Marshallese Legends and Traditions

Inedrel and his kite

Near the north end of Taka Island, in Ebon Atoll, there are a number of deep holes among the rocks along the shore. The holes have deep marks along the sides, as though someone had been digging with bare hands for something that must be found.

On the reef between Taka and Enekoien, there lies the small island of Dridri. It is shaped like a kite. Flying slowly over it, day after day, are frigate birds. They look like kites high up in the sky. So metimes, the white bird called the kear circles low over the little island, with a sad cry.

How came the deep holes among the rocks on Taka Island? Why is the small island of Dridri like a kite? And why do frigate birds and the lone white kear fly in certain ways above it? There is a legend which answers those questions. It is a story of father and son.

Long long ago there was a couple and their son. The boys name was Inedrel. The y lived on Ebon, in the Marshalls. The boy grew up and became old enough to help his father. Some time later the mother died. Inedrel and his father took her all the way to the end of the island and buried her. Now Inedrel and his father were the only two in the house, and they had to do all the house work. It wasnt easy as it was before when the mother was still alive. The boy, Inedrel, was happy when he lived with both his parents in Taka Island. After his mother died, he was lonely.

But before long the father married two other women.[29] These two women didnt like the boy very much. Soon, the father also neglected the boy.[30]

They gave Inedrel as little food as possible. He got the bones and skin of the fish and only the makan, or stem end, of the breadfruit.

He became more unhappy than ever and grew thin and pale. He longed for his own mother and the happy times he had, when she was still with him.

"\Oh, my mother, why did you leave me?" he said, again and again.

Although Inedrel was not given enough to eat, yet he had to work. One day, his father said "\Come, boy, lets go out in the lagoon and get the fish."

They got into the outrigger canoe, and Inedrel paddled out to a place in the lagoon where the water was deep. There, the father had placed a large uu, or fish trap. They took out the fish and put them into the boat.

"\Stay in the canoe, boy" said the father " I am going to dive down and look at the uu."

He dived into the deep water. As he disappeared, a white bird, the kear, came flying. Inedrel knew that she was the spirit of his dead mother.[31] She flew slowly above him and sang in a gentle voice. She a sked questions that Inedrel answered.

Mother: Inedrel, my son, you look pale. What kind of food have you been eating?

Son: Inedrel eats first, fishbones; second, makan, the stem end of the breadfruit.

Mother: What else, my son?

Son: Sometimes a tiny alle, the smallest fish that we catch.

Mother: Then come, my son. Leave the cruel home. Fly with me, far away from earth into another world.

Son: Oh no, Mother, no! I would like to be dead, like you. But you are a spirit, and Im afraid of you, so afraid!

Mother: Kinji, abij, kelok![32]

The mother tried to take up her son, but she was only a bird and could not. As she said "kinji" she flew near Inedrel and pecked him on the arm with her beak. When she said "abij " she took his arm and pulled so hard that it hurt him. Then she said "\kelok" and flew away. Inedrel began to cry.

All this time, the father had been swimming around under the water, but just then, he came to the top again. "Why are you crying?" he asked.

Inedrel was afraid of his father, and so he told a lie. "The spine of my fish hurt my hand" he said.

"These are not your fish" said the father. "They belong to your stepmothers." Then they argued back and forth. The boy said "They are mine." The father said " They belong to those women."

They went back to the shore, where the stepmothers waited. The father called to them to help carry the heavy canoe over the rocks to the beach. They and the father took one end. Inedrel had to carry the other end alone. The mothers came and got the fishes and cooked them. When they finished cooking, the father and the two mothers ate first. When they finished eating, they gave Inedrel the bones and the breadfruit cores.

Every day, the father and son went to take fish from the uu. Every day, the white bird, the kear, flew over Inedrel, sang the song, and begged him to fly away. Every day, he was afraid to go, and ever y day, the bird pecked and pinched and pulled him and flew away. Every day, his father dived and came up again and asked why he cried. Inedrel always said that the spines of the fish had hurt him.

"Surely, you dont get a fish spine in your hand every day?" said the father. "Surely you wouldnt be so foolish as that?"

The boy said nothing. When they went out to the uu again, the father dived. But instead of swimming down to look at the fish trap, he came up to the top of the water, on the other side of the canoe. There, he hid under the outrigg er to watch. The boy could not see him.

Very soon, the white bird came flying over Inedrel, singing her song and begging him to fly away with her. And again, Inedrel told her that he was afraid to go. She said "Kinji, abij, kelok " just as before, pinching and pulling the boy with her beak, and then she flew away.

The father knew that the white bird was the spirit of the boy's dead mother. He felt ashamed because he had not been kind to his son. He dived into the water, swam under the canoe, and came up on the side where Inedrel sat crying.

"Why are you crying, Inedrel, my son?" he asked kindly.

The boy replied "The spine of this fish, which belongs to the woman on the beach, stuck my hand."

