A Papuan origin legend: The first coconut
15 February 2023
| Ples Singsing
ERIMA, NCD - Long ago, there lived on the coast of Papua New Guinea a couple and their two sons. The brothers would frequently fish at sea.
This day started like any other. They loaded fishing gear into their canoe and departed.
They fished all day until late in the afternoon when the older brother suggested that as they had caught many fish it was time to paddle home.
But the younger brother insisted on paddling further out to sea to catch even more. So they paddled further away from the coast.
All went well until the older brother saw something strange and large in the water moving in on their canoe - a shark!
Terrified, they began paddling back towards the shore but the shark blocked their way.
The older brother told the younger brother to throw fish into the water for the shark to eat.
He figured they could make their escape while the shark was distracted eating fish.
The shark made quick work of the first batch of fish and pursued the brothers as they paddled towards the coastline, blocking their escape again.
The brothers threw more fish into the sea and the shark quickly devoured them and continued to block the canoe.
They had come closer to the shore but the same sequence of events happened until the brothers had no more fish with which to distract the shark.
The older brother then said to his younger brother, “In order for you to survive, you must sacrifice me.
“Kill me and cut my head off, give my body to the shark and bring my head back home to bury.
“You must do this or otherwise the both of us will die here.”
But the younger brother did not want to kill his big brother and refused.
An argument ensued over what to do, during which time the shark began ramming the canoe, trying to destroy it and tip them into the water.
At last, upon the older brother’s insistence, the younger brother reluctantly accepted his instructions.
He killed his brother, cut off the head and threw his body into the sea for the shark to eat.
While the shark was busy eating the older brother’s body, the younger brother paddled back home with the head.
When he arrived home, his eyes filled with tears and his parents asked what was wrong.
He recounted to them the entire dreadful ordeal and the parents began to wail as the younger brother described what had happened and how the elder brother had sacrificed himself.
The next morning, the younger brother dug a hole beside their house and buried his older brother’s head.
After a few days, a new plant sprouted on the exact spot where the head had been buried.
As time passed, the plant grew bigger and bigger. But it looked strange, unlike any plant they had seen before.
As months and years passed, the plant grew tall and bore a large hard fruit they named ‘coconut’.
A coconut fell down from the tree one day and the younger brother picked it off the ground.
He held the fruit in his hands, felt its texture and pressed it with his thumbs to feel its density.
He removed the coconut’s exterior skin and the husk until there only a strong nut was left.
With surprise, the younger brother observed humanoid features - two horizontal holes eyes, and, below, another single hole.
“Oh my brother!” he gasped, and shed tears.
His brother, and the sacrifice he had made, had given birth to this wonderful tree.
This is the story of how the first coconut came to be on coastal Papua.
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