A folktale from Ormu, west of Jayapura
Retold by CELLY AKWAN
In the beginning, there were no human-beings, no plants, and no animals. Then, came Ajechoi, a high-ranking woman in her community from the East. She became the primeval mother of all people, grass, and animals. She was the mother of procreation, the Papuan Eve from Ormu, a coastal village west of Jayapura which lies at the northern foot of Cyclop Mountains.
She drifted off to the sea and ocean while floating on some driftwood. She drifted off that way for months, driven westwards by the currents of the ocean. But it was not known why she was carried along by the currents farther and farther from her village, family members, relatives, and other fellow-villagers.
Still clinging to the driftwood, she was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and afraid of dying. But she gained strength and hope as soon as she caught sight of a coast and drifted nearer to it. There was surf pounding on the beach. As she drifted near the surf, her driftwood was caught by the surf and she and the driftwood were washed ashore. Still clinging to the driftwood, Ajechoi was carried along by the current and foamy waves toward some burned rocks near Ormu. Luckily, the current and waves drifted her closer to the beach, away from the dangerous, battering surf, where she saw a slope of rocks.
Though worn out, she managed to reach the safer part of the beach and scramble up the slope of the rocks. Then, she moved on while searching for a place she hoped she could stay in for some time. After some time, she found a cave where she could stay for the time being.
Alone in there, she sat at the entrance of the cave and thought about her land, family members, and relatives. She surmised that her village was far beyond the place where she stayed. For the first time in her life, Ajechoi was alone and her loneliness filled her heart with sorrow and yearning for home. She expressed her grief in a mourning song, a song that articulated her bitter complaint.
“Oh, I have nothing: no food, no water to drink, no adornments that show my rank, and nobody else to stay with me.”
But the sorrow she uttered was reverberated by the cave and disappeared in the silence of her surroundings. There was no one else who listened to her grief. She did not know she was the only human being there. These made her feel sadder and lonelier.
No one? No, someone high up in the sky she did not know heard her song. He was Maiwa, a snake; in fact, he was known as the snake from heaven. He responded to the song by descending from heaven and keeping Ajechoi company.
Ajechoi who had never met such a being before was filled with awe.
“Do not be afraid,” said the supernatural snake in a human voice. “I have heard your sorrow and have pity on you. I came down from heaven to console and be with you.”
Then, she was surprised by the wonders the snake did only through the power of his voice.
“Let there be every kind of food for the lady here,” he said. “Let there be water for her.”
Out of nowhere, lots of sago flour, sago cakes, sago porridge, cooked and roasted fish and pork, various vegetables and fruits, sweet potatoes, yams, other edible food, and plain water he called forth appeared in abundance in front of Ajechoi in the cave! She was amazed at the display of such wonders.
Still overwhelmed by the awe she had witnessed, she ate and drank to restore her strength. Before she finished her meal, the snake from heaven said, “Let there be every kind of adornments for the lady here.”
Unexpectedly, her hair was done by some invisible hands and ornamented with fresh, fragrant, and colorful flowers; the rest of her body was mysteriously bathed and cleaned from the remains of sea water and enhanced with heavenly fragrance; her ragged clothes were also invisibly replaced with the most expensive clothes she had never worn before; a beautiful necklace suddenly appeared around her neck; armbands of the best make and models appeared around her upper arms; and bracelets of the loveliest type were worn around her wrists! She was dumbfounded by the display of this awesome magic.
Turning to Ajechoi, the snake said, “You will not feel sad and lonely anymore. I will stay with you here as long as you want me to keep you company.”
The woman nodded. Such magical fulfillment of her desire for peace and companionship took away her sorrow and bitter complaint. She began to get used to the presence of an alien, supernatural being whose love for her surpassed that of any man, even the best magician, in her village. So, she finally accepted him as her companion in the cave.
Despite their friendship, Ajechoi still yearned for her home, family members, relatives, and fellow-villagers. She wished anyone of her family members or anyone else from her village could discover her in the cave and brought her back to her village. But her wish remained a wish: nobody showed up there.
She finally gave up her hope and chose the companionship of the snake from heaven. Then, they married and lived together in the cave.
After some time, Ajechoi was pregnant. At this time, her snake-husband left her behind and went back to his abode in the sky. The time for bearing drew nearer and nearer, but her husband had not descended yet.
She thought her snake-husband would not come back to assist her when she delivered her offspring. This would be her first labor pains and she had no experience at all in giving birth to her offspring. What would happen if nobody else helped her during her labor pains and she failed in giving birth to her descendants? Sensing the danger of possible failure, she became afraid. So, she made a decision not to deliver her offspring unless there was help from elderly women. She remembered that elderly women in her village always assisted wives during their labor pains. Had they been here, they would have assisted her.
Just as Ajechoi was going to deliver her offspring, her snake-husband came back. He helped her in her labor pains.
Then, what she gave birth to were amazing. Those born were not human babies; the first born offspring included a lot of grass, a snake named Mugu, and every kind of small and big animals!
After delivering her progenies, her snake-husband waved his hand down and said, “Stop childbirth.” The childbirth event stopped.
Then, the snake-father gave some advice to the animals just born.
“All of you go and hide yourselves in the forest,” he ordered them. “The dust of soil will be your food. Take cover under the trees.”
The animals ordered disappeared in the forest. Since then, they have eaten the dust of soil.
He then turned to the snakes and said, “Do not bite human beings who call you brothers because, if you do, you have nothing to fear. But you are allowed to bite them and cause them to die if they do not consider you as their brothers.”
After having established the rules of life for his snake offspring, he went back to his wife. By lifting his hand, he enabled his wife to continue her labor pains. This time she gave birth to four human beings, two pairs of twins: two girls and two boys. Each of the girls had a secret name, but each was called Baal. Each boy was called Awi and Nafri. Together with their mother, the girls and boys were the only human beings in their surroundings.
When Ajechoi’s children were young adults, they were ready for marriage. Because there were no other boys and girls in their surroundings they could marry, they had to marry among themselves. So, Awi and Nafri married their sisters.
Their descendants multiplied and intermarried. Their former surroundings became land. After living in their land for quite a long time, they grew into multitudes of people and their land had not enough space for them to live in. So, they dispersed to the East, West, North, and South.