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Minai & Mwat ti-Koniu - a tale from Rambutso in Manus


THIS is a story from the days when warfare was prominent amongst the tribes and the people were still using Stone Age tools. It took place at M’brunai on Rambutso, south-east of Manus Island.

There lived an old widow named Koniu. She was barren throughout life.

Growing old without children was her greatest regret as there was no one who could help her with gardening, fishing or house chores. She grew old with the desire to have a child, believing in the impossible even after she was beyond child bearing age.

Every day Koniu would wake up early as the birds were chirping to welcome dawn. She would sit beside the embers of the morning fire, warming herself and waiting for sun’s first penetrating rays to begin her chores in the garden.

Having a roasted taro and sugar cane, she packed her koti woven basket, put it on her head and walked to the garden. She worked hectically, talking and chanting to herself and the spirit of the forest.

As the long day ended, the insects started screeching and singing signalling the invading dusk.

Koniu would tread home with the aid of her servant, the faithful walking stick. Ageing was beginning to shun her agility.

One particular day, the sun was blistering on Koniu on she crouched on her knees with trembling hands weeding a patch of sugar cane. She sweated uncontrollably. Hands shaking, she uprooted every weed growing over and smothering the new sugar cane shoots.

With every beat of her heart she hoped for children who might help her in her dying years.

Her mind and eyes drifted up the sugar cane stumps whilst the hands ripped at unwanted weeds, vines and rotten cane leaves obscuring the suffering plants from sunlight. Then she felt a sharp pain run through her veins.

Panicking at seeing the steam of blood, she did not recall that the bush vines would help staunch the bleeding. She stared fixated at the stains of blood on the sharp cane leaf.

All she could think of was to save her blood in a coconut shell and carry it home, fearing spirits from the evil world would otherwise feast on it. After catching her blood in a coconut shell, she left for home where she placed the blood cloth over her fireplace, forgot about it and slept.

When Koniu awoke to the sound of chirping birds and insects, the morning was more peaceful than usual. She thought she was still in a dream. She crawled towards the fireplace to warm herself at the embers of last night’s fire. Straining her eyes, she blew at the embers to light them and reduce the smoke.

Crack! Crack! Crack! It was above her head. What could it be? She positioned more firewood to keep the fire alive. Then she heard the sound again. This time it was louder followed by chirping, like a bird like in a nest.

The noise was coming from the coconut shell. Lifting herself on trembling legs, she reached for the woven coconut basket in which she had left the shell containing her blood cloth.

She set the shell on the floor of her hut and, with wide eyes, she stared at two tiny creatures lying together in the shell.

Minai, a brown sea eagle, and Mwat, a green tree snake. Murmuring at the tiny creatures, she knew they were answers to her barren womb.

Days and months passed and Minai and Mwat grew strong.

Soon Minai started to fly, hunt and fish by himself. He would go fishing or hunting while Koniu was gardening. Mwat would sleep all day in the house waiting for his mother and brother to bring home the spoils for dinner.

In a day, Minai would fly many miles across the sea from Rambutso Island to the north coast of Manus, returning in the afternoon with fresh baskets of sago meal tied together by sticks.

Meanwhile the people of Lele of the Wusiai were blaming a human thief over their stolen sago. After a tiring day beating and washing sago pulp to extract the sago flour, they would put the wet stuff into woven baskets and hang them on a stick to dry.

Minai would hover, grab the sago bags and fly across the sea to his mother and brother. The sago would keep them going.

As time went by, Minai started developing a hatred against his brother Mwat, who would sleep all day and wake up in time for every meal. He even ate the biggest share of the meal – and was no help to his old stricken mother.

One day Minai got so fed up that he decided to flee M’brunai with old Koniu. Secretly he devised his plan to cross the sea from Rambutso to Nauna, a rocky mountainous island south- east of M’brunai.

The day arrived. The only way to avoid Mwat being aware of the escape was to give him an extra meal for the day so that he would sleep right through.

Early the next day, the plan was executed. Mwat had a heavy meal, got under a shady tree, coiled himself around the tree trunk and hissed himself off to sleep in the cool morning breeze.

So Minai flew off with Koniu – and her house - and headed for Nauna Island. There he placed the house on the tallest tree top on the highest rocky hill on the island overlooking Rambutso.

As dusk came, Mwat woke with an empty stomach. Uncoiling himself from the tree trunk, he slid towards the house. Sniffing the air for his mother and brother, he sensed their absence.

Fury built in him as he searched here and there, hissing loudly with anger. He knew it was the doing of his brother. Lifting his head, he sniffed for the scent of his family. As he turned to the south east, he smelled their house afar off.

Like a sea beast, Mwat slithered across the sea towards Nauna. But, as he was about to reach the island, Minai spotted him from the tree house. His talons readied and his feathers stood upright as a sign of rage.

Although Minai had been warned by his mother that, if he killed his brother and had his blood on his body; he would die at the hands of his enemies, he dived towards Mwat as he was climbing the rocks.

Burying his talon in his brother’s flesh he shrilled in rage. The shrieking and hissing got louder as the brothers got into a bloody fight before their old stricken mother.

After hours of messy battle, Minai raised himself into the air as the giant snake brother lay still on the rocks below. The fight was over but the curse was on Minai. Bloodstains from his brother were all over his feathers.

Old Koniu started wailing as she knew she would lose both sons and she herself would die from a broken heart. Then it was time for Minai to hunt on the mainland again.

This time the villagers of Lele had set an ambush for Minai. As usual, he hid in a tree top and watched until the villagers deserted, then he dived for his spoils.

As he was about to flap his wings to get away, angry warriors appeared with spears. Minai managed to escape with the sago, but he was hit on a wing so badly that he was in total agony. Inch by inch he started dropping towards the sea until he was over Pitilu Island.

In great despair he landed in the sea. It was getting dark as Minai struggled in the water. At home Koniu hoped for her son’s return, but there was no flutter of wings.

Koniu knew bad fortune had fall over Minai. She would never see him again. She had lost her two sons and was alone again. She died of loneliness.

Meanwhile Minai was struggling with his last breath when a group of fishermen from Pitilu saw him. They were surprised to see such a huge eagle drowning. With his last breath, Minai whispered, “Please, cut off my talons and take them with you. Whenever your warriors go for fight with the mainland Lele warriors, it shall bring you victory”.

The fishermen did as Minai proposed. And still today, the place on M’brunai where the story began is a breeding place for huge brown sea eagles.

On Nauna island the trail of Mwat where the fight with Minai took place remains carved in the rocks.

The Pitilu islanders name their soccer team in every championship, Manui, their local vernacular for eagle. They remain one of the toughest teams to beat in the provincial championship.


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