LAE - When my siblings and I were growing up, our mama looked after chooks in a fenced off hut. Her chooks were snobs, but ma and her feathered brood understood each other.
There was a bastard that grew up with attitude because ma reared him in our house.
She named him Brith. A wrong name.
Now Brith was a mean and cruel fictional giant in a children’s book. He lived on a hill and every now and then stumbled down to the houses below and terrorised the villagers.
Brith the giant had flaming ginger hair. Brith the rooster had ginger feathers. And both giant and rooster had similar attitudes. They sucked totally.
Mama indulged Brith who became a spoilt brat. He wandered around the houses everywhere he chose, more like a mute human being than a bird. No one dared touched him, for fear they would get a scolding or, worse still, a whopping from Mama delivered by a guava twig.
So Brith received exceptional favours.
He slept on the special branch that grew from the rambutan tree close to the veranda. Mama always woke early to sweep under the tree, while aunty Aretha continuously scolded mama, to move the spoiled brat back to the fenced off hut.
"Aretha, go feed your malnourished chickens," Mama would frown and waved her sister away.
Then Brith would go to his usual place and at from his distinctive tray while the chooks behind the fence pecked the food that she threw over to them.
Brith grew into a handsome rooster with bright gingery feathers. He was the alpha among the hens and flirted with them shamelessly. The hens laid perfect eggs that made mama proud. The chicks they hatched were big and strong.
But Brith was a bad husband. When dusk came creeping in and his feathered concubines clucked around and waited for him to accompany them to the fenced off hut, he would scurry to the veranda to sleep on his special branch.
My brothers became irritated with Brith and told mama to slaughter him for New Year.
“He’s family. We can’t eat him,” Mama declared.
“He disturbs us with his crowing before dawn,” Jayrico told her.
“Well, that’s how roosters are in the Islands,” Mama explained.
“Look mama, I do not need a rooster, an edible protein on the food chain, crowing beside my bed at four in the morning,” Tasdei told Mama.
“Find this bird another place to hang or one morning he won’t be there.”
“Cruel!” spat mama, eyeing Tasdei suspiciously.
One Friday morning I prepared the mumu stones and asked mama if we could bake Brith for a private family feast.
“Are you out of your mind? He’s like your brother and you want to eat him?” Mama was distressed.
“Mama, if we don’t slaughter him, the dogs or cats will get him. He doesn’t sleep in the fenced off hut, he hangs on the branch near the veranda,” I reasoned.
“Dee, the cats and dogs don’t think of eating Brith. They know he is family. But you? Go buy a pig from uncle Moiku and make your mumu,” she said, angry now.
Anyway, not long after I went to Rabaul to do Grade 7 and when I returned for holidays, Brith was still there. Handsome, crimson comb, tail feathers fluttering in the wind.
Uncle Ukamora came over and asked Mama, “Sister in law, I want to pluck Brith’s tail feather.”
“For what?” mama asked with barely disguised hostility.
“I want to put it in my hair.”
"First, you hardly have any hair and secondly go cut your dog’s tail and glue it to your head."
When I next returned home after finishing Grade 8, I noticed that Brith’s claws and spurs had grown dangerously long and sharp.
And I witnessed them in action.
One afternoon, Mama threw some grated coconut and cooked rice next to the banana trees at the end of the yard. Brith stood proudly next to his hens as they clucked and pecked away.
Whenever he found a nice piece of coconut or rice, he called one of his hens over to eat it. He was busy dining and romancing when, out of the corner of a beady eye, he saw a cat prowling. The cat slowly approached and began eating the rice.
Brith attacked the cat with a rooster karate ripping out its left eye. The cat squealed a weird high pitched unearthly howl and rolled on the ground.
Jayrico ran over with a knife and started chasing Brith.
“Leave Brith alone Jay, the cat asked for it,” yelled Mama.
“Mama, this is my cat and that rooster has become a monster,” Jay yelled back.
“He is just protecting his territory,” Mama responded.
“Animals and birds don’t have territories here Mama. If this cat dies, Brith’s going in the mumu,” Jay announced, leaving to take care of his cat.
The now one-eyed cat survived and Brith continued to rule our yard, our house and our lives.
When I came home after completing Grade 9, I had the shock of my life. Brith’s once beautiful feathers had become distressingly limited.
“What happened to Brith, Mama,” I asked.
“He is old now, Dee,” Mama answered sadly.
I noticed other handsome roosters who were content in the fenced off area.
“They are Brith’s sons,” Mama told me. “Brith has given me a new breed. Handsome, strong and tough
“Can I mumu one of them?” I asked.
“You sure can dear,” Mama smiled, as she wove a basket with coconut leaves.
On Christmas morning, we found Brith floating face down in a drum filled with rainwater.
With tears in her eyes, Mama dug a hole beside the fence, covered Brith with a colourful laplap with pink hibiscus flowers and put him in a carton and buried him.
“We should have eaten that chook. What a waste,” Tasdei complained.
“He is family, you dope. You don’t eat your brother,” I hissed, sounding just like Mama.
Arrogant or not, anyone you raise and wins your heart is truly family.