(A Retold Myth from Yappen-Waropen, Papua)
This Babel-like Tower on Mount Tonater Collapsed with Permanent Consequences.
By CELLY AKWAN and BECKY SIMSON
In the old days, Yappen and its neighboring islands were not inhabited. At that time, the present people in Yappen and its vicinity lived on Mount Tonater. (Mount Tonater is located on the mainland of Waropen, North Papua.) They all spoke one language: Tonater.
The Tower to the Moon
For a long time, the Tonaterese had seen the faces of beautiful women in the moon when it was full moon. Both adult men and young men of marriage age had been yearning for meeting the beautiful moon women. They wanted to marry them.
The Tonaterese knew that the moon hanged low above the mountain. They could reach it if they could construct a very tall tower.
So, all the inhabitants of Mount Tonater gathered one day to talk about the plan to construct the tower. All agreed to build a bamboo tower with ladders that could reach the moon.
To carry out the plan, they worked on the tower for many days. The bamboo tower became higher and higher and the workers began to see the beautiful women on the moon more clearly. That sight itself gave them, especially the men, more strength and zest to finish building the tower as soon as possible.
But that yearning unexpectedly turned into a disaster. The frames of the tower they were busily working on suddenly began to shake and collapsed, sending all of the inhabitants of Mount Tonater to their deaths.
What happened next would change their fate for good. Because no dead people could speak Tonater, their language disappeared. But surprisingly they all were turned into animals: they became cassowaries, snakes, pigs, birds, fish, and other animals.
The Eventful Migration
One day, the Tonaterese in animal forms met and decided to leave Mount Tonater, the mount of disgrace. Then, they moved to the large island called Papua and spread out across it. They moved to the East, to the West, to the North, and to the South and settled in those places. They also moved to the islands of Yappen, Biak, Numfor, Roon; to the Raja Ampat Archipelago; and to other islands and also settled there. That is why animals from Mount Tonater have been discovered in those areas.
But the migration to Yappen was more eventful than that to other islands. The island is located north of Waropen. The south-eastern part of Yappen and the north-eastern coast of Waropen form a fairly narrow sea passage that present-day people in Yappen and Waropen call the Strait of Sairera.
How did the migration to Yappen happen? The animals that wanted to migrate to Yappen decided to build a large canoe. Using this transportation means, they would sail along Demba River in Waropen and cross the Strait of Sairera to Yappen. Finally, the animals managed to get the large canoe ready.
Before daybreak, they got on board. The canoe moved smoothly away, passed through the estuary of the Demba, and crossed the Strait of Sairera. It was a sunny day with rising wind blowing favorably at the canoe sail.
The canoe sailed faster and faster as if it had been propelled by an outboard motor. The increasing speed uplifted the spirit of the passengers. Bit by bit, the mountains of Yappen became bigger and bigger and began to look like the handle of a chopping-knife. Finally, the mountains that spread out from the west to the east sides of Yappen were clearly visible.
The cassowary with his sturdy legs was glad they were sailing to a new place to live. To make sure that the vision in front of them was correct, he stood so firmly that one of his legs having sharp nails accidentally pierced the bottom of the canoe, causing a hole.
The canoe began to leak. Water began to seep into the boat, and the transport and the passengers were in danger of sinking. Efforts to scoop out the water from the canoe did not help very much. More water kept seeping into the canoe and the canoe would sink if nothing else could be done to stop the leakage.
At such a critical moment, the field mouse got a clever idea. With his big and broad snout, he stopped the flow of water by putting his snout in the hole of the canoe. Every time water ran into his snout, he pulled it, inhaled, put it into the hole, pulled it out again, inhaled again, put it into the whole again. He did it over and over until he and the other passengers landed safely on the sandy beach of Arareni Cape in Randawaya.
The proud cassowary jumped on the white sand and immediately left his friends. He dashed into the jungle and was soon out of sight. He wanted to know whether or not they could live a better life on that island. He did not return for several days; so, the other animals waited patiently for his return.
Finally, he leaped out of the jungle with some good news. They could live in Yappen because its land was good.
They could not wait any longer for spreading to the new land and building their new life on it. So, they did not have the time to hold a farewell party; instead, they said goodbye to one another and soon spread out over Yappen.
Their wide spread caused them to live separately in small groups of the same family. Over the years, these groups grew larger and larger into communities speaking different languages. No one could speak the Tonater language. That is why present-day indigenous people of Yappen belong to different tribes speaking different languages but the Tonater language.
Reverence for Animals
Nobody knows when the first human population began to inhabit Yappen. Nobody knows whether the present indigenous people on that island were really descendants of the animals who had migrated earlier from Tonater to this island. Nobody knows how the animal descendants in Yappen became human beings.
But oral tradition has its answer. It says that the present indigenous people of Yappen are the descendants of the animals who have migrated earlier from Tonater to Yappen
They believe it. That is why they show reverence for animals. For example, certain fam or patrilineal families who have formed one kinship or clan in Yappen, revere certain animals as their ancestors. The Mansai fam believes that their ancestor is the cassowary; the Karubaba fam considers themselves to be descendants of the dog.
Their belief has turned their revered animals into taboo animals. So, eating the meat of the animals each fam is descended from is forbidden to that particular fam.
Copyright ©2008. All rights reserved. Published with written permission from the authors.