Numbami Origin Story (in English)

This Numbami story was first told to me in Numbami in 1976 by former village head Abu Bamo, who said his ancestors were inlanders who had shared a village with the coastal Numbami for a time after the latter fled inland to avoid attacks by people from farther down the south coast, toward Morobe Patrol Post. (Stories of giant twin monsters are common among inlanders, while stories about a giant sea eagles, octopuses, and moray eels are common among coastal peoples.) My English translation is based on the Tok Pisin version translated by Leah Sawanga from my Numbami host family.

Long, long ago, Numbami villagers used to fear several kinds of monsters. Two were giant men called Ilimolo and Dolimolo. Others were the Sea Eagle, the Octopus, and the Moray Eel. These bad creatures would kill and eat people, so the Numbami were afraid and wanted to take refuge on a small island called Awayagi. All the men and women gathered at a canoe, but one young woman who wanted to go with them lacked a paddle, so one man told her to stay back. This man rose and said, “This is a bad time for all of us and we can’t allow anyone to come along without a paddle.” He said, “Everyone must have a paddle so that we can quickly paddle to the island.” The mother of the young woman said, “All right, we two can stay while you all go.” So all the people paddled to the island while the old woman and her daughter went back and stayed at a little point of land called Maito. The two of them built a village there for themselves. At this time, the daughter of the old woman was with child.

After the two lived there a while, the forest had covered up their house, so the people who went to Awayagi thought maybe the monsters had killed and eaten them. The two of them stayed there, and one day the old woman stayed home while her daughter went off to work in their garden. She trimmed the sugarcane and pulled weeds. As she was working, a sugarcane blade cut her hand. Blood gushed out. She got scared and dug two holes and drained her blood into them. After filling the two holes, she covered them up and carried food back home.

After that, the two of them didn’t go back to the garden for a while. While they just stayed home, the girl’s blood that filled the two holes turned into two little boys. Their names were Lefthand Man and Righthand Man. They lived in the holes but would sometimes go up to the garden and sit in the sun. They kept doing that until they had grown up enough to work in their mother’s and grandmother’s garden. Then one day the old woman and her daughter went to the garden. When they got there they were shocked to see that people had been working in their garden. “Who has been working in our garden?” they wondered. They finished their garden work and were about to go back home when the old woman’s daughter told her mother, “You go back home and I’ll stay and find out who’s been working on our garden.” Her Mother replied, “Won’t the monsters kill you if you stay?” But she got up and carried all their food back home, while her daughter stayed hidden inside the sugarcane.

The two boys waited until the afternoon then came out to the garden. When they arrived at the garden, Righthand Man told Lefthand Man to hold the stick while he held the taro so they could plant food for their mother and grandmother. As they planted taro, they talked among themselves, “All the people afraid of the monsters went away to Awayagi and Mama wanted to go but didn’t have a paddle, so she stayed behind. Grandma wanted to go, too, but wanted to stay with Mama. Listening to this, the girl thought, “Maybe my blood that I put in those two holes turned into these two boys.” When they finished planting taro, Righthand Man suggested to Lefthand Man that they go stick grasshoppers and eat them, but Lefthand Man said, “No, we have to go eat eat sugarcane first, then go hunt for grasshoppers.

They went to look at the sugarcane and liked the very canebrake that their mother was hiding in. As they were about to cut the cane, their mother jumped out and grabbed both at once, telling them, “I’m your mother.” The two boys were very happy and said, “This is our mother!” Their mother took them both back with her to their grandmother’s house. When they got home, she left them behind the house and went up into the house and her mother asked her, “What’s up?” Her daughter, “Nothing to worry about. That time I went to the garden and the sugarcane leaf cut my hand and blood gushed out and I dug two holes to drain my blood into, well, they turned into two boys. Their names are Lefthand Man and Righthand Man. I brought both of them with me and left them outside the house. The old woman went down to get them and her daughter brought mats down for them to sit on. The old woman went and asked them, “Where did you two come from?” They replied, “Nowhere, Grandma, we’re Lefthand Man and Righthand Man.” Their grandmother rejoiced and brought them into the house. They went and sat on the mat their mother had made, and their grandmother fetched ripe bananas for them to eat. While they ate, she told them, “All the people of this village are afraid of all the monsters, so they left for the island. I wanted to go away, too, but I worried about your mother and stayed back. Your mother didn’t have a paddle so one man sent her away, and that’s why we’re here.

