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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Warm familiar sunlight greeted Ayambi clan members as they descended to the moist sand below. Piercing brightness momentarily brought pain, as villagers both young and old alike wiped their faces and rubbed their bloodshot eyes seeking relief. The tide had receded seaward, exposing the flat naked sand bar for a hundred or more feet out away from Yende shore.
Yapping dogs took opportunity to run free like the lightly blowing breeze, occasionally muzzling into a crustacean’s hole left exposed. Quickly jerking erect, they looked fiercely funny with white sandy muzzles. Aquatic life, normally protected and unseen, frantically scrambled for safety. Children searched the tide pools for small fish, dug for tasty clams and feverishly scoured the exposed coral for stranded crabs. Activity everywhere indicated that Yende villagers had welcomed the promise of a new day.
Excepting a few aged, the others had already descended to the outside by the time Womini wiped the sleep from her eyes and placed kindling on the lifeless ash. Coaxingly she poked, blowing now and again to entice a flame. Sparks ignited as though if by some magical pronunciation she had caused what was dead to come to life again. Her memories of Komoi could never bring him to life again, but still, it was the thought of sorcery that tenaciously resounded in her mind. Komoi, swift as a running deer, had not died of his own accord she reasoned. Someone had worked manawea sorcery on him. There was no other explanation. Who would have done such a thing?
While women busily tended cooking fires, others whose cup of grief had not so thoroughly poured, resumed wailing quite removed from reality. Womini knew it was their way, but what good did it do to continue to mourn outwardly? The grief she felt inside was burden enough. Her husband and the other dead were in the unseen realm and those left behind must carry on, must… avenge. And with that thought she became acutely aware of the ravenous sensation gnarling away at her gut. This was good, for she, too, had been quite removed in mourning at a time when her soul reeled at the very thought of food. Now that was past. For some, the once chastening monsoon had metamorphosed, becoming an emotional cathartic. Womini knew her children must be hungry, and so she set about warming smoked pig meat and sago cakes.
Mid morning, male clan members began to make their way to the men’s house, a place forbidden to Ayambi women and children. All the villages had such a gathering house. It was the special discussion place for men, each boasting an assortment of collected paraphernalia; artifacts regarded taboo to all but initiated penis-sheath wearers. Young men were taught the ancestral ways and initiated in the sara. The interior was dark and sooty, adorned with sacred ancestral skulls, fetish animal bones, and various bird plumes.
A centrally located fire pit cradled smoking acacia wood. The glowing coals barely provided the only available glimmer of light. A bamboo drying rack directly above was already in use. The carefully placed severed heads formed a lifeless audience to this morning’s gathering. The gray matter of the once living enemy had been meticulously siphoned through each nostril during an earlier ceremony held immediately after their return. The remaining hair, flesh and bone were in process of thoroughly desiccating upon the rack. These heads were destined to take positions along the east wall, additional enemy heads to be esteemed, along with all the other war trophies.
Masa Pirovuki’s keen elderly eyes were already accustomed to the low interior light. As he sat to one side he carefully rolled a tobacco-leaf smoke. Tradition dictated that elderly men be revered with the vocative title masa, meaning ‘dried up one.’ This posed quite an epithet for any man outliving three concurrent wives who had fathered 17 children, nine of which were living, with eight now deceased! He was lean and muscular, still quite strong despite his advanced age. Although his fine muscular frame could pull draw on the firmest bow in the village, Masa Pirovuki hadn’t been able to participate in the tribal wars. A bad knee from a previous injury prevented him from needful swift escape. Consequently, he usually led the other stay-behinds in standing village defense.
Komoi was special to him, special like a son. It was he who had taught Komoi how to shoot arrows and hunt wild pig with a slicing bamboo spear. Komoi learned about warfare from him during the village defense periods. Now, so young and so quick Komoi was dead. This greatly grieved Masa Pirovuki who requested the special gathering to hear again the strange details of his death.
His rolled-leaf smoke was held vice-like between the pair of limp-flesh lips of his near toothless jaws. Pressed between his thumb and forefinger was a small ceramic plate shard. He swung his forearm downward striking a the shard against the outside ofhis bamboo mbororo in order to ignite the ker fibers held just under his thumb. It sparked and he continued his light up.
During the raid on Kayov village, Kaipori fought side by side with Komoi. Like Masa Pirovuki, Kaipori was deeply grieved at Komoi’s death. He had been the last one to see him alive. It was his account that would again be heard this morning, but in more detail than he had previously reported. At the onset but before beginning to speak, Kaipori reached up to his chest and fondled the small wooden amulet that dangled loosely around his neck. It was a nervous gesture of little consequence. He believed his homomorphic karuar carving offered him protection in battle, and now it gave him courage to reveal the intimate details of Komoi’s death. With eyes still red and moist from grieving and the lack of sleep, Kaipori began.
