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Trobriand Islands - Sex In Folklore - Myths and Legend



Passing from the purely narrative and entertaining fairy tales to more serious forms of folklore, we find, in Kwabulo, one of the lagoon villages, a local legend of a pronouncedly sexual character. The story is told in a manner halfway between the serious and the jocular. It is, indeed, a significant legend to the inhabitants, for it is embodied in a famous song, it is associated with the history of their village and it is believed to be true, since certain natural features in the locality witness to its authenticity. Also it contains elements of the tragic, especially in the self-castration of the hero and in his lyric yearning for his distant home. The central theme is ribald, however; and when telling it or referring to it, as they often do, the natives are by no means solemn, but delight to exaggerate and multiply unseemly similes about the crux of the tale, which is the long penis of the hero, the legendary headman of Kwabulo. I shall quote this story, keeping as closely as possible to the native style of narrative. 

The Legend of Inuvayla'u

In the village of Kwabulo there lived Inuvayla'u the head of his clan, the Lukuba clan; the head of his village. He copulated with the wives of his younger brothers, of his maternal nephews.

When the men went out fishing, he would stand outside a house, and make a hole in the thatch; he then thrust his penis through the thatch and fornicated. His penis was very long his penis was like a long snake. He would go into the garden when the women made koumwala (clearing the ground from debris preparatory to planting); or when they pwakova (weeded the ground). He would stand right away behind the fence, he stood in the uncut bush and his penis wriggled on the ground like a snake. The penis crept along all the way. The penis would approach a women from behind as she was bending down on her task. It would strike her hard till she fell, and on all fours she would be fornicated with as the penis entered her vulva.

Ready for the final dance

Trobriand Islands dance shield

Or when women went to bathe in the lagoon the penis would go under the water like an eel and enter the vulva. Or when they went to collect shells, as women do on the western shore, wading and feeling for them with the toes in the mud of the lagoon. Inuvayala'u would fornicate with them. When the women went to the waterhole, he would smash their coconut shell bottles and fornicate with them. The men were then very angry for they had to water to drink. They would abuse the women. The women would be too ashamed to speak, for their bottles had been broken. One day the men ordered, telling their wives:

"Cook fish, cook taytu, make pudding of taro, so that our revered old man eats his fill." "No," answered the women," we shall not do it; this man does wrong by us; when you go to fish, and we remain in the village, when we work in the garden, by the waterhole, in the lagoon, he does violence to us."

Then the men watched him. They said they were going to fish. They hid in the weyha (the thick scrub surrounding the village), they saw: Inuvayala'u stood outside a hut, he made a hole in the thatch; his penis sneaked on the ground, it crept through the hole, it came in; he wronged the wife of his younger brother. The men went to the garden ... (here the various conditions under which the hero plays his foul pranks on the women are again enumerated, in almost exactly the same words as before).

When his younger brothers, his material nephews, saw this, they grew very angry. Next morning they ducked him; they ducked him in the head pool of the tidal creek, which comes up to the village of Kwabulo.

He came out of the water. He returned to his house, his mind was full of shame and of sorrow. He spoke to his mother Lidoya; "Bake some taytu and fish. Bake it in the ground. Pack all our belongs and the food in your big basket; lift it and put it on your head; we shall go, we shall leave this place."

Dancers preparing for dance

When all was ready, he came out of his house, which stood on the baku (central place of the village). He wailed aloud, facing the baku. He took his kema (axe), he cut at his penis. First he wailed and wailed over it, holding it in his hands. Then he cut off the point of his penis; it came off on the baku in front of his house; it was turned into stone. The stone is still there, on the baku of Kwabulo in front of the headman's house. He cried and wailed and went on. He stood outside the outer ring of houses, he looked back, he took his penis and wept over it. He struck again with his axe. The second bit fell off and was turned into stone. It can be seen still outside the village in Kwabulo. He cried and wailed and went on. Halfway between the village and the tidal pool of the creek he stopped. He looked back towards the houses. He took his penis into the palms of his hands, he wept over it and cut off another bit. It turned into stone, and can be seen there not far from Kwabulo. He came to the canoes; he looked back towards the village, he wept over his genitals. he took the axe and cut off the remaining stump of his penis. It was turned into stone, and it lies now near where the Kwabulo men moor their canoes. He entered his canoe and punted along. Halfway down the creek he wept once more. He gripped his axe and cut off his testicles. Large white coral boulders (vatu) lie in the creek. They are the token: they show where Inuvayla'u cut off his testicles.

