The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/The Exploits of Tamaro-the-Terrible; a myth from Manihiki

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Almost in the centre of the South Pacific, about 700 miles N. N. W. of Rarotonga, lie the twin atolls of Manihiki and Rakahauga. These islands, twenty-five miles apart, are inhabited by one race descended from a single pair, Toa and Tapairu, natives of Rarotonga.

The following myth was communicated to me by Ioane, a native minister of Manihiki. Ioane derived it from his aged father, one of the recognized repositaries of ancient wisdom, who was past middle age when Christianity was introduced to those atolls in 1849.

Three years and a half ago these atolls were, at the earnest request of the natives, annexed to Great Britain.

The food of these islanders consists merely of fish, cocoanut and a coarse kind of caladium (called by the natives Puraka) grown on Rakahauga. Annual voyages are made by the natives of Manihiki to the sister-island in canoes, for the purpose of obtaining a supply of "puraka"; in these expeditions many lives are lost through sudden storms. The voyage should be accomplished between sunrise and sunset.


In Spiritland (Avaiki) the following wonderful feats were wrought:

Tamaro-the-Terrible[1] had two sons. In that land lived a cruel man, Erekona (young cocoanut) by name. His method of slaying was on this wise; if any one came near his dwelling, he would pleasantly call out, "Come in and get a drink of cocoanut water."[2] The unsuspecting victim enters, and when seated on the mat receives a young nut already husked.[3] Piercing "the monkey's eye," he drinks the refreshing beverage. To exhaust the contents, he necessarily holds the nut aloft and turns his eyes to the thatch.[4] In this unguarded moment the unpitying host snatches his wooden sword, and with one well-aimed blow severs the neck of his guest. In this way at various times many perished by the hand of Erekona.

One morning the sons of Tamaro passed the hut. Erekona, according to his wont, invited them to come in and refresh themselves. The lads accepted the invitation. To each Erekona gave a young cocoanut already husked and pierced for drinking. The sons of Tamaro were equal to the occasion. Being thirsty they gladly took the proffered nuts, but only one drank at a time. Erekona was greatly perplexed, for as soon as he extended his hand to grasp the wooden sword, finding his movements closely watched by the non-drinking lad, he hesitated to strike the fatal blow. And when that lad's turn came to drink, Erekona again felt about for his weapon. This did not escape the notice of the lad whose thirst had already been assuaged. Whispering to his brother, "Let us run!" they rushed through the doorway, but distinctly heard the muttering of Erekona, "Ha! you have narrowly escaped the oven and the cooking-leaves!"

The boys now went in search of their father to tell him what had happened. The father said to his sons, "Let us pay him a visit as if nothing had occurred." On seeing them, Erekona, as usual, invited them to enter, and gave to each a young cocoanut to drink. Tamaro drank first, taking about half the contents, and then gave the remainder to his host[5] who of necessity turned up his mouth to exhaust "the milk." At this Tamaro, unperceived by his host, grasped the wooden sword and smote his head clean off. The headless body kept writhing awhile, and the severed head kept calling pitifully out:

O! Tamaro purokua! Alas! Tamaro, how cruel you are!
O! Tamaro purokua! etc., etc. Alas! Tamaro, how cruel you are! etc.

At sunset the voice ceased.


Ocean fishing was the great delight of Tamaro and his sons.[6] One day they tried for bonito. This fish is caught by a mother-o'-pearl hook with pendants of knotted string. The glitter of the pearl attracts the bonito, whilst the knotted pendants seem to be the waving beard of the victim.

On this occasion hook after hook fouled and the line was severed by the sharp coral. Only one hook remained—the most precious of them all. With some misgiving Tamaro tied this highly-prized hook to the end of the line and again angled for bonito. But alas! this much-prized hook too was carried away. Tamaro immediately dived to the bottom for his lost hook,[7] when to his astonishment he saw a dwelling there. It was a beautiful house, but its peculiarity was this—one gable was ocean, the other land. Only one man dwelt therein, Toroa-of-the-big-head. A solitary cocoanut palm grew close by. On that palm shot out one spathe only. And there was but one nut inside that spathe. If the Fish-god wished for a drink of cocoanut water, he would call out, "Let there be a young cocoanut!" and at once a young cocoanut appeared on the palm. Forthwith he plucked the fruit, husked it, and took out the nut. Then carefully closing up the green husk, he hurled it back into its place in the spathe, and the fruit was restored on the palm as before.

