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Mana and the Gilk - a children’s story from Simbu

Rose Bemu 2ROSE BEMU

THIS STORY is based on upper Simbu (from around Gembogl) traditions and folklore. It is derived from myths and legends that go back many hundreds of years, into my family's past: the Dakas, Kumans, Gehrigs, Whoms and many more. These are the family memories of many people. While it is not to be taken lightly, ut please accept that it is intended as a children's story.

A STRANGE creature crawled out from the Wara Simbu and shook his head. The water glistened from his pate and then he started sniffing. He was a strange pale creamy colour, like a waitman in the moonlight.

"I smell humans!"

He saw a small bush hut before him.

"Ah! Food !" he declared and crawled his way to the hut. His claws clinging to the earth and his nose quivering as he sought his prey. The noise he made from his frothing, deformed mouth was hideous. His red eyes glared around the hut.

"Humans! Food!"

Who was he? And where had he come from?


There is a far-away land not a million miles from the top of Queensland. You know, that Australian state with the pointy bit which sticks up into a country that looks like a bird.

Well this country is called Papua New Guinea. Many people live there, and there are lots of fabulous birds and animals.

And a young girl called Salome.

She lives in a house made of grass with her grandmother. Her mother and father had left her when she was a baby, so Grandmum was looking after her.

They lived on the banks of a beautiful river.

But this was no ordinary river. It provided them with fresh cool water, and also fish and plants and good things to eat. And washing and bathing and cleaning teeth.

It was their life.  And every day Salome went down to the river to wash herself and give thanks to the good lord who had given them such a blessing.

But the river was not just all good things. There were strange creatures who lived there too. Some were good and some were bad, and some were just plain awful.

You know what it's like when you have a bad dream? And you see monsters?

Well some of those monsters lived in Salome's river. And sometimes she was scared.

They came out of the river at night, and crawled up to their hut. And she has to cuddle up close to Grandma and hold her tight to get rid of the thoughts of those monsters.

Grandma would say "Go to sleep my baby.  They can't hurt you while I am here."  And so Salome would go to sleep in arms of her Grandma - or her Mana as we say in Papua New Guinea.

Mana was a wise old woman. Some people in the village didn't trust her, but others said she's a good woman. She gives us herbs and medicine when we are sick. She is special. "And old women know about life" they would say while rubbing their noses, as if to say "she is a masalai meri.  She knows the spirits."

Salome did not understand any of this.  She just loved her Mana.


The beautiful azure kingfishers were darting above the water, the silver fish were jumping and the sparkle of the sun was glancing off the rippling water in amazing flashes of perfect gems.

Salome was on the riverbank. Mana had sent her to collect some cress,

But Salome was in a place of her own.

Can you remember watching the clouds above you?  How they move and merge and mingle/mangle together? And become one large shape?

Salome was in the clouds - born aloft by the whispers of a thousand lonely children.  Children who had thought

"Mother stop drinking from that bottle"; Father - don't hit me anymore!"; 'Uncle, don't tell me to take my clothes off!".

A thousand cries. A thousand wishes, A thousand wants from a thousand wounded souls.

And the Lord of the clouds listened. He listened and he thought, "How can I help my people? They have lived here for many years and now many changes are coming upon them. There is cargo, and new religion, and new toys, and new food.  My people will decay!"

And so the Lord of the Clouds thought and thought, and finally decided he would have to send a Gilk.

Now a Gilk was not just an ordinary spirit. He/she could work magic - sanguma - on the people they favoured.
and so a chosen Gilk climbed out of the Wara Simbu and into Mana's hut.

He was an ugly old bugger, but he wasn't evil. He has been sent by the Lord of the Clouds to help his people. But he was scaly and shiny and had a shrieking voice - and was a frightening sight.

But Mana knew the Gilk, and she called him by his name. This is powerful magic.

"You are Gilk Kumo Kimbo Pangwa.  I see you and know your name!  You are the the servant of the chief Masalai! We know you but we cannot call your name out loud!"

"Don't fear Mana Okuk, I have come to help you."


Salome was scared. She didn't trust the Gilk.


"Gilk - I challenge you to show me that you are not evil!" cried Mana.

"Very well, look at this" and the Gilk produced a lovely silver fish from his hands.

"Eat - you will see that this is good.  I have not come to harm you, but to tell you a story."

"Your people are in need of help. You have been the victims of another way of life. Look around you - the clothes you wear are not yours, the food you eat is not yours, the music and dances have gone, even your language has changed.

Na erme mocka wagai pangwa. Your lives have changed."

"So what should we do?" replied Mana.

"You must take the best from the old ways, and be careful what you take from the new."

"No TV and tin bif and bus marasin?"

"Take the best, but leave the rest. And don't trust your leaders who would take you into a bad life. They do not love you anymore."

"Gilk - how can we do this?"

"Mana - I will give you a sign which you must show to you family."

And the Gilk waved his hand, and Mana saw two visions of the future. In the first her people had become enslaved; their land had been taken, they toiled in mines and factories, and they were hungry and were numbed by watching western TV and films.

In the second she saw a proud people who had made the best of the old and the new, They lived in new houses, but still had gardens and their traditions. They controlled their lives, and would not allow outside people to take their land and culture and she could see the young ones still enjoying tainim lek and kukim nus. And the people from Kerowagi to Gembogl and Sinasina to Gumine were proud and happy to be who they are.

Na Simbu wakai kaninga.

And the Gilk disappeared back into the river.  And Mana had had a vision.

Would it be proved right?

Maybe she could make a difference. She would speak to the people. Maybe she could become a leader.

But Salome wondered and wondered.

What is happening in my world?


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Peter Kranz

Well it sounds like Gilk. Could be Gilgl or Gigk or Giglk.

Glottal-stops are a problem for us English-speakers.

Krrppcht - KJ

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