“It was to be a good raid. Womaki had told us so.” As Kaipori continued, many slowly moved their gaze from him and momentarily gave glancing recognition to Womaki sitting off to one side opposite Masa Pirovuki. “The Rudomo were unsuspecting we Ayambi would confront them so soon, and especially at Kayov. As you all know, it was agreed Tomak would lead some of the warriors in the approach from the cliffs. After the late night journey, we beached our canoes just before dawn. Tomak and the others waited for Wor’s day-light arrows to come up over the mountain, and then they proceeded directly toward Kayov village for the combined attack. This wait gave my group the needed time to climb the cliffs in the dark, circle inland around the village and attack Kayov from the direction of the hills just as the light fell upon it. In this we progressed swiftly and silently.”
“The second group included Komoi. We made our way through the jungle, overpowering a lone sentry as we circled round. He wasn’t able to alert his clansmen. Then at the appointed rise of Wor, our warriors in total stormed the village. Kayov Rudomo were truly surprised to have Ayambi arrows coming at them from all directions. They never expected to see us so soon or to be flanked. Tomak has already shared the main details of the battle. Of the three dead Rudomo we could only obtain two trophy heads. The third was the son of the Kayov big-man. Rudomo warriors thronged to him as he perished, thwarting our advancement. And there were other Rudomo wounded as you know. We lost three of our clan, These we have already mourned,” Kaipori said.
Then he tilted his head and let the gaze of his eyes fall downward in a gesture of respect as he noticeably turned his head toward old Pirovuki before looking up. He continued.
“Komoi fought well throughout the battle. His arrows found their mark, inflicting many wounds. One of these heads is tribute to his skill and that of his mentor. During the battle advance we fought very close to each other. It was on the retreat that we were forced to separate. Just as I and Juki were severing the last trophy, Bodnini was wounded. Since Komoi and Andi were closest to him, they ran to his aid.
“When we started to retreat, I looked back over my shoulder to see them supporting him, retreating slowly with their backs to the enemy. It was at this time several Rudomo warriors jumped from the thicket and quickly flanked them, and Andi took several arrows in the chest, falling backwards. Komoi lost his hold on Bodnini and bolted away, heading toward us. It was terrible to see the enemy pounce on Bodnini and Andi, but Komoi and I and the others knew we all had to move swiftly to save our own lives.” He paused momentarily.
Still puffing his smoke, Masa Pirovuki shifted his position and took opportunity to pose the question, “Where was Tomak and the other warriors during your retreat?”
Kaipori resumed. “They were ahead of us, seaward in position near the cliffs. When the sacred conch shell sounded, we all were alerted to escape. Since we had originally circled around in the dark to attack the village from the rear, the escape route was unknown to us. We knew a swift escape necessitated a rendezvous with Tomak and the others to get to the cliffs. But this plan did not go as anticipated. When Bodnini and Andi fell, we lost sight of the way of retreat and quickly ran sideways to lose ourselves in the jungle thicket. As it was, Tomak and the others made it to the cliffs and without us behind them, signaled with the sacred conch shell several times. By its sound we were able to judge our direction.”
Staring at the yellow glowing coals, Masa Pirovuki again interrupted, “During this time were you able to see Komoi?”
“Yes, he was about a tall tree’s length distance from me, much deeper into the thicket, off to our right side and slightly behind. We all headed toward that beautiful sound and the waiting cliffs. With Rudomo warriors trailing, we had no time to regroup, we each just ran as fast as we could. Everything happened so fast we didn’t even think to drop the trophies, we put all our strength into escaping. Occasionally I looked back over my shoulder to keep sight of Komoi intermittently bobbing into view. At one point, a banana grove blocked my view and it wasn’t until we were past it that I caught sight of him again, but still it was not entirely clear because of the dense foliage of the thicket and the fact that Komoi had drifted further away. I knew we were nearing the cliffs by this time because the sound of the sacred conch was noticeably louder.” He caught his breath and went on.
“As we approached the cliffs I hurriedly yelled at the others to descend to the canoes. Komoi was still some distance from us. Suddenly, as I stood there looking back, I saw the two Rudomo warriors abruptly stop. They were so close and drew their bows at him. Quickly I moved my gaze toward Komoi. The thicket was less dense and I could clearly see him leaping forward. My chest throbbed heavily as I believed Komoi, swift as a running deer, was going to elude them.”
Kaipori noticeably choked in making this last statement. He was drawing to a close the strange story of Komoi’s death and recounting it was very difficult for him. He stammered slightly as he tried to articulate the final events.
“It is a very evil place. Komoi was running through a very evil Rudomo place north of our cliff position. Running as he did, he then slowed because his pursuers showed no sign of pursuing him further. I could see the smile on his face as he glanced behind him knowing he was almost free. The Rudomo released their arrows into the air. Then it happened, so unexpectedly. Just as Komoi turned his head to acknowledge me, his arms went up into the air and as if he leaped, he eh, eh, he disappeared. He just leaped and was no more to be seen. The arrows flew over through open air.”
“I sensed my own mouth hanging open in shock and awe. It was as if the earth had just opened up and swallowed him, for he was instantly gone. Running one moment and then vanished the next. I waited thinking maybe he had slipped and fallen and would get up. Yet, he was gone. I didn’t want to believe what I saw, yet I didn’t have time to investigate further as his pursuers had turned their attention to me and were running, closing within arrow range. That’s when I turned my back and descended to the others.”
