This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or when factual, used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Please scroll down to earlier chapters as needed.
Copyright © 2019 Theodore A Henning II
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“Masai! Masai!” Womini called out to Masa Pirovuki in an affectionate tone of respect. She stood directly below the entry opening to his longhouse, some seven or eight feet above. Built on log pilings, its creaky flooring was barely elevated a meter above the water when the sea came in at high tide. Now, as she stood waiting at low tide, her toes squeezed into the mucky, moist sand which mushroomed up between them with a tickling sensation. She glanced at the old man’s small dugout canoe, marooned momentarily between the pilings. It was ancient, a frail derelict in need of repair, and that was a man’s job. Komoi certainly would have helped mend it. How sad she thought. Womini couldn’t see the patriarch from where she stood, but her keen hearing informed her that Masa Pirovuki was slowly and decisively making his way toward her.
The others of his longhouse were all out; gathering vegetable greens, searching for dry fire wood or poking for sea worms to be used as fishing bait. Masa was all alone, and that was fine with Womini. She had hoped she might get a chance to talk with the aged sage without interruption. All at once, she caught the wafting pungent odor of burning fish scales emanating from his house. He had been cooking fish over the fire on his mud hearth in the rear. Womini felt ashamed she hadn’t ventured seaward, out toward the water to the cooking area facing the bay to call for him. Just as these thoughts left her, he appeared in the opening.
“Vavi Womini! Rua mari!” he exclaimed, appearing rather pleased to see Komoi’s sullen-eyed yet beautiful young widow. She carefully ascended the rickety bamboo rungs, silently obeying his call for her to approach. Up the old entry ladder she then sat on the narrow landing which ran along the periphery of his house. She knew the old man was without most of his teeth. Especially needful were his molars, those used for chewing savu, the betel nut every aboriginal loved so much. Without his molar teeth, chewing betel nut was impossible for him. And chewing savu was a pleasure he less frequently indulged in. Such was almost bygone for him, like pig hunting and the raids. So, she had thoughtfully prepared a treat.
Womini assumed a side-legged sitting position next to him. Once settled, she reached into her woven carrying pouch and pulled out a short bamboo container with telltale rose-red stains visible on its surface. She offered the winio to him. His eyes brightened as he raised his eyebrows and beamed a great big toothless smile.
He quickly forgot about eating fish! Inside the bamboo winio was that medicinally sweet, red betel nut concoction just waiting for him to enjoy! She had thoroughly masticated it and then spit the blood-like red pulp into her container. Immediately, he pulled off the stopper and scooped some out. Instead of chewing and spitting as others normally did with savu, Masa Pirovuki gummed it for a long time, drawing out every bit of flavor, then swallowed! With his index finger he reached in for more.
Womini knew he was satisfied with her small gift. He motioned for her to speak.
“I have no more tears to shed. My belly feels so empty and twisted. I really feel hollow inside with Komoi gone.”
savu oozing from his mouth didn’t stop him from replying that he, too, felt the terrible empty sensation in his belly. Swallowing again, he spoke in that somewhat comical distorted way toothless people do, when their speech snorts out through their nostrils. “We must both try to keep busy so as not to let this emptiness inside gnaw away at us. Since the first news of his death, I have continually thought about what to do for Rundawai. Komoi was as my son, and now his own son, Rundawai, must grow to become a man without his father. So, I have decided to fashion a bow for him and decorate it with snake incising. A good bow is something a young growing Ayambi warrior-to-be should have.”
“A strong bow decorated with your renown snake incising will make a most cherished gift to him. I am sure that as he grows, the bow will give Rundawai many fond memories of his…,” she wanted to say father, but quickly added, “…grandfather.” She meant this in the wider paternal sense of the word, knowing that he desired to mentor the child in the things pertaining to manhood.
Although Masa Pirovuki was not a true blood relation, Komoi had loved him as a father, giving him special attention in their bond of friendship. The elders had been very special in Komoi’s eyes.
Komoi perceived that the elders of this present generation of patriarchs were each a cache of knowledge and wisdom. He further sensed that much of their knowledge and wisdom was passing away with them as they died; wisdom that, if not captured by his own, younger generation, would pass away entirely. And Masa Pirovuki had not disappointed Komoi in their relationship. By Masa’s lead, Komoi had matured into a fine mature Ayambi warrior, father and would-be leader of his people. His demise was most premature and unfortunate. And now there was young Rundawai to think of.