The Inuvayla'u dance

Inuvayla'u and Lidoya, his mother, went to Kavataria (to the north of Kwabulo, a village, from which overseas expeditions are made south). he stole a large waga (canoe), a mwasawa (sea-going canoe). But the owner caught him and chased them away. They went to Ba'u (a village further north). He took a sea-going canoe; he told his mother Lidoya: "Put in your basket, we shall sail." They sailed, they came to Puwaygili (a village on Kayleula). He told his mother ... (here the same words as above are repeated; then they sail again, arrive at another village and again he asks her to put in her basket; and so on, through a monotonous enumeration of the villages along the lagoon and through the Anmphlett Islands down to the koya, the high mountains on the D'Entrecasteaux Archipelago). Inuvayla'u arrived in the koya. There he settled, there he lived, and with his mother who helped him to make gardens and cooked his food for him. He went out to fish with a flying kite, and with the deep sea net which has to be sunk far under the water. His mother made gardens on the mountain slope and she made cooking pots for him.

One day he went high up the mountain slope. The day was clear. Far away among the budibudi (the small clouds that gather round the horizon in the monsoon season), he saw the large flat island of Kiriwina, he saw the wide lagoon. On its water he saw a canoe, a canoe of Kwabulo, his native village. His inside grew soft (inokapisi lopo'ula). He wanted to see his village, he wanted to punt among the mangroves of Kwabulo.

They sailed. On the sea they met a boat from Kitava. He tells his mother: "Beg them for sayaku (aromatic black paint); beg them for mulipwapwa (ornaments of shell)." The mother offered herself to the Kitava men. They copulated with her on their canoe; they gave her some sayaku and a few shell ornaments. He had some red paint and some red shell ornament.

On the landing-place at the head of the creek he adorned himself. He went to the village. In his festival adornment he stood on the baku (central place), he sang the song which he had composed in the koya (southern mountains). He taught the song in the villagers, to his younger brothers, and maternal nephews. He gave them the song and the dance. For all time this has remained the dance and song of the people of Kwabulo. It is danced with the kaydebu (dancing shield). The men of Bwaytalu and of Suviyagila have purchased it and they dance it also. Inuvayla'u lived in his village till he died. This is the end of the story.

The act of expiatory self-castration is sometimes made to take place on Inuvayla'u's return home. This, however, does not tally with the sequence of natural relics. All the stones described in the myth still exist, though the similarity to their anatomical prototypes has worn away with time, while their size must have enormously increased. Making the necessary allowances for imagination and latitude in exegesis, there can be no doubt that the testicles are in the creek - large, round boulders just awash at the low tide; while the glans penis, a pointed helmet-shaped piece of white coral, is in the central place of the village. This disposition confirms the version given in the text.

The etymology of the hero's name indicates his failing; the inu is unquestionably the feminine particle ina, woman, while the verb vayla'u means actually to rob or steal; so that his name can be translated "the thief of woman". To those who believe in the existence of an old-time gerontocracy in Melanesia this myth will be of special interest; for in it we have the old (male) "matriach" trespassing on the rights of the younger men of his clan and, by means of his enormous organ (the symbol of his greater generative power, a psycho-analyst would say), claiming all the women of the community. Some parts of the story show indisputable signs of greater antiquity, whereas others have obviously been modernized. The simple crudity of the first part and its association with natural features has all the interesting sociological significance of the genuine myth, gradually degenerated into mere legend. The second part, on the contrary, with the song which will be quoted presently, is set in modern and realistic conditions, and its lyrical narrative character stamps it as a tale of more recent origin.

