Matane to stand down as Governor-General
Books and Beer

The death of a warrior


An entry in The Crocodile Prize

Alone, Ooamie struggled against death’s cold embrace until he died a terrible death in his bed.

A strange spell immobilised Ooamie’s body and only his heart and lungs fought while everything froze. Doses of pain and suffering were slowly administered until he succumbed. What remained of him was a body stiff as a dry wood with a cold stare; and the tip of his tongue vaguely visible from behind the back of a half opened mouth.

It was only three days ago when Ooamie suddenly fell ill. His unusual symptoms could not be connected to any type of sorcery, so he was taken to his haus-pik just outside the village. Hidden from prying eyes and ears, he would to be monitored closely by his wife Onekayai with assistance from Fetapa the orphan.

The haus-pik was typical; round with a low roof and a door barely a metre tall. It was big enough though, and could accommodate both his family and the pigs.

His brothers began seeking people who might have a cure. A couple of days had passed and Ooamie’s condition worsened, observed Onekayai; but she could do nothing, so she did her best to nurse her husband. Fetapa couldn’t care less, and went about doing his daily chores.

Often Fetapa, a pre-teenager, wonders where his parents are, and why they have deserted him. He didn’t know his parents had both died: his mother while giving birth to him and his father from acute dysentery a few months later. No one had talked to him about his parents and he misses them.

Onekayai returned from a garden nearby. Over a huge kaukau bilum on her back, rested a bunch of bananas; and slung around her neck, a brown laplap held her sleeping child. As she jumped over the fence, she saw Fetapa with his small bow and arrows chasing lizards. He didn’t see her until she spoke from behind. Fetapa froze then quickly turned and retort; “He’s sleeping!”

Inside the haus-pik, Onekayai saw her husband’s motionless figure on the bed. It’s been like this for the last two days. She removed her load and breathed deeply; then carefully hung her child’s laplap near her husband and instructed Fetapa to fetch water. She rested a little, and then drank from a bamboo Fetapa brought, and started the fire to bake kaukau for the evening.

Meanwhile, Ooamie’s brothers returned from their journeys. In the haus-man they reported their findings. When finished, a long silence ensued; broken only by an occasional distant bark from a dog. All eyes were set on the fire as its flaming tails danced mockingly. Smoke reluctantly rose from tobacco pipes and no one was heard breathing in the frozen silence that engulfed them. Even the chief’s two dogs lay silent under their master’s bed.

The chief pondered intensely over the inevitable: who is responsible; how many will he order to be killed; who should execute his orders? Everyone realized their chief’s deep concentration and no one dared interrupt him.

Then the dogs barked all at once. Startled, the chief dropped his pipe and burnt himself. Furious, he jumped off his bed, grabbed a piece of wood and started hitting at the dogs haphazardly. Those quick enough, got out of the way; others were unlucky. Someone was hit by a wood that slipped out of the chief’s hand and he crashed into another person nearby. Then much confusion erupted and the flames died out but for a weak flicker.

Standing outside, Fetapa heard much noise and commotion; but no light seeped through the gaps in the door. He heard dogs growl in pain as men shouting profanities beat them.

He cleared a lump in his throat and softly called out a name he was instructed to report to. “Ba-ua-ti!” No response came. He called louder; “Bauati!” No response again. There was still much noise when a voice called for calm and someone to attend to the fire. He called again at the top of his voice; “Bauati!” Then voices ordered each other to stop talking, and there was silence.

Fetapa trembled, but he mustered some courage to call again. After what seemed like eternity, a deep and hoarse voice demanded; “Who’s there?” He responded quickly and the door opened. He felt warm air brush against his face; it felt good. Then he peered into the dimly lit house and saw figures with unblinking stares. The chief, Bauati, knew what Fetapa’s unexpected appearance meant. Then Fetapa broke the news, but anger deafened them, even Bauati wasn’t listening.

