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.
Copyright © 2019 Theodore A Henning II
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Van Given was first to break the silence and begin the conversation a new. “Something you said earlier keeps coming to mind. You stated the aboriginals regard us to be the providers, what exactly did you mean by that?”
“You are a very attentive and intuitive listener, Regent van Given. Congratulations for picking up on my mere mention of it. The topic surrounding that moniker is quite interesting, you know, not the kind of thing we’d expect to hear coming from the savage mind. Professor Ni’ik Gevil first used the epithet. Although his deductions about the underlying subject matter are speculative, his observations seem valid enough, and Hasbelt agrees with him for the most part. In time the phenomenon is sure to be under the scrutiny of the ‘scholar’s eye’ so to speak.”
Van Given tried not to look annoyed at Secretary Ansel’s obviously labored reply. He certainly has a flair for intrigue he thought.
“All right. But please forgive me for my round-a-bout if not protracted explanation. The term, or what I know of the greater idea behind it, called koreri by the papuan aboriginals, comes from a distillation of Gevil’s analyses based on his cursory investigations of papuan stories, myths actually, the substance of which he has made notes of here on Manokwari coast, Numfor Island, and on Biak Island.
“Additionally, he perused reported information submitted by outlying station attendants about certain geographically widespread, esoteric events among the aboriginals that show marked similarity. These reports, all of which were made by reputable sources to be sure, concerned strange activities instigated by self-proclaimed aboriginal leaders. Gevil’s best deductions indicate that many papuan tribes share a common notion, a notion that at some time in the future a legendary folk hero will magically reappear to his countrymen. When this hero comes, he will bring with him all the beloved, dead ancestors. The notion, however, is usually locally exploited by prophetic, want-to-be leaders, one from within his own clan group who tries to rally an isolated village to do this or that, in order to hasten the time of their hero’s arrival. Thus, it can be speculated that the hero is a kind of ‘messiah’ figure.
“Furthermore, they believe the sudden return of this ‘messiah’ will initiate a time of health and prosperity such as never before seen in the islands, a golden age if you will. Although the myth scenarios may vary, the notions concerning the return of the ancestors, a hero figure and of a golden age are seen to be common through all of them.”
Van Given just sat there, so intrigued by the things he was hearing he kept silent and allowed Secretary Ansel to continue.
“To make the account even more interesting, various groups from the areas I’ve mentioned also hold the rather absurd notion that material goods, things we know to be of European manufacture, man-made stuff, will also someday materialize to their hearts content ushering in this anticipated time of prosperity! The poor fellows actually believe European goods will fall down to them out of the sky!”
“For the love of …” mumbled van Given quite bemused as he leaned back in his chair. Although his question had not yet been answered, he found this prelude most astonishing.
“Pervasive throughout this region is the Kuri-Pasai myth, about two legendary giants, brothers actually, who had a falling out. Their tale is held dear by Numforites as well as the various coastal groups living all the way down past Roon Island to the bottom of Wandamen Bay.”
“Do you know the myth well enough to tell it?” Van Given asked with interest.
“Well, I‘ve certainly spun a yarn or two in my day, and shouldn’t have too much trouble spinning one of theirs.” The telltale upturn at the corners of his mouth was partially obscured by the twisted golden hair of his mustache. Yet van Given didn’t miss the twinkle in his eyes. He wondered if Ansel had a wife and a family. He could just imagine this charmingly rotund fellow back in Amsterdam, sitting in a burgundy leather high back chair close to a crackling fire, telling wild tales to his young children resting motionless, attentive at his feet. Secretary Ansel tamped his well used pipe and continued.
“Two mythological giants are said to have originated way back up the Wosimi River, the river which now drains the inland mountain waters out to sea, at the bottom of Wandamen Bay.” As he spoke, Ansel withdrew a piece of paper and a writing instrument from his jacket pocket and began to hastily sketch the geography. This would give Regent van Given a better understanding of the territory in question. He continued speaking.
“Originally, legend has it, this great Wosimi River flowed toward Yeratuar villages lying on the coast of the Greater Bay, east of the Wondivoi Mountain range. Kuri and Pasai were giants, rival brothers, and as brothers often have cantankerous temperaments, they liked to provoke one another. Kuri was eldest, quick to combat and not as bright as the younger Pasai, who seemed very clever in his ways.”
“One day, at Maniami, a legendary inland spot west of Wandamen Bay, south in the Vogelkop range, here,” he pointed to the spot on his map and continued, “a place greatly esteemed by the inhabitants of Dusner village and the surrounding region, Pasai beat his lizard skin drum. Far off in the southern hinterland of Wandamen Bay near the Wosimi River, Kuri heard a most beautiful sound pulsate through the air around him. So, Kuri cupped his hands to his mouth and called out, ‘Is that you, Pasai, beating your drum? The sound is so very pleasing.’ From Maniami Pasai replied affirmatively. Kuri then asked, ‘What kind of skin did you use. It’s resonance is so rich and sonorous. Is it from the old gray lizard?’