The two boys stayed with their mother and grandmother and after they grew into big men, they asked their grandmother about how to build a canoe. She said, “You can’t just say ‘canoe’ because the same damned thing can be found not just on the sea but also in the mountains.” They replied, “It’s because we hear the name, that’s all.” Then the two went exploring in the forest and leaves of the canoe tree fell into their hair. When they returned home, their grandmother picked off their lice and found plenty fallen leaves in their hair. She asked, “What were you two doing that you got so much rubbish in your hair?” She looked for lice and found leaves from the canoe tree in their hair, so she said, “You know that thing you asked me about, I found its leaves in your hair.” When she showed them the leaves of the canoe tree, they said, “We’ll search around and find it.”

They looked around and came upon the place the canoe tree was standing, then they cut it down, hollowed it into a canoe, lifted it onto their heads, and carried it back home. They asked their grandmother what kind of tree people make into paddles and spears to fight with, and she said, “You can’t make those things.” The two went hunting for game in the forest and the leaves of this tree fell into their hair, and when they came back home and their grandmother picked their lice, she found the leaves and showed them to the boys, telling them, “These are the leaves of the tree you asked me about. The two went into the forest and cut down the tree and carved it into paddles and spears for fighting and carried them back to the canoe and then returned home. They did all this without telling their mother or grandmother. They asked themselves, “Who will show us the ropes and woods for building a canoe?” and the grandmother heard them talking and told them, “The leaves of the rope vines are long, the leaves of the wood for canoe parts are short.” The two of them went into the forest and cut the vines and the wood and left both of them in the sun to dry. They finally prepared everything they needed, then then built a canoe. After they finished they lined up their paddles and spears on the canoe platform, and then went to bed.

When they saw they had finished everything they needed, they wanted to go fight Ilimolo and Dolimolo. Their grandmother told them, “If you do that, then all these monsters will come down and kill us all.” They replied, “They can’t kill us, because we’ll survive.” They told their grandmother that they would just go take a look. And their grandmother replied, “You’ve just arrived, and you can’t just leave us behind. You two send word to all the folks on Awayagi to come and then you can all go see these monsters.” They replied, “What will all the folks on Awayagi come do?” Then they went and pulled their canoe to the mouth of the river, and carried all their weapons up the mountain where the two giants lived.

Both monsters weren’t together there when they arrived. Dolimolo had gone hunting in the forest and Ilimolo was left to take care of their house when Lefthand Man and Righthand Man came. As they approached the monsters’ house, the two boys left all their weapons beside a little stream and went up and called the old monster. The old monster came and said, “Where did you two grandchildren come from?” They replied, “We came to see you.” He said, “All right. You two wait and I’ll come.” But he just went and got his two big fangs. He fastened one of them in place and just as he was about to do the other one, it slipped out of his hands and into the boys’ hands. The old monster called out, “Did you see something of mine fall down?” The two boys replied, “We found something here.” They told him to come down and get it. He got the other fang and didn’t want to got back in the house, so he went outside to attach it, but he didn’t hold it well and it fell down and the two boys got it. Then the old monster went down to the boys. Just as he was about to stab Lefthand Man, the two boys threw their spears at him and killed him. They killed him and pulled out his fangs and Lefthand Man held onto them while Righthand Man went up into their house and gathered up all their things and set fire to the house.

They set fire to their house and burnt up everything the two monsters had. As smoke rose from the fire, Dolimolo saw it and said, “I think something has happened to Ilimolo while I’ve been away.” He got up and ran back home. When he got there he saw his counterpart lying dead. He saw Lefthand Man and Righthand Man and asked them, “How did this happen?” The two replied, “Nothing. We came to see you.” He told them to wait and he would come down. He ran to find his fangs, but he couldn’t find them, and came down to the two boys. They took him to the stream where the boys had left all their things. They laid sugarcane stalks across the stream, like a ladder, and they walked across to the other side. The old monster asked them how he could get across and they told him he could walk across the ladder as they had done. Dolimolo walked across the ladder and it broke in the middle, and he fell down into the water. The two boys jumped up and got their spears and stabbed him to death. They carried his body back and put it next to the other one, then carried the fangs and all the weapons back to where they had left their canoe. They put everything into the canoe and paddled back home.

