Marshallese Legends and Traditions

Letao and his brother Jemeliwut

The two brothers, Letao and Jemeliwut, went by canoe to the Island of Majuro. They stood on a path in the woods, and some men came along. They were carrying on their shoulders some heavy boards for a boat. When the two brothers didn廠 make room on the path fast enough, one of the men spoke some angry words.

"Very well" said Letao. "That plank will stay on your shoulders." The plank was the heavy, thick one for the bottom of the boat. It stuck fast to the man廣 shoulders. He couldn廠 get it off, and neither could any of his friends. Jemeliwut felt sorry for him, but Letao only laughed at him.

Finally, the man said "I幟 the strongest man in the island. But I can see that here is someone even stronger." The praise pleased Letao, and he took the curse from the man. "Very well, carry the plank away" he said. The man was surprised to find that the plank was loose from his shoulder and was also much lighter. Jemeliwut did not like the tricks of his brother, but he could not stop them. The two brothers went into the middle of Majuro Island and stayed awhile. There, Jemeliwut married a beautiful young woman, without letting Letao know. "I don廠 trust my brother" he said, and he kept his wife where Letao wouldn廠 see her.

Letao soon knew what had happened, and he was angry. "I幢l punish my brother for that" he said to himself. He waited until Jemeliwut sat down with important men in the community house. Then he sent a stinging bug to crawl under Jemeliwut廣 leaf skirt and bite him. Jemeliwut sprang into the air, yelling and tearing off his clothers. He stood before all the men, naked. It was a great shame to him. Letao sat in a corner and laughed.

"Letao has done this to me" said Jemeliwut. "I幟 tired of my younger brother and his tricks. I幢l show him that I can play tricks too." He sent the scorpion, the ie, to sting Letao. But Letao saw the scorpion as it came. He quickly made a little spear out of the rib of a coconut leaf and stuck it through the scorpion. Then he put the spear into his thick curly hair and went to his brother and his friends. "I can廠 win against Letao" said Jemeliwut. "He廣 more clever than I am." Letao tried to be friendly with his brother again. "Let廣 have some fun, just you and I" he said. "I幢l turn us both into fish for a while. It will be pleasant to swim as they do and go where we please in the water." Jemeliwut agreed, and they went to the water. Letao said "I幢l let you have the best time, Jemeliwut. I幢l be a turtle. I幢l swim slowly, close to shore, eating small fish and clams. You will be a porpoise, large and beautiful. You will leap and swim, farther out, and catch many fish."

Very soon, there were the turtle and the porpoise, swimming around in the lagoon waters near the coral rocks. But Letao did not let his brother enjoy the fun very long. He saw some fishermen not far away. He struck his flipper hard upon the water. The fishermen heard the sound. They saw the turtle and the porpoise and threw their spears at them. The spears bounced off the hard-shell back of the turtle, but they hurt the back of the porpoise, so that it had to swim far away. When the fishermen went home, Jemeliwut swam back to his brother. "Change me back into a man!" he said. "I幢l stay that way." So Letao and his brother became men again.

"I幟 through with you" said Jemeliwut. "Go back home and tell my father that I幟 going to live and die, right here in Majuro Island."

Jemeliwut walked back to a place called Loto, where he made his home. He became one of the great Irooj of Majuro.

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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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