An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Buk bilong Pikinini Children’s Literature Award
IN a village along the coast of a northern Solomon island lived Koteu, an orphan boy who was looked upon by the villagers as an outcast.
The boy was orphaned when he was just five years old, his parents killed by the sorcery of some of the village elders who grew jealous of their work ethic, wealth and happiness.
After his parents’ death their killers shared the wealth and belongings of the family among themselves and left Koteu to work as a slave to help and feed the old people of the village.
“Koteu! You have to hurry to fetch the water, you have firewood to collect for Kua’s grandparents and don’t forget that old Dasieton has also requested you to go and see her,” screamed the wicked nangkaii (witch),the wife of the chief, who was so cruel and wanted to see Koteu punished with unrelenting work.
The boy quickly fetched water for the house of the chief and collected fire woods for Kua’s grandparents and then went off to see Dasieton. Dasieton, a wise old witch, was good friend to Koteu’s parents and she always supported and encouraged Koteu never to give up doing his duties, because one fine day fate would take its course and everything would go back the way it should be.
Dasieton was highly respected throughout village because she was a good nangkaii (witch) but could never over throw the cruel chief, because he was wealthy and only a wealthy person could be leader of the village. The chief was also powerful sorcerer and only the power of another chief – a rightful heir -could defeat him.
After the boy’s parents were killed, the cruel, jealous man named Tukuru and his kin became the leading family of the village through the influence of their wealth and magic. Tukuru and his wife, Doveah, had two daughters and one son, all of whom were cruel like their parents.
With their supporters they were able to unjustly acquire the propertyof the villagers whenever they wanted.The villagers could not rise against them because of the Chief’s sorcery.
When Koteu’s parents died, the chief’s family took in Koteu to use him as a house slave and to ensure he would not rise up against them to take his rightful position. Instead he spent his days with the elderly people of the village and completing house hold chores.
The boy was like his parents. He worked hard and did his daily chores as required, yet even then he was not allowed to play with the village children.
So, to occupy himself while waiting for the afternoon chores, he started to make a small garden near the village dump, because the chief owned all the other available land.
On the land Koteu planted flowers, small fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, capsicums and cone. He made his land beautiful, but it was hidden from the view of the villagers.
“Hi, Koteu,” the children of the chief supporters would shout at him while he slowly, silently made his way to his secret garden near the dump. “Going to eat the waste in the dump again!” they would tease him with all kinds of mean comments and laugh. But Koteu with his head hanging down would continue walking towards the dump yard, to his secret garden,ignoring their taunts.
One day after completing his daily chores, Koteu slowly sneaked out into his secret garden, as he usually did after seeing that nobody was watching. Unfortunately on this occasion he was followed by the chief’s cruel children and they discovered Koteu’s secret and wonderful garden.
Filled with jealousy and anger, they destroyed his beautiful garden and beat him. “What do you want to prove, you slave boy, with this garden of yours?”That garden was his only happiness in his life, but the barbarous children cheered as they watched Koteu crying against the soil of his garden.
“Mummy, Daddy, why did you leave me like this!” cried Koteu as the kids teased him and beat him. “This would not happen if you were here mummy,” he wept bitterly as the children laughed and danced around.
“Hey leave him alone you kids! Go and play with marbles and leave Koteu alone!” commanded a voice coming towards them from the bush.
“Oh it is the old nangkaii, lets run away before she eats us,” shouted the Kua, the chief’s only son, to his two sisters and their friends, and they all ran away towards the village.
Koteu, with his tears running down from his eyes slowly turned his eyes towards the sound. He could not believe his eyes. It was his Mum…. his own Mum was walking towards him.
With tears streaming down his face he tried to move towards her, “Mummy, mummy is that you?” The lady moved quickly towards him. “Yes it is me, my son,” said she. “Stop crying! It is okay now. I am here with you. They won’t hurt you anymore,” she kept on speaking while hugging him firmly and covering his tender and tearful face with sweet kisses.
Later, she sat on the ground comforting the boy on her lap and was amazed by the beautiful garden the boy had been secretly tending to. The boy, feeling the comfort of the woman which he missed so much, slowly dosed off and fell asleep.
“Koteu, Koteu wakeup, wakeup,” a voice like in a dream woke him up.
Koteu opened his eyes and saw that he was not in a dream “I must have been really beaten up,” he thought as the side of the body throbbed.
“Where am I, where am I?” he shouted as he sat up on the bed he was sleeping. He was sweating profusely. He turned, but instead of seeing his mother he saw Dasieton, the old lady from the village, smiling at him.
“Where is my mother! Where is my mother!” he screamed in despair and confusion.
“Koteu you have to calm down and eat, you must have been dreaming,” said Dasieton. “But for now you have to eat and make yourself strong. You haven’t eaten for two days now,” explained Dasieton as she gave a plate of roasted taro and prawns to Koteu.
“Two days ago, I carried you from the secret garden, after the children beat you up and destroyed your garden. You were seeing me like your mother because you were badly beaten up, confused and longing for her,” the old lady recalled.
“You were crying about her and I know you missed her so much, but you have to be strong now. It has been eight years since we have lost your parents. But now the time has come for you to stand up for what is right,” she explained as the boy ate the taros and prawns, shoveling the food in to his mouth as he was very hungry.
“This cave we are in is a secret place where your parents hid some of their wealth that will help you regain your rightful place in the village.”
“They knew something bad was going to happen, so they hid these important hereditary wealth and magical costumes, which the Chief is still searching for because he knows these are the only things that can defeat him,” Dasieton explained.
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier, so these cruel things would not have happened to us,” the boy interrupted looking Dasieton with anger.
“Koteu, I had to know that you could keep secrets and make sure that you were ready to overthrow the Chief and lead the people,” replied Dasieton, “and by the secret garden you have been keeping all these years, you have proved that you are now ready.
“I brought you here for initiation, from now you possess power beyond the current chief and can take your rightful place,” Dasieton said, showing Koteu the things that he was going to use to overthrow the cruel chief.
After Koteu understood everything the old lady told him, they prepared to return back home.
He spent five days being taught the secrets and preparing to conquer the chief.
Early in the morning of the sixth day, they set out to the village. The boy wore the headdress which only the chiefs wear and with that he could defeat the power of the sorcerer chief.
As soon as they arrived the feeling of the village changed, because the people knew the rightful heir had returned. The villagers could feel the positive presence entering the village and came out to see what was going on.
As they saw the boy walking with the old woman in his parents’ chieftain costumes they bowed in respect. “Koteu is really the rightful heir!” and “remove the heartless chief and all his supporters,” the villagers shouted in support of the boy.
A battle followed and the boy defeated the ruthless chief with the support of the villagers and the chiefly power of his parents’.
Later, with the decision of the new village council, he sent the chief and his supporters to work as slaves for allies and trading partners faraway across the sea.
So the villagers again lived a happy, kind and caring life. People were happy because Koteu was a fair leader and distributed the wealth of the villages equally among them and he abolished the system of chieftainship.
In the new system only fair leader was to be chosen by the people not based on his wealth but on his character – responsibility, resourcefulness and fairness.