so huge that he filled the whole council-house and had eaten all the coco-nuts on the island. One day the husband, Kitimil, went out to look at his sugar-cane field, and seeing that a mouse had been eating in it, he came home and told his wife, Magigi, about it. Thereupon she said, "My father must be hungry; therefore he comes to eat the sugar-cane"; and though her husband replied that this was impossible, Magigi insisted, asserting that her father had the power to turn himself into a mouse. Kitimil, still incredulous, set a trap in the field that evening, and on hearing it spring during the night, shouted for glee. When his wife asked why he rejoiced, he said that at last he had found the mouse which had been eating his crop, but Magigi was terrified and exclaimed, "Alas! it is certain that you have caught and killed my father. Go, and bring him here." Accordingly Kitimil went and brought the body of the mouse, but when he looked in the council-house where his father-in-law used to be, only to find it empty, he finally knew that his wife had been right. Thereupon Magigi said to him, "In the morning I will decide what we had better do"; and when the day dawned, she told Kitimil to take four of the mouse's teeth and his blood, and then to bury the body.

After Kitimil had done this, Magigi said to him, "Now a great storm will come, and the sea will rise in flood, and all the people of Yap will be drowned. We must, therefore, climb the highest mountain, and build on its top a pile-dwelling of seven storeys." So they took some leaves and oil and the teeth and the blood of the dead mouse and went to the top of a very high mountain, where they built a pile-dwelling, seven storeys in height; and on the seventh day a great storm of rain and wind came, and the sea rose and covered all Yap. When the water reached the top of the mountain, Kitimil and his wife climbed into the lower storey of their house; and as the waters continued to rise, they went up higher and higher until they reached the topmost storey. Since, however, the deluge still rose, Magigi took some oil, and putting it on a leaf, laid it on the water; whereupon the flood at once began to abate, and the storm ceased. Finally the land was dry again, and they came down out of the house, saying, "There is no one else left alive in Yap." Yet one other man had survived by- lashing himself to an outrigger of a canoe and anchoring it to a great stone; and after they had found this man, Magigi and Kitimil returned to their home, where Magigi bore seven children, who scattered over all the land.

The Pelew version 47 is much more simple. Here the flood was caused in revenge by the friends of a minor deity who had been killed. Only to one old woman did they reveal their plans, advising her to take refuge on a raft; but though she did this, the rope with which she anchored it was too short, and so, as the waters rose, they covered the raft, and she was drowned. Her body drifted far away, but her hair caught in the branches of a tree, and there she was turned to stone and may be seen to this day.

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