“Pasai replied that it wasn’t, and Kuri pressed again to learn of its origin. Now, this Pasai fellow was quite clever indeed. In an effort to trick his brother, he told him he had used some of mother’s belly skin and that was why his drum sounded so beautiful. Kuri, envious of his brother’s beautiful sounding drum didn’t even give it a thought. If Pasai’s drum sounded so good with mother’s belly skin, his drum would sound ever so much better with it, too.
“So, Kuri made his way back to mother, picked her up and laid her on her back. Obviously frightened at his sudden movements, mother quickly asked him his intent. He told her he just needed some of her belly skin for his drum. The old woman pleaded with Kuri not to take her skin, but finally, somewhat reluctant, she gave in. Then Kuri flayed her belly with his sharp pasamai bamboo knife. Unfortunately, the trauma was too much for mother and she died.
“Kuri then realized he had been tricked by Pasai into cutting mother which resulted in her death. Kuri yelled to Pasai that he had taken mother’s belly skin and she had died. Pasai yelled back he had deceived him, his drum head wasn’t really covered with mother’s belly skin at all. The beautiful sound had indeed come from the old gray lizard’s skin.
“Poor mother. Poor dumb Kuri. Poor cleaver Pasai. Mutually mad that mother had died, the two got to it after that and fought from one end of the territory to the other. Kuri threw bamboo spears at Pasai and Pasai threw pasamai bamboo back at Kuri. They say that is why there is so much of this kind of bamboo near the Wosimi River today. During their fighting they kicked heavy boulders into the river and this supposedly made it swell so tremendously, it created two enormous waves which moved along and redirected the course of the river. And that is why the Wosimi River now flows to the bottom of Wandamen Bay.
“These giants hit and poked, cut and stabbed each other and even uprooted tall banyan trees to use as swinging clubs. In time, as the feud wore on, the landscape underwent change caused by their immense, careless quarreling. Finally, Pasai decided to leave the island and go off westward toward the unknown regions where the sun is thought to disappear into the ground. He took only his bow and arrows. Kuri remained the papuan giant of the jungle who took possession of all that Pasai left behind. Most prized was that beautifully sonorous, hourglass shaped drum! It was said that for hours on end he’d just pound it and pound it to make that beautiful boom, boom, boom resonate throughout the land.”
“Interesting. And what of Pasai?” Asked van Given intently.
“Well, as the legend goes, Pasai went westward toward the setting sun. Supposedly he discovered the secret to obtaining kebendaan, material wealth and possessions. That is why aboriginals believe he is the progenitor of all light skinned people, who incidentally know his secret, and like him, have followed his deceiving path. We are tricksters who demonstrate the material wealth but we never reveal the secret conjuring formula that obtains it!
“It is this secret knowledge about how to make things materialize out of thin air that we white people are keeping from the aboriginal! Thus, you see, to the papuan mind we are related! And just as is expected that someday Pasai himself will come back to do good for his kinsmen, these black descendants identifying with Kuri believe we lighter skinned descendants of Pasai are the providers!” Ansel finished.
“Good God, man, I’ve never heard the likes of such a thing! To think we have secrets for conjuring up all sorts of manufactured goods is such an absurd notion. The very idea is preposterous, even if it does come from primitive minds!” exclaimed van Given utterly mystified by the tale.
“Secrets?” he half mumbled to himself. Trying to make sense of the whole revelation as though he could do so in a moment of contemplation. Van Given pushed his chair back from the table and stood to stretch, placing one hand on his hips and the other to his head. He gently ran his fingers loosely through his slightly graying hair, eyes still staring off at nothing in particular. Then he spoke again.
“Secret formulae? Things that materialize out of the air and drop from the sky! We the providers, the providers… Yes!” Van Given’s voice trailed off faintly in concentrated thought as he mentally traced a thought. Turning to Secretary Ansel he exclaimed, “Yes, yes, we might very well indeed be providers! I see it, providers! What fascinating subject matter Gevil has stumbled upon, and you say other myths take similar essence corroborating his conclusions?”
“That’s what Ni’ik Gevil asserts.”
“Fantastic! This koreri notion is so preposterous and yet so tenable at the same time. I should certainly like discussing this whole matter with Mr. Gevil whenever that is possible. I was impressed with him last night. He did an excellent job interpreting for us at the meeting. Now I’m doubly impressed.” Van Given having turned back to his chair sat down as though exhausted with a most affable look upon his face. Secretary Ansel assured him that opportunity in the very near future would present itself as Ni’ik Gevil was staying on in Manokwari for a fortnight before returning to Biak.