If the Fish-god desired a half-grown nut, he merely shouted, "Let there be a half-grown cocoanut!" and lo! a half -grown nut was there. When he had plucked the fruit, husked it, and taken out the nut, he put together the green husk and hurled it back into its place in the spathe, and the fruit was restored as before. Toroa-of-the-big-head acted in exactly the same way when he wished for a fully-grown nut, or one with delicious soft pith in the cavity usually filled with "milk."

The greeting of the Fish-god to Tamaro was after this fashion: "Come, see my wives." The visitor asked, "Where are they?" "Not far away," was the response. At this Tamaro entered the beautiful dwelling to inspect the interior. The sides of it were entirely covered with fish-hooks of all kinds and sizes, that had at different times been carried away by struggling fish. Amongst them he espied the hooks he had lost in that day's fishing; hooks lost in the fishing of the day previous; also the hooks lost during preceding days, months and years. Tamaro said, "Let me take away my fish hooks." The Fish-god replied, "Make a selection and take them only." Tamaro accordingly picked out all the best to carry back with him.

The mortal visitor now inquired of Toroa-of-the-big-head, "But who are your wives?" "Fish," was the reply. "What sorts of fish?" asked Tamaro-the-Terrible. "The Albacore, the Jew-fish, the King-fish," etc., etc. Tamaro now asked permission to carry one away. The Fish-god said, "Yes, if you can pluck out its eyes; my fish are not to be just caught by the hand."

By this time the sun had set and the sons of Tamaro had gone home (without their father). It was about this time, too, that Tamaro was astonished to see all kinds of fish enter the Fish-god's dwelling to sleep. When it was quite dark the larger sorts arrived and came to the side of Toroa-of-the-big-head to rest; some on his body, and others on his arms. And so the night was passed in sleep. At the first glimmer of morning light all the small fish, of many kinds, went on their travels. When the sun rose and it was daylight, the larger fish, of many kinds, went on their travels. But the largest fish of all waited on until the sun was high in the heavens ere they sallied forth.

By that time Tamaro was ready to depart. Round his waist was wound many times a fine sennit cord, from which the precious hooks were suspended. He now gripped one of the largest fish, plucking out both its eyes with his fingers. The great fish in agony raised its head, and putting forth all its strength, in a short time rose to the surface, carrying with it Tamaro, who held firmly on by the eye-sockets.

Close by where man and the blind fish rose, was the canoe with the boys in it; for the lads had come back in search of their father. Father and sons now slew the immense fish and drew it to the canoe. But when the tail was put on board, the frail craft was ready to sink. So they had to be content to paddle to shore, dragging the huge fish througn the sea secured by a rope. All feasted grandly that day, and Tamaro was the first to give to his countrymen the strange news that at the bottom of the ocean is the capacious and beautiful dwelling of the Fish-god, whose name is Toroa-of-the-bighead.


Now the sea was infested by a fearful monster—an immense white shark. It was the terror of the land; for if any one went fishing the probability was that he would be devoured.[8] Bathers were picked off by it. Dry cocoanut fronds falling into the lagoon were swallowed by it. Even drift-wood came not amiss.

The brave Tamaro determined to put an end to this state of things. Suspending from his neck a large shark's tooth—the keenest of weapons—he went to the farther edge of the lagoon, swam to a flat block of coral, on which he stationed himself and awaited the arrival of his foe. Nor had he long to wait. On came the immense white shark, and when quite close turned itself on its back and opened its vast Jaws, armed with several rows of movable teeth. Tamaro now leaped down the throat of the enemy. (Some assert that he changed his form into that of an octopus, in order to escape being bitten.)

As soon as Tamaro found himself inside the belly of the monster, he took firm hold of the shark's tooth with which he had provided himself and slashed the intestines of the foe. The helpless shark writhed in agony, and repeatedly leaped out of the sea, in the vain hope of getting relief. The inhabitants of that land crowded to the sandy beach to watch the strange behavior of the dreaded enemy. In a short time the shark died, and lo! Tamaro stood upon the shelving coral none the worse for his adventure and shouted in triumph, "The foe is no more!" From thenceforth mankind fished and bathed in peace.


A woman kept a pet eel in a crevice of the reef, secured by strong sennit cord. She fed it regularly; in the early morning, at mid-day, and in the evening. But one morning she had to go a distance and forgot to look after her pet. She got back in the afternoon and at once took up her basket of food to feed the eel. On arriving at the place where the eel was kept captive, to her astonishment the angry pet refused to eat, severed the sennit cord with its sharp teeth and sought to devour the woman. In its rage it came ashore and swallowed stones and sticks.