Trobriand Islands women with carrying pads resting at the wayside with their loads
off and the pad remaining in position. The central figure wears a mourning relic over her shoulder

It is characteristic also that, in the first part of the legend, the women are described as especially open to attack during their specific privileged occupations, when normally a taboo protects them and not only should a man never make love to them but should not even approach them. It must be remembered that, while engaged in communal weeding, women are entitled in certain districts to attach any man who approaches them. This is certainly an interesting correlation and might, to an anthropologist endowed with some imagination and a faculty for hypothetical construction, serve as a proof of the antiquity of the myth and furnish a theory as to the custom of yausa. By outraging the women when engaged in such occupation as weeding and filling the water-bottles, Inuvayla'u adds insult to injury, and in the legend we see the women more ashamed for the manifest insult to female prerogatives in the broken water-bottles than for their abused chastity. Superficially this breaking of the bottles might appear merely an unpleasant sadistic trait in the otherwise amiable character of Inuvayla'u. In reality, however, all such details are sociologically very significant.

Trobriand Islands women in formal attire

Another slight variant of the legend declares that Inuvayla'u was not allowed to return to his village, but was chased away immediately on his appearance.

The song which is ascribed to the mutilated hero of Kwabulo is but loosely connected with the story of the myth. The first stanza alludes to his trespasses and their consequences, and the expiatory resolutions to go away. The coral outcrop or coral ridge mentioned in the first stanza and the marshy ground through which the hero is made to wander, are poetical images of that part of the legend in which the wanderings of the hero and his mother are described.

The second and third stanza still follow the myth. The part of the mother, the sorrow of the son, and the first stages of the journey are common to both song and legend. But the song, neglecting completely the coarser and perhaps more archaic elements of the myth, does not mention castration. There is only the sorrow for the village left behind and the house abandoned.

Trobriand Islands dancers

To indulge in tentative speculation for another moment; may not the first and second parts of the myth be different stories altogether - the first part, a primitive myth with several interesting sociological hints and implications; the second part and the song, a tale of a real or imaginary man, who, too amorous to be tolerated in the community, was banished from it, and, later offered in expiation his song and his repentance? In the course of time the two were amalgamated in the legend, but not in the song.

From the fourth stanza on, the song turns on the motives of decoration, of dancing of personal renown, and of self-glorification; of women admiring the singer's ornaments, of his wandering through the villages and his recurring nostalgia. In all this the song is typical of its kind in the Trobriands. I am giving only the first six stanzas because I was unable to translate the remaining ones as fully as these.

The Song of Inuvayla'u

One day they ducked Inuvayla'u
The news of the fornication spread
He was dipped, he went under, he came out of the water.
He turned and went to the sea -
Through the raybwag and dumia he went to the sea
Our mother Lidoya get together the food,
I turn my eyes to Gugubakibaki
My tears flow at the thought of the bwaulo of my village.
My tears flow at the thought of Kwaburo, of the sweet air of Kwabulo.
"Our mother Lidoya put your basket on your head."
She goes carefully, she stumbles along the creek.
She has left Kwabulo - the house is closed up.
Inuvayla'u will not fornicate any more.
Thy house is locked up - there is no more Inuvayla'u's house.
"It is put up - the mast at the mouth of the creek.
I seek for my song - I am taking the road - I - Inuvayla'u
My road to Gulagola which leads to Tuma,
And afterwards the Digidagala road which leads through Teyyava.
"Women of Kulumata, dance your dance!
Prepare for a round dance with the tubuyavi on your faces!
A tilewa'i for you - go then to my village,
Go to Oysayase - to Oburaku!"
"It is the time for the journey, the journey to Kiriwila, usually pronounced Kiriwina
The children tried to retain me,
I shall go my road and come to Yalumugwa.
My dala - the men; my love - the women.
They admire my paya
When I come to Okaykoda, my friends will greet me.
My mind is sad,
I am a Luba man, my fish is kaysipu.
I have fallen on evil days."
Raybwag - coral outcrop, coral ridge; dumia - swamp marshes.
The landing-place of Kwabulo on the lagoon.
Bwaulo - cloud of smoke, surrounding a village.
Tubuyav - pattern of facial decoration.
Both southern villages.
North-western district
Village due north of Kwabulo
Dula - sub-clan
Paya - Turtle-shell ear-rings.


Besides legend of events in distant epoch, the natives tell tales of far away places. At almost every oint of the compass, we we were to believe the natives, some remarkable country is to be found if we travel far enough. One such place is of interest to us here because of the peculiarities of the inhabitants.