Womini began again. “Something troubles me about Komoi’s death. He was so strong and fearless, bound to be a great leader someday. Although I publicly mourn for him, I yet strain to understand the cause. His death must have cause. Surely, his death must be the work of manawea sorcery, but such is difficult for me to even think about. Who desired to trouble Komoi?”
“Yes, the manawea are responsible for so much misery upon our people. Yet, we must not let our thoughts dwell on them. The pain in our empty stomachs would grow as a knotted tree limb that engorges itself, while slowly choking to death.”
“What else is there to think upon? This new canoe is now worn and cracked. Komoi is dead, and I continually think of the loss my children have, the loss I have… and I am angry that I am now alone.”
“Yes, be angry, vavi Womini, my child, all will be well with you and the children. But do not give yourself over to unnecessary suspicions. The other men and I are persuaded that no one worked sorcery against Komoi or the other warriors who died.”
“How can this be so?” Her eyes pleaded with him for a more meaningful response.
Masa Pirovuki thought it best to try and defuse her ill-feelings by sharing some points of understanding the elders gained at the gathering of men. “As you know, the Kayov warriors who previously came to attack Yende were indeed routed by our warrior patrol before they could attack our village. We were fortunate to suffer only several minor flesh wounds whereas the Kayov Rudomo lost two warriors, only one of whom they could carry in retreat. Soon afterwards all Yende men gathered to talk and we all agreed that our warriors should attack that Rudomo village sooner than tradition normally allows. We all agreed to break the moon cycle tradition and attack them premature of the proper time.”
“I remember that night,” she interrupted.
“Although our warriors showed great valor, we have incurred the wrath of big Sky-deity, for retaliating so quickly as we did. Sky-deity is not pleased with us. The severe monsoon rains came as a chastening sign of his displeasure. And now we understand that our battle casualties are truly the result of our own wrong doing, and not of manawea sorcery.”
“Komoi’s death not the result of sorcery?” she gasped rhetorically, trying to understand. It was one thing to be fearful and angry with manawea, but no one dared harbor anger against big Sky-deity.
“We all perceived big Sky-deity to be angry with us when he brought such a severe monsoon storm. I did not then understand big Sky-deity’s anger fomented because our warriors transgressed. Perhaps, had the Ayambi not broken the moon cycle tradition, as was done, Komoi might still …?” Her voice trailed off as she looked at old Masa Pirovuki, her eyes filling with moisture just this side of tears. Masa nodded once in silence and turned his head back to look intently at the incised decoration on the bamboo winio.
“What must we now do to quiet big Sky-deity’s anger?” She asked hesitantly.
“The decision has been made. At the next monsoon rain, all warriors and adult males will seek a sign of acceptance from big Sky-deity; we will all gather for ritual cleansing.”
Womini knew if big Sky-deity accepted the warriors’ ritual cleansing, then a sure sign of his lessening anger would become apparent to all. As the two sat in silence, Womini gazed off south-westward at the billowing, white clouds which enveloped the rising peaks of the Vogelkop Mountain range. The ethereal mists emanating from the moist mountain foliage seemed to be reaching out, reaching up to the hovering clouds, almost as if seeking a gentle embrace. She felt the tension within her release its grip. Masa Pirovuki’s revelation caused her knotted belly to relax somewhat, and that was a good feeling.
“You have helped me understand my anger, Masa, eh, Masa Pirovuki, do you think the raids will ever cease?” She did not wait for an answer. However, her words once spoken were a provocative thought for him to ponder. The raids cease? Something most profound would have to take place for such to happen.
Womini retrieved her empty winio, spoke no more and carefully descended the bamboo ladder to the moist sand below. The tide was still out. In the late afternoon, gentle waves began to cascade toward the beachhead, and would soon loft the old man’s frail canoe.
As she made her way around the barnacle encrusted pillars of his dwelling, heading seaward, she pulled a pencil-like stick out of her woven shoulder bag. With her stick, the always ready tool, she hoped to procure several sea worms. Several she needed for bait when she fished the incoming surf. Diligently, Womini searched the exposed ocean floor for telltale worm sign. Masa Pirovuki watched her for a moment then retreated inside to tend to his thoroughly blackened, deliciously desiccated fish, still smoldering high over the embers.