The poor woman now knew that it was a demon in the form of an eel that she had nurtured. In her terror she ran to Tamaro for help. As soon as she had told her story, Tamaro set fire to a heap of dry leaves and sticks close by. On the top of this heap he threw some blocks of coral. By the time the stones were thoroughly heated the demon eel had arrived in search of the woman. Tamaro instantly threw the hot stones to the foe, who swallowed them without hesitation. In a little while its belly burst, and so the woman was saved.


A robber crab lived in a dense forest of Pandanus trees. So closely did these trees grow that no one could thread his way through. Intense darkness brooded over this fearsome place. The robber crab was of vast dimensions and was in reality a demon. Many a solitary traveller had this demon robber crab devoured.

At the edge of the forest there was a fountain of pure water, to which at dawn of day folks were wont to come, in order to fill their calabashes.[9] The demon crab, when hungry, adopted the following plan to secure its prey. When the water-carriers had filled their calabashes and were resting, it would get near the selected victim and softly say, "Sleep! sleep!" Such was its power that the doomed one would be at once overcome by drowsiness. The party would, after a time, one by one rise up and return to their respective homes, leaving the sleeper behind. When quite alone the demon robber crab would crawl to the head of the sleeper, pluck out the eyes, then drag the victim into the dark recesses of the Pandanus forest, and there eagerly devour the body.

One morning the children of Tamaro went to the fountain to fill their household calabashes. They were alone. The demon-crab uttered the charm and speedily put them into an enchanted sleep. The elder lad slept very soundly; the younger one but lightly. In a short time the younger lad was roused by the peculiar noise made by the crawling of the great crab over the sere Pandanus leaves. Guessing the deadly purpose of the crab he instantly shook his eldest brother and told him his fears. Then both ran for dear life.

And so the lads escaped and told their father their adventure. Tamaro now made three immense torches of dry cocoanut fronds—one for himself and one for each of his sons. The torches were then lighted and the attacking party soon made their way to three different points at the edge of the Pandanus forest. Tamaro first set on fire his side of the forest.[10] The demon-crab not liking the heat, soon made for the opposite side. But by the time it had arrived there, one of the lads had set that part in a fierce blaze. The demon-crab, in despair, then made for another part; but the other son of Tamaro had set that, too, burning. In fact the entire forest was on fire; so that escape was out of the question. Thus perished the demon robber crab.

When the fire had burned out, a careful inspection of the burned forest was made. In the centre was an open space, strewn with the skulls and bones of the victims of the demon crab.

Such were the exploits of Tamaro-the-Terrible.

  1. Ta-maro (Manihiki)-Te-maro (Rarotonga) i. e. The Girdle. The full name is Tamarohae (Manihki)-Temaro-taae (rarotonga). Hae (M) Taae (R), means savage or terrible. I do not think that any stress should be laid upon the signification of the first part of the hero's name (Tamaro). It is extremely common.
  2. In the Eastern Pacifies it is the correct thing for the owner of a dwelling to go outside and stand bareheaded shouting to the expected visitor to turn aside from the public path and enter the hut. The words used on such occasions at Mangaia are, Oi, na ko nee maira (Ho! come this way!)! Amongst common people it is enough for the owner of the hut without altering his squatting posture, to throw his head back by way of salutation and then utter the words of invitation. Another courteous salutation is, Come! come (Aere mail Acre mail)!
  3. This is still customary. Nothing is more refreshing to the traveller on a hot day in the tropics. Those who have only tasted the so-called 'milk' of an old cocoanut can form no idea of the refreshing qualities of a young cocoanut.
  4. Of course native dwellings are never ceiled. So if you ask a sick native how he passes the time the reply is sure to be "counting the rows of thatch!"
  5. This is usual among equals and friends. You dare not taste the cocoanut of your superior in rank; the insult would be unpardonable.
  6. Fishing is the chief occupation of the natives of those atolls. As the soil consists merely of sand, shells, and fragments of coral thrown up by the sea, the perpetual weeding and planting of the volcanic islands are out of the question.
  7. This is still customary. A valued deacon, and eloquent preacher of mine in this way lost his life.
  8. It is almost impossible to exist on those atolls without frequent bathing; so great is the heat. The white shark attains the length of 37 feet.
  9. 0f fully grown cocoanut shells.
  10. Any one familiar with thickets of Pandanus untouched hy the hand of man will understand how readily the dry sword-like leaves ignite and how fiercely they blaze.