Marshallese Legends and Traditions

Tobolar's brother Lokam

Stories about the first coconut were told in many places in the Marshall Islands. They were not always told in the same way. Here is another story of Tobolar and his family.

At one time, they lived in Eneping, a part of Ailinglaplap Island. Limokare was a wise, good woman, the sister of the famous Irooj, Irilik. They were of the royal clan, or Irooj, and were known to people in many islands.

Limokare had, first of all, a son named Lokam. Then she had a strange baby that was a coconut. He grew to be a tree, the first one in the world. She called him Tobolar. Later, she had two other sons. They were small boys when Tobolar had grown to a tree.

The elder brother, Lokam, was jealous of Tobolar. He moved away to a place of his own, but he used to come to his mother's home often. When the first young green leaves and nuts came on the coconut palm, Lokam couldn't wait. He gathered a few and put a few pieces into his mouth.

"They're bitter!" he cried. He spit them out and threw away the leaves and nuts. "Let's chop down that thing called a tree" he said to his mother. "It's no good."

"No" she said. "I'm going to keep it and tend it always."

There were dozens of young coconuts on the tree. She made them all taboo for Lokam until they were ripe. "You just leave them alone" she said.

Many nuts ripened. They fell to the ground, and young coconut-palm sprouts began to grow. Soon, Limokare had a great many young coconut trees. Even Lokam became proud of his brother. He said to his mother "I'd like to take some coconuts over to my proud uncle, the Irooj Irilik. I want to show him how wonderful our Tobolar is. Irilik hasn't anything like that."

"Take him some, then" said Limokare "Let your two little brothers go along with you."

Limokare and her brother, the great Irooj, were good friends. She wanted her children to respect their uncle.

Lokam gathered a great pile of ripe nuts. He husked them and put them into large baskets. He threw the husks into the sea. They drifted far away to the westward, where the Irooj Irilik lived. The great chief picked up the strange looking things and looked at them. "They have strong fibers, which would make good twine and rope" he said.

He soaked the husks in sea water, keeping them in place with stones. Then he was able to pull out the fibers. He made several kinds of twine and rope by rolling the fibers upon his thigh. All the people came to see them.

Then, Lokam came in his outrigger canoe, bringing his two little brothers and the coconuts from the tree, Tobolar. His uncle thanked him and asked "Where did you get these wonderful things?"

"My mother got them from a strange thing called a tree" replied Lokam.

Lokam saw the twine that his uncle was making. He wanted to learn how to do it. So Irilik sat down and showed him.

While the two men were busy, rolling the fibers, Lokam's little brothers ran around and played. They made a great deal of noise. They played the game called anirep. They found a ball that some larger boys had left on the ground. It was a square-cornered ball, made of soft Pandanus fibers, tightly folded and tied.

In playing anirep, the game is to kick the ball sidewise, frontwards, or backwards. The players must keep it in the air, all the time. It is played to different kinds of rhythm - two-rhythm, or three-rhythm, or four-rhythm. The players clap their hands and keep time for the kicking.

With two-rhythm clapping, the playing is slow, one, two - one, two - one, two. Everybody starts the game with that slow rhythm. Then the clapping becomes faster. Soon the players are kicking fast - one-two-three, one-two-three, and then one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. Those who miss are out of the game. The players shout and laugh when someone drops the ball. Sometimes they throw small pebbles at the losers.

The two little brothers of Lokam lost the ball many times. They threw pebbles at each other, screaming and laughing. One of the pebbles fell upon the arm of the Irooj Irilik.

Lokam turned to the boys. "Stop that noise!" he shouted angrily. "Have you no respect for your uncle, the great Irooj?"

"Go ahead and play" said the Irooj to his small nephews. Then he spoke to Lokam. "Children don't make noise to be bad" he said. "Leave them alone. Let them laugh and play."

When the Irooj had a large roll of twine, he laid it inside his house. Then the younger brothers sat down outside and began to tie a net with it. The net grew and grew in their small hands, until it was the largest one that ever had been seen. The boys couldn't stop tying the net until all the twine was used up. Irilik and Lokam came and watched.

"That net shall hold up the sky" said Irilik.

In those days, the sky hung very low. Sometimes, it touched the heads of tall persons and the tops of houses. It was heavy work to push up the sky to gather coconuts from tall trees. And besides, there wasn't enough breeze under the sky. It often was hard to breathe.

After a while, the net was finished and lay in piles around the house. Then the Irooj Irilik made magic and sang a chant.

First, Irilik sang to the boys. He told each one to turn himself into a kear, the swift white sea bird that flies high in the sky. [18] Then he sang something like this:

"Oh, kear, white, fast sea birds,

Take up the net, take up the net,

Catch the sky and lift it high! "

The people didn't understand what the Irooj sang in the chant, but they saw the boys change into white birds. The two birds took up a corner of the great net in their strong beaks. They flew with it toward the east. There they pushed up the sky and fastened it with the net. Then they flew with the net to the north, to the west, to the south. Last of all, they flew high in the middle, rounding up the sky and making the arch of heaven. They fastened the net so that it would stay forever, far above men's heads. And there it still is.

The people were happy. They felt free, with the sky lifted up. They breathed more easily. They thanked the Irooj, but he said "It has been done by my sister's three wonderful sons, Tobolar and the two little boys."

Lokam was jealous of his three brothers. He got ready to sail back home to Eneping. Before he went, he made fun of the place where his uncle lived.

"Why don't you come over to our part of the island and see how green it is?" he asked. "This land of yours is a poor place. It isn't one-tenth as good as ours."

The Irooj Irilik was angry. He looked at his nephew for a moment. Then he said "Very well! I'll come and visit you, if my servants may come too."

"Let them come also and see" said Lokam.

Irilik and his servants sailed away to Eneping. Lokam sailed ahead. He ordered his people to get fruit, fish, and other foods.

"Bring only the best" he said. "Let him see how well I live."

The inhabitants brought lots of food and piled it high. Irilik and his men ate a great deal of food, but much remained. Then Irilik gave magical power to his servants. He said to them. "Spoil the crops and the food of Lokam." Irooj Irilik told them "Lakerer, get into the food and make it stink; Leligakerak, you infest the food with maggots; Lemenibit, get to the bob and make mildew; Lobodenui, get into the coconuts and spoil them so that they will no longer germinate; Loll, get into the immature nuts and taint their juice; Larile, eat the wood and the nuts; Lejek, get into the breadfruit paste and sour it; Lemeng, go to the bob and me and spoil them; Lakalolo, make the leaves white."

"I thought you said you had wonderful crops" said Irilik to his nephew. Then he sailed away.

In that way, Lokam and his people were left to starve. Irooj Irilik sent two kinds of fish to the shores of Eneping, the melemel and the lejabwil fish. [19]Large schools of those fish are still there.

Irooj Irilik punished Lokam in this manner because he had praised his own land more than that of Irooj. When he thought that Lokam had been punished long enough, Irilik took away the curse.

The net which the two young boys made still holds up the sky and keeps it from falling down upon the earth. When a heavy dark cloud is above them, all ready to fall, the people do not worry, for the fiber net holds it up. The rain falls through the small holes in the net, which separate it into raindrops.

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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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