"Far away, beyond the open sea - walum, as the natives say - if you were to sail between Sim-sim and Muyuwa (i.e. in a northerly direction) you would come to a large island. It is called Kaytalugi. Its size is that of Boyowa (the name of the largest island in the Trobriad group). There are many villages. Only women live in them. They are all beautiful. They go about naked. They don't shave their pubic hair. It grows so long that it makes something like a doba (grass petticoat) in front of them.

"These women are very bad, very fierce. This is because of their insatiable desire. When sailors are stranded on the beach, the women see the canoes from afar. They strand on the beach awaiting them. The beach is dark with their bodies, they stand so thick. The men arrive, the women run towards them. They throw themselves upon them at once. The pubic leaf is torn off; the women do violence to the men. It is like the yausa of the people in Okayaulo. The yausa has its season during the pwakova. When it is over, it is over. In Kaytalugi the women do it all the time. They never leave the men alone. There are many women there. When one has finished, another comes along. When they cannot have intercourse, they use the man's nose, his ears, his fingers, his toes - the man dies.

"Boys are born on the island. A boy never grows up. A small one is misused till he dies. The women abuse him. They use his penis, his fingers, his toes, his hands. He is very tired, he becomes sick and dies."

Such is the account given by the natives of the island with the significant name. Kayta means "to copulate"; lugi is a suffix denoting complete satiation. This Kayalugi means "the fill of copulation". The natives believe absolutely in the reality of this island and in the truth of every detail of their account. They tell of circumstantial stories of how sailors, driven towards the island by a strong wind, will land on desert reefs rather than risk making Kaytalugi. The distance to the island is about a night and a day's journey. If you set sail in the morning and go abomatu (due north), you will arrive next morning at the island.

Trobriand Islands women making skirts

There are also stories, believed to be true, about men who went there and succeeded in escaping. Thus, long ago, some men of Kaulagu were stranded on theisland, driven off their course, according to some versions, during the kula expedition. But another story has it that they went there on purpose. It is a custom in the Trobriands, when work fcomes to a dead-lock, for one of the men to utter a challenge. Some extraordinary exploit, some diversion or festivity is proposed by him, which he always has to lead, usually to organize, and sometimes to finance. Those who are challenged have to follow him. On one occasion the men of Kaulagu were engaged in planting yams. The work was very hard, the yam supports refused to penetrate the stony soil. The headman cried out: Uri yakala Kaytalugi! "My challenge Kaytalugi! Let us go and see the women." The others agreed. "They filled their canoe with food, firewood, water bottles, and green coconuts. They sailed. One night they slept on the sea, the second night they slept on the sea, the third morning they made Kaytalugi. (This does not agree with the version of other informants, but perhaps the wind was not propitious!) The women assembled on the beach; 'Wa! men are coming to our country!' They pulled gthe canoe to pieces, made a heap of the debris on the beach and sat on it. They copulated, copulated, copulated; one month, month after month. The men were distributed, each man was married to one woman. They settled.

"They made gardens for months and then they spoke to their wives. 'Are there many fish in your sea?' The women answered: 'Very plentiful.' Let us repair 9our canoe' said the men. 'We shall get some fish, we shall eat it all of us.' They repaired the canoe, they put leaves andfood in it, they put in water-bottles and they went away. They sailed three days and came back to Kaulagu, their native village. Their wives, who had mourned them and then re-married, were glad to see them, and came back to them again. They brought home, among other things, a new kind of banana called usikela. You see usikela growing in any village now, and eat them. They are very good." And this is another proof that the story is true, and that Kaytalugi really exists.

Another story is told about a man of Kaygola, a village on the northern shore. Fishing for shark, he sailed far away. He came to Kaytalugi and was married by one woman. Feeling tired of her too persistent embraces, he made holes in all the local canoes, overhauled his own, and then suggested to his wife that the fish were very good that morning. He put to sea and set sail. The women of Kaytalugi pushed their canoes into the water to purse him. But the canoes were swamped and the man returned safely to Kaybola.