The father said "The fish doesnt belong to your stepmother. Its yours."

Inedrel said "Oh, no, not mine!"

And the father said "It is not hers. It is indeed yours, my son."

But Inedrel did not trust his father, and he said no more. They paddled back to the shore. The father called to the stepmother to help with the canoe, and she said "Come, lets take this end. Let the boy lift the other end by himself."

But the father said "No! You take the other end, while I lift this one. The boy is not well. He must have a bath and a good rest. Dont ever give him hard work again."

They cooked then, and when they finished, first they gave the boy the biggest breadfruit and the biggest fish. From that day, the father was kind to his son. He gave him the best of fish, the richest breadfruit, and the sweetest coconuts. However, in the boys mind he had decided to go and see his spirit mother; so later in the day he asked his father to make him a kite.

He started to make the kite,[33] and asked Inedrel to help him finish it. "Come, my son, lets work and talk together."

But the boy would not be friendly with his father and hardly spoke to him. When the kite was finished, the father lay down for a rest. Early next morning Inedrel took the kite out on the reef, launched his kite and was following it. It flew high, and then it hovered, still and dark against the sky, like a frigate bird. Then it plunged down and flew over Inedrel, like the white bird. It went up and down so strangely that people ran down to the shore and stood there, watching it.

Inedrel flew his kite and sang a song:

"The kite is flying, weaving down the wind,

And people are watching, watching my kite.

It dives downward, it rises up,

It goes to the sky, it goes to the sea,

It almost dives into the sea. "

Right after his song ended, many people came to see him and they were bringing food. They said "Inedrel, come and take your food;" but he said "Take it to my parents."

So he sang again:

"The kite is flying, weaving down the wind,

And people are watching, watching my kite.

It dives downward, it rises up,

It goes to the sky, it goes to the sea,

It almost dives into the sea. "

At the place where Inedrel began to fly his kite, the reef went out from the shore around a deep pool. At the north end of Taka Island, the reef curved back toward the beach again. Inedrel went there to look for the spirit of his mother. He walked a long that part of the reef, beyond the pool, flying his kite and singing his song.

More people came with more food, but he took only a little bite and then said "Take it to my parents." His father was an irooj, and the people who were bringing food said to him "Irooj, what are you doing here? Your boy is almost at the other end of the island." One stepmother saw Inedrel when he was about halfway to the end of the island. She woke up his father.

"Look at the boy now she said. Its the first time I ever saw him walking out there. What is he doing?"

The father got up quickly and ran after the boy. But Inedrel was near the end of the island. He was crossing back to shore from the reef, when suddenly he saw his real mother in her own dear form of long ago. She was waiting for him on the beach.

He threw his kite upon the reef and ran to her, calling "Take me, Mother, take me! I want to be with you!"

They could see the father, coming fast to get his son. They ran away from him. They ran and ran along the shore, but the father came faster, nearer and nearer, calling to Inedrel to stop. When he was just about to reach them, Inedrel and his mother disappeared, just as rain soaks into the sand. One minute, they were there. The next minute, they were gone.

The father began to dig with his hands in the rocky ground, at the spot where he last saw the mother and son. His boy was dear to him now, and he wanted him. As he dug, he cried out "Where are you, oh, where are you?"

While he was digging, he heard his son from underground saying "Father, where are you digging? We are right here."

He ran over and dug where he had heard the voice, to the spot where the voice came from and started digging again, but he found nothing. He called out again "Where are you? " Again, the voice came, from still another place. "Father, where are you digging? We are right here." He moved again. And then the father dug again, crying as he worked.

That went on for some time. He called, and the voice answered, always from a different place. "My puni, my puni! " he cried. A puni was a fine white necklace, worn only by chiefs, the Irooj. The father knew then that his son was a precious jewel, which he had thrown away.

"My puni, my precious one!" he cried, over and over again. He dug and dug and scratched deep holes in the rocks, holes that would last forever. By and by, he fell down and died.

The holes where the poor father tried to find his lost son are still in Taka Island. Out on the reef toward the north, between Taka and Enekoien islands, is Inedrels kite, just where he dropped it. There it stays. It became the small island of Dridri, shaped like a kite. Over it flies the white tern, kear, with its sad cry. High above, the dark frigate bird hovers. To this day, it is called "the kite of Inedrel."

Far out at sea, with no land in sight, Marshallese sailors know just where they are, by the frigate birds and the white kear. "There lies the island of Dridri, in the Ebon Atoll " they say. The actions of the birds in that place are part of the kokolol, the happenings of nature which Marshallese sailors use in guiding their boats.

Sometimes, the children in the Marshall Islands fly their kites and sing songs about them. Sometimes, they think of Inedrel and his song. Here it is, in the Marshallese language:

"Limakak eo e kar ienak to, Roj aluluje nejio Tujeljel ion, takojeljel irok Lan ie jat ie tu, tujeljel."

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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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