An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
The Bible teaches in the book of Genesis that God created man from dust and all things both living and non-living. Science teaches that man evolved over time from a single celled molecule into fish, tadpole, monkey and eventually into humans beings through the theory of evolution inspired by Charles Darwin.
My people from the Upper Watut of Awatengo sub-clan have their own version of how man came into existence. My father told me this story when I was a little child. He explained how and why there are people with various skin colours, unique languages and cultures that we have today. This is the legend I wish to share.
LONG, long time ago there lived a man and his two wives, who were sisters. The husband’s name was Pawoyawo, and the two wives names were Maikuni and Naboai.
They were the only humans who lived alone in a house deep within the forest. They had no children. Their house was constructed from wood, tree barks, dried grass and was circular in shape, resting on the earth floor, also covered with dried grass and leaves.
Each day Pawoyawo went hunting whilst his two wives tended their gardens, planting new food crops and harvesting vegetables to eat for dinner.
The husband, being a great hunter, enjoyed it so much that when a pig, cuscus or cassowary was killed, he cook and eat the whole meal alone in the jungle, then collect all the bones and take them back home.
“Pawoyawo, you’re a great hunter, we would like to eat some of your meat,” the wives said. “I don’t think I can do that, I have eaten it all,” was the usual reply.
He never liked sharing with his two. Nevertheless, they brought home vegetables to cook and share with their husband.
After dinner Pawoyawo dozed off to sleep without telling them what he had done during the day. He kept the animal bones as souvenirs, stacked away inside the smoke-scented grass roof immediately above the fireplace. This was a normal daily routine.
One day Naboai, the younger sister of the two wives, had an idea that she would weave a bilum by fashioning it after her husband’s scrotum.
“I have made a bilum for you” she said. “You can put the bones inside and hang it up in the roof”. The man was pleased and took the bilum from his wife without thanking her and began filling it with animal bones.
Pawoyawo was always inconsiderate and greedy despite his wives’ kindness and generosity and it reached a point where they could bear it no longer. The women began plotting about how to murder him. They were very careful not to raise his suspicion or expose their secret for fear of what might transpire.
“Today when our husband goes out hunting, we must collect many bush vines,” Maikuni said to Naboai.
“At dinner time, make sure he eats the best meal to the fullest,” she continued. “He will fall into a deep sleep without ever suspecting our plans to kill him.”
Both sisters arrived home from their garden in the evening and proceeded to cook kaukau, bananas, taro and cabbages garnished with creamy red maritas and other vegetables. As usual, Pawoyawo brought out his fresh bone collection and displayed it above the fireplace to smoke and harden before decorating the interior of the roof.
Dinner was served and both sisters made certain their husband had his stomach full to the brim. He enjoyed his meal so much, he could hardly move, and slumped down to the floor to sleep.
As their husband snored, the sisters waited for a few minutes to ensure he was truly sound asleep before proceeding to the next stage of their plan.
It was cold and damp outside, with thick fog covering the house and surrounding vegetation, in contrast to the warm and cosy interior. The fire flickered, glowing silently, leaving Pawoyawo completely hypnotized in his sleep.
Slowly and quietly the sisters made their move and crept outside and began tying the house as fast and tightly as they could with vines collected earlier in the day.
They tied, retied until the entire house was so tight it was impossible to escape. The sisters then set the house on fire on all sides before dashing into nearby bushes to hide and see what would happen next.
Inside, Pawoyawo was awakened by the smell of dense smoke and the sound of flaming walls and straw roof.
Fire engulfed him from all sides and his eyes, throat and nostrils were scorching as he rushed to escape. To his great surprise, the door did not open and he kept pushing it as hard as he could whilst shouting out for help.
“Maikuni help! Naboai help! I can’t get out, the house is on fire!” he screamed repeatedly at the top of his voice.
The sisters heard his loud, agonising screams but kept quiet, observing the flames growing bigger with each passing moment, fuelled by the cold evening breeze, and eventually swallowing the entire building.
The excruciating yelling for help slowly dwindled until there was only the crackling noise of burning material under gigantic flames which lit the night sky.
Finally a weird explosion emerged from the house as it collapsed into greyish, black ashes. This was Pawoyawo’s stomach exploding. His skull and bones and the collection of animal souvenirs then cracked one after the other, producing eerie sounds in the intense heat produced by the fire.
The sisters found shelter under some kauri trees and slept. Early next morning, they went to the remains of the house and began collecting bone fragments. They meticulously collected all that remained of their once greedy husband, placed it in bamboo containers and took the remains for burial to a place deep within the dense forest.
“Where do you think we should bury Pawoyawo’s bones,” asked Maikuni. “We must not allow wild animals to scavenge for them.”
“There’s a large rotting tree,” said the elder sister, pointing to a massive, hollow tree trunk containing a pool of water gathered over time by rain and moisture.
“We will pour his remains into the pool where they will be safe.”
Both women poured the bone fragments into the pool and planted tanget leaves around the tree to mark the burial spot.
Starting life without Pawoyawo brought a great sense of relief for both Maikuni and Naboai. They built a new house and continued their daily activities of gardening and hunting. Food was shared equally and life was peaceful as it should have been.
A month after the burial, the sisters visited Pawoyawo’s remains inside the hollow trunk. They noticed that the bones were nowhere to be seen. But there were little fish-like creatures with fins and gills swimming inside the pool of rainwater.
It was a startling sight, but they decided not to disturb anything and planned to come back another day to see what would happen next.
The fish-like creatures developed into tadpoles with long tails, two forearms and legs. There were so many, it was impossible to count them.
“What is happening, here?” they whispered to each other. “Let us not disturb them but keep on waiting to see what will happen next.”
With much anticipation and excitement, Maikuni and her sister journeyed back to the burial site on the third month to see what was in store for them.
Upon arriving, they peeked into the hollow tree trunk but there were no tadpoles swimming inside. They checked and rechecked to no avail.
“Where have the tadpoles gone,” they asked, puzzled and confused. Suddenly they heard human voices talking a short distance away from where they stood.
“Where are you?!” they shouted.
“We are hiding behind these trees!” the voices responded in a chorus.
The sisters scurried towards the voices.
“Where are you, we can’t see you!” they shouted again.
“We are here behind these bushes,” the voices replied.
The sisters, realising they were being fooled, quickly devised a clever plan. Naboai would remain hidden in an undisclosed location while Maikuni would go after the voices when they called out again.
“Where are you? We can’t see you!” Maikuni asked again.
“Over here, behind these pandanus leaves,” came the voices.
Carefully, without making any noise, Maikuni tiptoed to where the voices came from.
Inside a hole in the ground, to her amazement, she saw many little children. They came in all sizes, shapes, skin and hair colour.
“Naboai, they are here, come and see them!” Screaming with excitement they rushed to the hole and began pulling the children out one by one, asking where they had come from.
The children told both sisters that they had evolved from Pawoyawo’s bones into fish then into tadpoles and finally into humans.
The sisters divided the children into ethnic and racial groups based on skin colour, hair colour, physical features and language.
Next they went about weaving unique traditional attire for the children to wear. The children were then directed to go their separate ways to settle on land allocated by Maikuni and Naboai.
Those with fair complexion, perceived as abnormal, were taken to the river and put in canoes to sail away.
Those that remained started the first generation of twelve clans within the Kukukuku tribe as we know it today.
Others were sent away to eventually form the various nations of the world as we know them today.
This is how and where the entire human race originated according to legend passed down from generation to generation by the Upper Watut people of Wau-Bulolo District, Morobe Province.