So far we have been discussing the less sacred classes of folklore, and in these we have found the sexual motive predominant. The less the religious or moral significance of a story - the less "real" it is to the native - the more frivolous it becomes; and the more frivolous it becomes, the more frequently, as in the fairy tales (kukwanebu), does it hinge on sex. But among legends, there is only one story which has sex in its principal motive, that of Inuvayla'u, and only one geographical account, that of Kaytalugi. The real myths (lili'u) hardly ever have a sex motive; the myths of the origins of humanity and of the social order, for instance, are completely free of it. Again, in the cycle of stories about the hero Tudava, the only sexual reference occurs in the incident of the virgin birth, the mechanism of which is discreetly and chastely described; the hero's mother sleeps in a grotto, and the dripping water (litukwa) from the roof pieces her hymen, penetrates the vagina and thus "opens her" (ikarpwala), making it possible for her to conceive.

No sexual elements are to be found in the several myths referring to the circular trade kula; or in those of the origin of fishing, of canoes, and of diving for the spondylus shell. Nor are any to be found in the myth of old age, death, and the annual visit of the spirits.

Fire, according to legend, was brought forth by the same woman who produced the sun and the moon. The sun and moon wander away into the sky, but the mother keeps the fire, concealing it in her vagina. Whenever she needs it for cooking, she takes it out of its hiding place. But one day her younger brother discovers where she keeps it, steals it, and gives it to other people. This is the only genuine myth with a distinctly sexual element.

Sex does not play a very important part in beliefs about supernatural beings. The only exception to this rule is the idea that some witches (yoyova) have intercourse with tauva'u (malignant, anthropomorphic beings who come from the southern islands and cause epidemics). Thus Ipwaygana, a womand of the Malasi clan who was married, against all the rules of exogamy, to Modulabu, the Malasi headman of Obweria, has a familiar tauva'u, who visits her sexually and teaches her the arts of evil magic. Bomwaytani of Kaybola, the headman's wife and a notorious yoyova, is also known to have a liaison with such a malignant, super-human instructor.

But in the Trobriands such cases are sporadic. The belief in a witches' Sabbath which seems to obtain among the Soutern Massim, is not found in the northern district. Informants from Normanby Island and from the islands of the east end believed that witches foregather at night and meet Ta'ukuripokapoka, a mythological personality and apparently an expert in evil craft. Dances and orgies take place, in which the witches copulate with male beings and even with Ta'ukuripokapoka himself.   


In the Trobriands, as in almost every culture, one of the most important dogmatic systems or mythologies is that referring to a future life.

The Trobrianders place the spirit world on a small island called Tuma lying to the northwest. There, unseen by mortal eyes, undisturbed by the troubles of the world, the spirits lead an existence very much like that of ordinary Trobriand life only much more pleasant. A good description is as follows:

"In Tuma we are all like chiefs; we are beautiful; we have rich gardens and no work to do - the women do it all; we have heaps of ornaments and we have so many wives, all of them lovely." This summarizes the ideas and aspirations of the natives with regard to the spirit world - at least, as long as it remains a matter of remote speculation, for their attitude towards death and the desirability of an immediate move to Tuma remains unaffected by what they think of and hope for in the next world. On this point they are exactly like ourselves. Many a good Christian will grow enthusiastic about the joys and consolations of Heaven without showing, however, any alacrity to repair thither.

But in any distant perspective and as a picture for dogmatic fantasy, the home of the spirits in Tuma remains a paradise, and above all an erotic paradise. When a native talks about it, when he grows eloquent and relates with traditional stories, filled out with scraps of information gathered from recent spiritualistic mediums, and elaborates his personal hopes and anticipations - all other aspects soon fade into the background and sex comes to the fore; sex primarily, but set about with its appropriate trappings of personal vanity, display, luxury, good food, and beautiful surroundings.

In their anticipations, Tuma is thronged with beautiful women, all ready to work hard by day and dance by night. The spirits enjoy a perpetual scented bacchanal of dancing and chanting on spacious village-places or on beaches of soft sand, amid a profusion of betel and of green coconut drinks, of aromatic leaves and magically potent decorations, of wealth and the insignia of honour. In Tuma each one becomes endowed with such beauty, dignity, and skill that he is the unique, the admired, the pampered protagonist of a never-ending feast. By some extraordinary sociological mechanism, all commoners become chiefs, while no chief believes that his relative rank is to be diminished or dimmed by the spirits of his inferiors.

