The Birth of the Coconut Tree – A New Ireland Legend
A young adventurer, Ringantinsen, once stole the shark-catching rope of the magic cannibal Tougouie. He prepared to go shark-catching with his elder brother, Natelimon. When they had caught a small, sweet reef fish, they pulled their canoe far out to sea until Lemakot was a mere speck on the coastline. There they started to call the sharks. They sang the magic songs which evoked the help of their ancestors, and shook the coconut rattles along the surface of the water. After a short time their canoe was filled with a very successful catch and the two started out for home.
Their strong magic had lured the angry Tougouie from under the sea and he appeared beside the canoe demanding part of their catch. Natelimon cut a large slice of shark meat and threw it to Tougouie who dived down under the wave to devour his meal. Ringantinsen and Natelimon paddled with all speed for Lemakot. Tougouie followed them underwater and demanded more and more fish until the whole catch was gone. His continual diving under the waves and surfacing created a storm and made the flight back to shore difficult, even for the experienced sailors.
Tougouie, a cannibal, demanded one of the brothers to eat. Between themselves the brothers decided that Ringantinsen, the younger, would be sacrificed. Natelimon killed his brother and cut off his his leg to appease the terrible Tougouie. The tiny canoe traveled as quickly as possible through the now heavy seas. The cannibal’s demands caused the sky to turn dark and it began to rain. Natelimon hoisted the sail and the strong winds ferried his canoe safely through the reef into Fangalawer Bay. All that remained of his brother was the head. Natelimon took the head and buried it on the shores of the bay by Lemakot.
Many full moons came and went before any grass grew in the place where Natelimon had buried the head of Ringantinsen. This grass was celared away and a small shrub grew. Natelimon cleared all growth away for years until finally one day he saw that a strange plant had appeared in the place where Ringantinsen’s head lay. It was the first coconut tree.
This tree Natelimon left and it grew rapidly up and up, tall and straight. But it did not stop growing. It grew up past the sun and the moon until the top could not be seen any more.
Natelimon resolved to climb to the top of the tree in the hope that he would find his brother. He prepared for his strange journey for many months. A long, long rope was made from the strongest vines coiled for carrying. Natelimon’s dog was fed the best food to make him strong for the adventure. Natelimon cut many strong spears from the hard wood of the limbom tree.
When the travelers were prepared, they started their climb. The man carried some suppplies in a bilum on his back with the dog on top. They climbed all day until sundown. They tied themselves to the tree with one end of the rope and lowered the other end down for the village people to tie on fresh supplies. Natelimon pulled the rope back up and the two ate and drank.
And so they climbed for three days, until they reached the clouds. Natelimon took a stone from the bilum and broke open the clouds for the two to climb through. There, above the clouds, hidden from Earth was the splendid top of the coconut tree, bearing all kinds of nuts. There was the dry, ripe nut ready for husking, the refreshing kulau (green coconut), and young sprouting nuts growing on Ringantinsen’s tree. Natelimon picked all the nuts off the tree and threw them down through the hole in the cloud to New Ireland. Everywhere that they landed they took root, except Lesmusmus where the rocky ground broke the nuts apart and they did not grow.
After Natelimon had thrown all the coconuts down to New Ireland, he and his dog went in search of Tougouie. They walked for days until they came to a house in a clearing. Natelimon asked a young boy playing in front, whose house it was. The boy, Toulangai, was the nephew of the eveil Tougouie. Natelimon told Toulangai to go and tell Tougouie that someone had come to vist him. The cannibal was working in his taro garden far up the hills.
Natelimon and his dog went inside the cannibal’s house. Hanging on the wall were many sets of pigs’ tusks. The two prepared a large fire outside the house and burnt all the tusks making them brittle. They then replaced them on the wall.
When Tougouie came home he offered the visitors bush bananas to eat, which they refused. He was a little angry at this refusal but thought perhaps the man and dog did not like bananas, so he offered them sweet potato and taro, which they did not eat. Natelimon told him that they had only come to visit him and did not wish to eat. This made Tougouie very angry as he had made evil magic on the food to give to his victims. He offered them the shark which he had stolen from Natelimon and Ringantinsen. He was again refused. Tougouie flew into a rage, stormed into the house and returned, one by one, with all the parts of Natelimon’s brother’s body. Still the man and dog refused to eat.
Tougouie raced back into the house and fitted the pigs’ tusks into his mouth. when he tried to bite Natelimon, the tusks crumbled. All the tusks crumbled in the same manner. Tougouie was beside himself with rage and charged at Natelimon. The dog grabbed from behind and dragged the cannibal back. Natelimon hurled his first, straight, long limbom spear which stuck in Tougouie’s chest, Tougouie charged again, but the dog pulled him back and Natelimon’s spear again found its mark. When the cannibal’s body was full of spears, Natelimon took the jasue (taro digging stick) and with one mighty blow to the back of the legs, brought Tougouie crashing dead to the ground.
Natelimon and his dog returned to New Ireland by climbing back down the coconut tree. Never again were shark catchers troubled by the evil Tougouie.
This New Ireland legend was taken from Glenys Köhnke’s 1973 book Time Belong Tumbuna.