After they finished working in the garden and planting taro, they asked their mother and grandmother where exactly the Sea Eagle could be found, and their mother and grandmother said, “Ilimolo and Dolimolo were humans, and you two killed them, but this thing is really bad. If he flies down the whole sky will go dark and his long talons will pluck out your eyeballs.” The boys replied, “Even so, we just want to go have a look.”

The boys paddled away, then drifted while Righthand Man pounded on the canoe. The Sea Eagle came flying. He was so big he almost covered up their canoe. Righthand Man told Lefthand Man, “Grab the axe and chop here.” And he did, and they chopped the Sea Eagle until he died, then they paddled back home. As they arrived home, the grandmother told them, “You two have killed Ilimolo, Dolimolo, and the Sea Eagle, but one more thing remains.” They asked her what it was, and she told them it lived in the sea and has lots of limbs. “If it comes to the surface, its hands will pull your canoe down into the sea.”

They just got up and paddled to where the Octopus lived. Righthand Man dropped a rock on the Octopus and the Octopus came up and put his arms all over the place to grab their canoe. The boys jumped up on the bed of the canoe and cut one Octopus arm after another until its head fell back into the sea. Now, little children of Lefthand Man and Righthand Man used to follow them around. They were not real humans but little fish called Mudskipper, Blenny, and Siyabudo. When the Octopus head fell, these fish went down to fetch it. They tried and tried without success until finally Siyabudo was able to bring the head up. They all took it back home to show their mother and grandmother.

Now that Lefthand Man and Righthand Man killed all the monsters, they began building houses. They selected a huge pig, called Omadede, so that they could send word to all the folks on Awayagi to come for a big feast. They would kill the pig for everyone and also kill the man who had exiled their mother. After they finished preparing everything, they sent the Blenny to Awayagi to tell everyone to come to the party. The Blenny didn’t go in the shape of a man, he went as nothing special. When he got there everyone had gone to the garden. Only one woman remained at home because she was carrying a child. When the Blenny arrived at the island, he jumped into a floating coconut shell. The sea carried it onto the beach, and when the woman came to bathe in the sea she saw the Blenny. She said, “I’ll lay this big fish aside while I bathe, then take it back to cook and eat.” While she was bathing, the Blenny changed into a very big man and stood up.

When the woman finished bathing and came to get her fish, she couldn’t find it but saw this big man standing there, so she asked him, “Where did you come from? Did you see my fish here or not?” And the man replied, “That was me.” The Blenny told the woman that he had come to tell everyone to go to the village for a big feast. The woman took him back to her house and told him that all the men and women had gone to the gardens. The Blenny stayed with the woman until the afternoon, when all the men and women came back from the garden. After everyone had come together, the Blenny told them, “The woman you exiled, along with her mother who stayed behind, she drained her blood into two holes and grew to young boys. Those two boys killed all the evil monsters and they would you to go to their village and we will all have a big feast. Then the Blenny went back home.

All the men and women on Awayagi stayed until the morning then they all went back to their old village. They all went and no one stayed behind. They put just their canoe in one place and went up to the village where Righthand Man and Lefthand Man had built them a house. They just went and stayed in the house while the two boys finished lining up all the pigs. Then the men and women walked around looking at all the pigs and they swallowed hard. The two boys carried a big fighting pole and looked over all the pigs until they came to the big pig they had marked to kill along with the man who had exiled their mother. They came to this pig and Righthand Man threw the pole and killed the big pig. Then the two turned and threw the pole again and killed that man. Everyone began to run away and the boys called them to come back, telling them, “We’re not doing the same to you. This man exiled our mother, so we killed him.” Everyone came back and they all had a very big feast with portions enough for everyone. They finished eating and stayed home and no longer returned to Awayagi.

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