Let us follow the adventures of a spirit as he enters his future home.

After certain preliminary formalities, the spirit comes face to face with Topileta, the guardian of the road to Tuma. This person, who belongs to the Lukuba clan, looks very much like a man and is essentially human in his appetites, tastes, and vanities. But he is of the consistency of a spirit, and his appearance is distinguished by very huge ears which flop like the wings of a flying fox. He lives with a daughter or several daughters.

The spirit is well advised to address Topileta in a friendly fashion and to ask the road, at the same time presenting the valuables which were given to him for the journey to Tuma by his surviving relatives. These valuables, be it noted, are not buried with the body nor destroyed, only pressed and rubbed against it before death and afterwards placed on the corpse for a time.  Their spiritual counterparts are supposed to be taken by the spirit of the deceased on his journey to the next world, and then, according to one version, offered to Topileta, or, according to another, used to decorate the spirit's own person on his entrance into Tuma. No doubt an intelligent spirit finds a way to do justice to both requirements.

Topileta, however, is not satisfied with mere gifts. His lust is equal to his greed, so that if the spirit is a female he copulates with her, if a male he hands him over to his daughter for the same purpose. This accomplished, Topileta puts the stranger on his way, and the spirit proceeds.

The spirits know that a newcomer is arriving and throng to greet him. Then a rite is performed which deeply affects his mind. The spirit arrives filled with sorrow. He yearns for those left behind, for his widow, his sweetheart, his children. He longs to be surrounded with his family, and to return to the bosom of his wife or of his earthly love. But in Tuma there is an aromatic herb called bubwayayta. As with the first sip of the water of Lethe, so this scent makes him forget all that he has left on earth, and from that moment he thinks no more of his wife, yearns no more for his children, desires no more the embraces of earthly loves. His only wish now is to remain in Tuma and to embrace the beautiful though unsubstantial forms of spirit women.

His passions will not remain long unsatisfied. Spirit women, unfleshly though they appear to us mortals, have fire and passion to a degree unknown on earth. They crowd round the man, they caress him, they pull him by force, they use violence on him. Erotically inspired by the bubwayayta spell, he yields and a scene is enacted, unseemly to those unused to the ways of a spirit, but apparently quite the thing in Paradise. The man submits to these advances and copulates with the hostess-spirit in the open, while the others look on, or, stimulated by the sight, do likewise. Such promiscuous sexual orgies, in which male and female mix indiscriminately, congregate, change partners and reunite again, are frequent among the spirits.

We are told that Tomwaya Lakawabulo was married on earth to a woman called Beyawa. He has seen her since Tuma, and, remarkably enough, she was remained faithful to him, regards herself as his wife over there, and sill have nothing to do with anyone else. This is Tomwaya Lakawatulo's own version. he agrees, however, that in this respect the late Beyawa, or rather her spirit, is an unprecedented exception to all other spirit women. For they all, married and unmarried alike, are sexually accessible to anybody - to him, Tomwaya Lakwabulo, in any case. They all, with the exception of Beyawa, make katuyausi and receive ulatile visits.

It was long ago, when Beyawa was young and attractive, that Tomwaya Lakwabulo paid his first visit to Tuma. He then made the acquaintance of one of the most beautiful spirit girls, Namyobe'i, a daughter of Guyona Vabusi, headman of Vabusi, a large village on the shore of Tuma. She fell in love with him; and, as she was so very beautiful and moreover performed bubwayayta magic upon him, he succumbed to her charms and married her. Thus he became, so to speak, a bigamist, or at least a spiritual bigamist having his wife on earth in Oburaku and his spiritual wife in Vabusi. Since that time, he has regularly frequented the land of spirits during trances, when he neither eats nor drinks nor moves for weeks. These professional visits to Tuma, besides being agreeable on account of Namyobe'i, are profitable, for he carries rich presents to the spirits, entrusted to him by their surviving relatives. There is no reason to doubt that the spiritual part of the presents reaches the ghosts in Tuma.

