Marshallese Legends and Traditions

How the sail came to the outrigger

Once long ago on the island of Woja, Ailinglaplap, there was a family of ten brothers living together. Each brother wanted to rule over the others. The desire to be the leader got worse. One day these brothers agreed they would have a canoe race. They decided to race their canoes far away from Woja Island, across the wide lagoon, to Jeh Island. It lay a great distance to the east. They felt sure that the best man would win the race. On the day of the race, all the brothers lined up their canoes along the shore of a place which is still now called Jabro. They started out on the big race. They agreed that whoever first landed at Jeh would become Irooj.

The canoes of the ten brothers were built for speed. Each man had made his own. Each one had carved a special paddle for the great race. "The first and best starting place belongs to me"Timur

The other brothers arranged their canoes along the shore according to their ages. The boy, Jabro, had the last place, for he was the youngest. The other canoes were between the places held by Timur and Jabro.

In those days, sails had not yet been invented. A man used a pole with which to push his canoe along in shallow water. He used a paddle in deeper water. So, all of the brothers were paddling in the open sea. The oldest brother, Timur, got the lead, and Jabro the youngest, was the last one in the race. While these brothers were racing toward Jeh, their mother Liktanur was standing on the beach of one small island in Aineu Village. The island is shaped like a sail.

The mother of those ten brothers was a wise, beautiful woman who lived high above them, in the sky. She came down to earth from time to time to be with her family. Her name was Liktanur. She knew about the race that her sons had planned. She came down to the beach, just as they were about to start. She had brought along some large bundles, but she did not explain what was in them.

She went to Timur, her eldest son, who was first in line with his fast racing canoe. He thought to himself "My mother and her bundles will load my canoe too much. If I take her along, I might lose the race." Timur told her to wait for his next brother because he was in a hurry.

Now the other brother, Mejdikdik was approaching the island. His mother again called "Son, please give me a ride." When he looked, he saw the big bundle and he said "Wait for my brother. My canoe is not good going against the big waves and the strong wind. Wait for my younger brother because I'm in a hurry."

When the next brother was approaching the island, his mother called "Son, come and give me a ride." He, too, looked at the bundles and refused to take her. "It's impossible for you to ride in my canoe" he said. "Ask my brother."

"Wait for my younger brother because Im in a hurry" he said. When the younger brother was approaching the island, she called "Son, please give me a ride."

"Wait for my younger brother" he said. These boys did not want to pick up their mother because on the beach beside her, there was a big bundle. They thought that anybody who picked her up would lose the race.

And so it went with the other brothers. None was willing to take her along in the race. Finally her youngest son Jabro was approaching the island. "Son, please give me a ride" she called. Jabro heard his mother. He pulled over to the shore. When she asked Jabro, he said "Of course, Mother. Come with me and welcome."

That day, the wind was blowing strongly from the east. The brothers knew that they would have to paddle hard all the way. But even so, Jabro was willing to take along his mother and her bundles.

The canoes of nine of the brothers leaped over the water. Each man paddled with great strength and skill. Soon they were far apart on the horizon, but Liktanur kept Jabro on the beach for a while.

"Don't worry because you are late in the race" she said. "Youll catch up with your brothers."

Then she asked him to loosen the strings of her large bundles, and Jabro did so. There was strange-looking gear, such as he never had seen before. Among such things as poles, hardwood blocks, ropes, and twine, he saw a large piece of strong, woven material.

"What's this?" he asked.

"Something new, Jabro " replied his mother.

"Who made it?"

"I did, my son. I wove strips of Pandanus leaves. Then I sewed the strips together into this three-cornered shape."

"What is this thing to be called?"

"It's a sail. We'll hang it on a mast and put it on the canoe. It will fill up with wind and push your canoe along fast."

"Faster than I can paddle?"

"You won't need to paddle at all, my son. The sail will do all the hardest work for you. But you must learn how to put it up and to handle it, and how to steer the canoe with a paddle."