Tomak felt obligated to reassure his son’s mentor. So he made a point of looking at Masa Pirovuki, and clarified further. “Masai,” he said affectionately, “We paddled our canoes out beyond the coral reefs and waited as long as possible, but my son never came. If he were alive and able he would have climbed down to the beach. It entered my mind that maybe he had transgressed Rudomo sacred white rock, which seems the only plausible explanation for their abrupt action not to pursue him. They were evidently so close behind him they should have, but did not. Indeed, we had seen white rock outcroppings faintly distanced to the north of the landing site. Komoi must have stumbled in sacred territory, fallen on his face and has since perished. My son was a brave young warrior.”
Tomak didn’t continue further. He didn’t dare allow himself liberty to contemplate the torture and mutilation the Rudomo would certainly have done to him once they caught him. Bodnini and Andi were seasoned warriors and close friends. He couldn’t bear the thought of his own son being tortured as they surely must have been. He desperately tried to block out such dreadful images and remember Komoi as the fine young son and father he was proud of.
Womaki had remained silent throughout the recounting. Now as the men tittered, the subject of manawea sorcery came up. Brave young warriors just don’t slip and fall and die in battle without a cause. Finding that cause would fuel their superstitious speculations from one end of the territory to the other. Finding out who had worked manawea sorcery would be an unwarranted preoccupation for all the clan. Womaki felt it time to reveal what he knew.
“Great elders and Ayambi warriors. Please allow me to speak regarding this matter.” The others quieted and were pensively attentive to his words.
“On the night you came seeking a powerful word from me I had a vision. While I chanted the sade, focusing all my concentration on the immaterial ones and their power, a vision of Komoi suddenly appeared before me. As if dreaming, I was startled when it vanished. I opened my eyes to find that Komoi and I had locked glances, if but only for a moment. I continued the ritual and all you brave warriors have since acknowledged the word you received then. You did indeed overpower your enemies, and these mute heads are tribute to your success. However, for whatever its meaning I will share with you my vision that night.
“I saw Komoi as if reclining, floating like a sea bird atop a breeze. Behind him was a surrounding white brightness, somewhat like the appearance of the marsh mist during a full moon. However, this background mist was much brighter and shinier. Komoi’s eyes were open and he seemed to be staring, at me. His expression was without fear or discomfort, and this led me to believe he was not in pain. Komoi’s arms were outstretched away from his sides, his bow and arrows firmly grasped. There were no visible wounds. He seemed as if alive. I saw him. In the background mist was a wooden post, such as that of our longhouses. There was a cross beam near the upper end. This object seemed to be at the center of the mist, behind Komoi. This was my vision. And then it passed.
“This vision troubled me because the unseen ones gave no indication of its meaning that night. It was not opportune for me to then disclose what I had seen, as it would have distracted you before the battle. So I kept mute. I have since sought the wisdom of this vision but no answer has come. Then it occurred to me how similar the object in my vision was to the object the white foreigner had shown us when he first came to Yende.
“As you recall he came with Belanda people, but he did not stay. Then after many full moons he returned with his object, his salib kristus. He talked of big Sky-deity and his son. At first his news was welcomed. Then he talked against our sara house which frightened us, because he wanted us to burn it!
“Words about big Sky-deity made our bellies happy. But to burn our anio sara caused us pain in our bellies. So, we killed him. Because of this, I am persuaded that Komoi’s death was not caused by manawea sorcery. His destiny was determined by one most powerful, perhaps Wor, or more likely, big Sky-deity. If this be so, we cannot be angry. Therefore, let us not speculate further concerning Komoi’s death but let us put this whole thing to rest, now.”
Masa Pirovuki seemed pleased with Womaki’s explanation and suggestion. He knew firsthand how usurping the suspicions of his people could be. He had almost forgotten that Belanda man with his buku and salib kristus. “Perhaps we were hasty,” he thought, then spoke.
“Womaki is true. It is best we mourn our dead and regain our strength and valor, for certainly we will need both in the days and weeks ahead. The Rudomo will not let reprisal lay dormant for long,” he added. He said this, but he did not entirely discard the manawea sorcery hypothesis.
After a moment of thoughtful consideration and mutual glances, old Masa Pirovuki again made gesture to speak and the others became silent.
“It was good for Womaki to share with us his vision. I for one am encouraged by his explanation. We must remember, it was our own consensus to break the moon-cycle tradition and attack Kayov village as we did. Perhaps big Sky-deity has been angry with us. If so, then Komoi’s death has cause in the unseen realm, for surely the excessively intense monsoon rains have come as a sign. Just as Womaki was correct in his predictive word, I believe he now directs our attention to the true source of our sorrows, to our own wrong doing.”
Tomak nodded in agreement, and as his head bowed in shame, he spoke in a voice barely audible, accenting his part in breaking the moon-cycle tradition. He then asked the men to join him en masse in ritual cleansing. All agreed. When the next monsoon rains visited Yende they purposed to gather for the ancient ritual.