It is to the credit both of Tomwaya Lakwabulo and of the late Beyawa that she knew and approved of his spiritual partnership, and even allowed her own daughter to be called Namyobe after the spirit wife. Now both wives have met in Tuma, but they inhabit different villages. This is in accordance with a general rule, for each earthly community has its spirit colony to which the deceased move after death. There are also a few villages sui generis, not recruited from this world and showing strange characteristics. One of them is inhabited by women who live in houses on piles as tall as coconut palms. No man is ever allowed to enter the village and no man has ever had intercourse with the women. They bring forth children, but exclusively of the female sex. Such female puritans are, however, happily the exception in Tuma, where love, enjoyment, and lazy pleasure enfold the happy spirits.

To enjoy life and love it is necessary to be young. Even in Tuma, old age - that is, wrinkles, grey hair, and feebleness - creeps upon the spirits. But in Tuma there exists a remedy, once accessible to all mankind, but now lost to this world.

For old age to the Trobrianders is not a natural state - it is an accident, a misadventure. Long ago, shortly after mankind had come upon earth from underground, human beings could rejuvenate at will by casting off the old withered skin; just as crabs, snakes and lizards, and those creatures that creep and burrow underground, will every now and then throw off the old covering and start life with a new and perfect one. Humanity unfortunately lost this art - through the folly of an ancestress, according to legend - but in Tuma the happy spirits have retained it. When they find themselves old, they slough off the loose, wrinkled skin, and emerge with a smooth body, dark locks, sound teeth, and full of vigour. Thus life with them is an eternal recapitulation of youth with no accompaniment of love and pleasure. 

So their time passes in dancing, singing, and all that goes with these - festive, dressing, decoration, scents of aromatic oils and herbs. Every evening, in the cool season, when the persistent trade wind abates, or when the fresh sea breezes quicken the air during the sultry time of the monsoon, the spirits put on festive attire and repair to the baku of their village to dance, just as is done in the Trobriands. At times, departing from earthly usage, they will go to the beach an dance on firm cool sand beaten by breakers.

Many songs are composed by the spirits and some of these reach the earth, brought thither by mediums. In common with most such productions, these songs are a glorification of the composer. "The glory of their butia (flower wreath) they sing; of their dancing; of their nabwoda'u (ornamented basket); of their facial paintings and decoration." It was quite clear that skill in gardening or carving, outstanding achievements in war or in the kula, were no longer objects of ambition to the spirits. Instead we find dancing and personal beauty celebrated, and these mainly as a setting and a preliminary to sex enjoyment.

Following is one example of such a song, entitled Usiyawenu; it was composed by a ghost in Tuma, and brought to earth by Mitakayyo of Oburaku, a medium who was already permanently settled in Tuma.

I shall sing the song of idle enjoyment -
My mind boils over upon my lips -
They range themselves round a circle on the baku,
I shall join them on the baku -
The conch shell is blown - listen!
Look! The flaming butia wreath,
The butia of my sweetheart.
My father weeps, they start the mortuary dance for me.
Come! Let us chew betel-nut, let us throw the bubwayayta,
Let us break the pod of the betel-pepper,
The betel-nut - my mind becomes numb!
My friend, standing on the beach - he is full of passion.
He boils over, my friend on the northern shore of Tuma.
The red-haired man dreams of me,
He has no ornamental basket,
His face shines like the moon in its fullness.
The white clouds gather low over the skyline
I cry silently.
On a hill in Tuma, I rock my baby to sleep,
I shall go and look after my sister,
I shall put a bagido'u round my head,
I shall paint my mouth with crushed betel-nut
I shall adorn myself with armshells on the western shore.
* * * * *

A Trobriand song is always full of omission and of allusions of events well known to the listeners, and can never be quite intelligible to a stranger.

After two introductory lines, the first stanza describes the preparations for a dance in Tuma. In the second stanza we have the sudden abandonment of earthly interest, brought about by bubwayayta. In the third, a women sings of a man beloved by her. She is obviously still on earth, and her husband or sweetheart - the composer of the song apparently - had passed into Tuma. She looks to the north-west where monsoon clouds gather and weeps for him (stanza iv). In the last of the translated stanzas she herself has entered Tuma and describes her attire which, as with all spirits seems to have become her main concern. It is to her credit that she has not forgotten her baby, though how such a sentimental reminiscence fits into the frivolous atmosphere of Tuma none of the interpreters could explain.


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