It was the first sail ever made. Liktanur helped Jabro put up the mast, the kiju. Then she helped him to place the other gear. Among the things she had brought along were the repakak and jirukli, one for each end of the canoe, so that Jabro could move the sail boom from one end of the canoe to the other and tack from right to left, against the wind. [2]

They arranged the ropes and lines until the rigging was complete, with the lot, or pulley, at the head of the mast. Liktanur showed her son how to put up the sail and how to steer the canoe with a paddle. "Now we can go"" she said. "

Jabro was delighted when the sail filled with air and the breeze carried them fast over the high waves. He looked for his brothers, but by that time, they were a long way ahead. They had paddled far apart from each other and were out of sight, among the swells and the waves.

Liktanur showed Jabro how to get speed by tacking, first to starboard, the right side, and then to port, the left side. The canoe flew over the water like a great bird, and he was happy and excited. He and his mother passed the other canoes, one by one, without being seen by his brothers.

At last, they were ahead of all except Timur. Then they came to him. He was surprised to see the sailing canoe. "Give me that boat! Exchange with me at once!" he shouted.

"I'll have to give Timur my canoe" said Jabro. [3]

"Very well" said Liktanur. "We'll get into his canoe and let him have this one. But take along with you the repakak and jurikli (boom socket) from one end of the canoe. Leave him only those at the other end."

So Timur got the sailing canoe. Jabro and his mother paddled ahead in Timur's canoe and were soon hidden from him by high wave. Timur sailed very fast, but when he tried to tack, he had trouble, because of the missing gear. The canoe would go only one way. Jabro reached the shore of Jeh Island long before the others.

His mother smiled at him. "Hide Timur's canoe in the brush and come with me" she said.

She led Jabro to the ocean side of the island, where they would not be seen from the lagoon side. Near the shore, there was a pool of clear water. She bathed her son. Then she rubbed him with perfumed oil. She gave him a new skirt of the inner bark of the loo tree and some beautiful necklaces of colored seashells. [4] She put sweet-smelling white flowers around his head.

Then she stood in front of him and spoke. "I give you the kingly name of Jeleilon" she said.

The other brothers thought that Jabro and their mother had been left far behind. Even Timur thought so, for he did not see them, when he landed. He was the first of Jabro's brothers to come to Jeh Island. He was sure that he had won the race.

After several hours he landed at Jeh. He got off and was exploring the beach. The beach was very smooth. There were no foot prints at all. Because of the smooth beach, Timur thought that Jabro was still on his way. He thought that he was the first one to set foot on the island and he began to shout and call people. He said that he was Irooj.

Then the other brothers arrived at the beach and saw Timur there. They saw the canoe with its gear that worked like magic. They all shouted.

"Irooj Timur...oo! Timur is Irooj!"

Then Liktanur said to Jabro "Now is the time to go over and show yourself to your brothers."""

Jabro , bathed and oiled and decorated, walked over to his brothers and stood before them. They looked at him in surprise. Then came Liktanur, their mother, and the people of Jeh Island, shouting,

"Irooj Jeleilon.... oo! "

Jeleilon is Irooj!

When Jabro reached the south, the seas became calm, and he loves mankind

And so Jabro became Irooj. Timur was angry. He turned his face away from Jabro and looked back toward the south. He told Jabro that they would not see each other again. To this day, Timur faces to the south in the sky. When their life on earth was over, the ten brothers went to live in heaven with their mother. They are the bright stars by which men steer their boats on long voyages. From their places in heaven, Timur and Jabro can never see each other. The only star which is close to Jabro is his mother, Liktanur.

As the people sit together under the evening sky, the children look up at the star mother and her sons. They point out the brothers, one by one, saying "Timur, Lomij-drikdrik, Labwal, Ar, Mejlep, Dra-im-kobban, Titata, Lok, Jabe, and Jabro." [5]

This story shows that because of Timur's disobedience he was exiled for life. But Jabro's obedience made him Irooj. One proverb says that everytime Jabro appears in the north, the weather will be pleasant. The sea will always be calm. Jabro is an Irooj of peace, and he loves mankind.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (1998). Marshallese Legends and Traditions Second edition. Albury:

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

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