When tears started to flow, a tirade of obscenities from Bauati quickly forced them dry. Then with a calm but stern voice he gave out precise instructions, and everyone knew exactly what to do. It was a simple plan; a plan to avenge Ooamie’s death. It must be done or their inaction would bring shame to their clan.

Bauati quickly dispatched some men to secure and guard Ooamie’s haus-pik, with instructions to talk to no one regarding the death. Fetapa scurried behind to catch up with the fast walking men. The risk of potential contamination from the killers who could sneak into the haus-pik using spells was great; and this would make it impossible to find out those responsible for Ooamie’s death.

After much deliberation, four strong men stepped out of the haus-man; followed closely by Bauati, and two older men. Armed with bamboo torches, bows and arrows and knives, they hurried to the haus-pik. A few meters behind, three women trailed. Malufovi, Bauati’s wife and two elderly women kept their distance from the men.

Bauati and his men entered the haus-pik and closed the door behind them. The women gathered around a fire under a temporary shelter Onekayai had erected. Fetapa was there too, but no one took notice of him. After a while the door squeaked open and figures stepped out and disappeared into the dark.

The women entered the haus-pik and eyed the corpse sorrowfully. They looked at the eyes; fierce warrior eyes once lit up with love and compassion for his family; they caressed the cold hands; strong hands that many times brought them food and meat. The legs felt soft and fragile; not the ones they’ve relied on for swiftness and power. They didn’t see a warrior tonight, rather, a husband and son they would miss dearly.

Their hearts broke and they sobbed into the night. Their heads ached but still they sobbed. Ooamie’s wife wanted to cry out loud but she couldn’t. She wanted to sing to her husband’s ghost in the rocks yonder; to tell him he will be missed; their child would be fatherless; and his kaukau was still by the fire place. She wept bitterly. The others were strong and wise women; the very reason they were asked to come. They ensured she did not make sobbing sounds. If she did, the guards around the fence didn’t hear any. And this was to be the order of things; silently grieve until Ooamie’s death was avenged. So far it was good.

They heard the first insect chirp as dawn approached. More insects joined and the early dawn reverberated with chaotic sounds. Their hearts heaved with anxiety as a bamboo-pot was pushed further into the heart of the fire and watched closely. Malufovi ensured the pot did not burn, but it steamed violently as droplets of liquid hissed into vapor.

Then they heard a faint sound; a pleasant tune amidst much noise. They listened hard and only heard; “two for Ooamie and one for Bauati!” It seemed distant still, but Malufovi removed the bamboo from the fire; emptied its contents on banana leaves and they gathered around to eat.

As he stepped over the fence, Bauati called out to his wife exhaustedly; “Women can cry aloud now! Women can cry aloud now!”

Fetapa was woken from his sleep by joyful singing and weeping. But he felt hungry and moved to the fireplace to search for leftovers. He felt a soft and round thing on a stone by the fireplace. It was fleshy so he sniffed it. It felt like meat and he tasted it. Then placed it in his mouth and bit into it. It was food alright, and he started chewing it.

Word reached other clan members in the village and soon they all gathered at the haus-pik. Many cried openly and sang old songs about warriors who flew with cockatoos on the yonder rocks.

Suddenly Malufovi realized she had left the testes on a rock by the fireplace. She rushed into the house and searched but to no avail. She went out and saw Fetapa chewing on something nearby. She enquired and Fetapa told her what he was chewing. Malufovi angrily ordered him to spit it out into her hands and he reluctantly obliged.

Two days of mourning had passed, and Bauati realised Ooamie’s corpse was missing its sex organ. Further checks revealed a piece from the left inner thigh missing too. He knew the mothers loved and would miss Ooamie dearly. Then with a chuckle and a slight nod, he ordered the corpse be buried.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Barbara Short

From a European point of view, this ending is revolting.
Does it mean that some forms of cannibalism still occur in PNG?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)