An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Buk bilong Pikinini Award for Children’s Writing
ONCE upon a time, in the mountain village of Danai in Koromira, there lived a young woman called Bakokora.
She was a lovely but lonely woman. The villagers abused her for her ornamental makutu necklaces, leg bands and wrist bands made them jealous. They call her a sorcerer.
Bakokora had no garden; she fished not in the river or sea, she did not hunt for animals; but she always had plenty to eat and she cooked the finest meals around.
Every day the villagers went to the gardens and worked till sunset but Bakokora never worked. She was more than happy in Danai. She was humble and loving to the children who often cried with hunger when their parents worked late in the mountains in their gardens or hunting and fishing.
One afternoon, with a heavy cloud creeping in, Bakokora was cooking and, across the creek separating her house from the rest of Danai, she heard village children crying for food.
The toddlers hung onto their elders and wept. The older children, unable to calm their little ones, looked up or down the tracks for their parents and also wept. Bakokora felt sad.
Bakokora went across the creek with a pot of fish and taro. The children rushed at her and ate and ate.
All the children admired her makutu (shell money).
‘Bakokora,’ they asked sitting around her and licking their hands, ‘who gave you the nice necklace?’
‘Oh my children,’ Bakokora said, laughing, ‘I made them myself from shells from the beautiful sea.’ The children looked down at the blue sea that seemed endless below their mountain home.
‘And how do you get them?’ the children demanded.
‘My love for you,’ Bakokora said. ‘I will tell you when you are old enough to swim in the sea. Now I must go to my house and sleep.’
‘Okay, Bakokora, go well,’ the children sang out. ‘Make sure you come back and chat with us when the next sun comes. We wish you a good night’s rest and dreams.’
Bakokora left, happy with the joy she had in her heart after chatting with the children.
From then on Bakokora came across the creek and chatted, danced and sang with the children every day. Every day she brought joy to them with stories of great hunters, fishermen and warriors.
And every day Bakokora was clean and beautiful in a new makutu. The children always asked where she got her makutu or how she made them and Bakokora always told them that makutu was theirs when she is too old and they are strong enough to swim in the sea.
And the days passed, the parents of Danai were confused about why their children were not eating dinner. What was happening? But there was no answer. The children were not ailing but always happy and their share of dinner went stale and was fed to the pigs.
One day the adults decided to see what was happening. They pretended to go gardening and hid in the bushes near the village. As the day waned, there Bakokora appeared dressed nicely and singing a fine song.
The children rushed towards her joyously shouting, ‘Come children, mother Bakokora is back’.
The shocked adults rushed at Bakokora with fighting clubs and spears. They chased her and burned her home. So she fled down the mountain towards the sea.
Bakokora swam out to sea and hid beneath Ovoring Manu reef but, when she resurfaced, she saw the Danai mountains so close and fled again. She swam and swam for hours until she saw the Daurava River delta where she tried to hide beneath the Kiritana swamp.
But when she resurfaced, she saw the Kiavai Mountains and fled.
She entered the calm waters of Tonolei but her enemies were on her. As a warrior was about to spear her, an urita (octopus) grabbed her and carried Bakokora deep into the sea.
‘Bakokora, the makutu maker,’ the urita said tearfully, ‘you are not safe here so I will take you far away. Danai can be punished for your misery later.
The urita sat Bakokora on a canoe and told her to paddle after it.
So they went. Between Ovau and Fauro islands they paddled; and on to Wagina Island. Then they went to Finuana Island; and on to Marau. At Marau the people were friendly, so Bakokora began teaching them her skill of makutu making.
She paddled from island to island, teaching her new friends the art of making makutu and finally saw the beautiful land and bush of Bina on the Kwaio coast that resembled the Danai land in her far away homeland.
She taught them makutu making and planted plot after plot of taro that attracted a Kwaio warrior to her.
‘Who is that young woman from the north?’ the warrior cried.
‘Oh warrior, she is Bakokora from the land of Danai so far in the north,’ the Bina villagers told him. ‘She is young and sweet; she is loving and kind.’
‘That’s why a Kwaio warrior is in love with her,’ the warrior said. ‘I love her kindness to the taro of our land.’
The warrior married Bakokora and they settled in the heart of Langalanga lagoon teaching and producing makutu for the local people’s use and for trade to the distant islands. The runaway woman from Danai, Bakokora, was so famous that people from many islands came to trade with her.
Thanks to Ishmael Palipal from Koromira, Bougainville and Eddie Osifelo from Auki in Malaita, Solomon Islands, for reconnecting me with this legend
The picture shows bakokora, the shell money made at Langalanga lagoon in Malaita which is called makutu in Koromira and dukuu in Nasioi. It is used throughout Bougainville and the Solomons