AGNES RITA MAINEKE
An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
THIS story of “Pohikah” (one who was struck in the head) was told by my mother who was told by her grandmother.
In the old days when tribal fights were still being fought, one of my male ancestors from Miiko clan married a woman from the Korungo clan in the Mariga area where the people speak the Banoni language. Our people speak the Siwai language.
One day this ancestor, Nousi, returned to his homeland for a visit. It happened that a female cousin of his had become deranged and couldn’t take of her only daughter, Kaharo, who was about 12 years old.
Out of pity for his young niece, Nousi asked permission from the female clan elders to take Kaharo with him when he returned to Mariga. He was granted permission happily, for although our society is matrilineal, Kaharo had become a burden to her family. They were relieved of another mouth to feed.
Kaharo settled into life at her new home as young children do. However, while she was with her uncle’s family, two neighbouring clans – the Pohka and Moowurui – came to loggerheads about some incident.
This led to a violent attack by the Pohka clan on the village where Kaharo lived with her uncle’s family. Of course, the attack was wrought in the early dawn hours when sleep is sweetest.
The attackers did not heed caution but furiously entered the village, throwing missiles without discerning who the enemy clan was. This is important, for if a person of a clan not involved in the argument is wounded or dies then dire consequences will follow as another clan enters the fight.
In the chaos that followed, young Kaharo was struck in the head by a small fighting axe while her uncle Nousi was trying to hide her from the attackers. As daylight dawned Nousi got an expensive fathom of shell money called popuni. Kaharo was a Miiko, one of the leading clans in the area, and Nousi did not wish them to involve themselves in this fight, which would cause more fatalities and destruction.
Nousi could not bring Kaharo back to her people with a head wound. Neither could he take care of her in his own village where tension was so high between the Pohka and Moowurui clans.
This was quite a dilemma. Nousi had to find a solution that would take them both out of danger. As a sign of his deepest regrets he had tied Kaharo’s head with expensive shell money.
Nousi remembered another clan living in the Sininnai area to the south-east of Mariga which had amicable relationships with his own Miiko clan. They were the Laaturui- Sikireus.
He took Kaharo to Sikireu village where he explained that Kaharo was to be nursed back to good health and delivered to her Miiko relatives at Tuipiri near Muwoku village. Of course he sent no word to his kinsmen at Tokunutui.
The Laaturui family accepted Kaharo but watched the poor girl suffering. Her wound had become infected. They did not remove the shell money from her head believing that the value of this shell money would help cure or heal the wound.
Poor Pohikah! How she suffered! She spent sleepless days and nights in excruciating pain. She ran a high fever and became quite ill.
One morning the Laaturui matron left young Kaharo with her daughter while she went to the garden. During the day the young nurse felt so sorry for her patient that she took her to the river to wash.
As she watched Kaharo bathing in the river she thought to wash Kaharo’s head as well. Being a child she felt no inhibitions about removing the shell money from Kaharo’s head.
Kaharo’s head wound had filled with maggots and the young girl ran to the house and scraped a coconut to squeeze into Kaharo’s now clean wound.
What a relief it was for poor Kaharo! The two girls returned to the house and Kaharo slept, the first sleep since she had been brought to the Laaturuis.
When the mother returned from the garden she called to her daughter, “Hey, what of Kaharo?” Perhaps she feared Kaharo had died in her absence.
Her daughter told her. “She is asleep!”
“What did you do to her to make her sleep?” the mother enquired.
“Oh, I just took her to the river and washed her,” came the answer.
From then onwards the young girl continued to treat young Kaharo’s wound by washing it and squeezing into it coconut milk with other bush herbs until it healed. When she was fit, the Laaturui family brought her to Tuipiri at Muwoku where her Miiko relatives lived.
While she was residing at Muwoku, a singsing was held. Invitations were sent to the Tokunutui area to come and blow panpipes. A young man from Sinaatai clan, named Makau, was in the Tokunutui singsing kaur group.
He saw Kaharo at Muwoku and fell in love with her. Upon returning home, he insisted to his parents that they must pay bride-price for the young girl he had spied at Muwoku. His parents consulted the nearby Miiko clan community in Tokunutui. They then sent word to Tuipiri to find out who the young girl was.
They were surprised to realise she was their own sibling and they took Kaharo back to her home. The marriage was arranged and Makau paid the bride-price. He settled his young wife on his own land and deeded that land to her.
This is the current site of Kaamoi hamlet where my family and I live today. For I have descended from ‘Pohikah’ or Kaharo. She is my great, great, great grandmother. Today I am grateful to the Laaturui Sikireus for having saved her. For if she had died, I would not be here today.
The fathom of shell money that Kaharo’s uncle bound around Kaharo’s wounded head is here with my family having been handed down from mother to daughter.
I have special regard for the namesake of the girl Tuntuu who nursed Pohikah back to health. I give her little tokens of appreciation like soap for she is a village mother.