Marshallese Legends and Traditions

The Counterfeit Spouse

Once a long time ago there was a man by the name of Jemediknene. He lived on Imroj, an island of Jaluit Atoll. Jemediknene had a beautiful wife with him. They lived in Majankul, on Imroj.

Every day Jemediknene and his men would go fishing near Lijeron all the way up to Pingelap. These men had been fishing in this area for many years. But one morning before the men were going fishing, Jemediknene said to his wife "Do not wash your hands in the pond that is in the middle of the island. You are to wash your hands in salt water only." The wife heard everything the husband told her, but she did not know for what reason.

After Jemediknene told his wife about what to do and what not to do they launched their canoes and sailed away. They sailed to their fishing place near Lijeron and Pingelap. When they had caught lots of fish, they set sail again and headed home.

When they arrived at Imroj, the wife came to meet them. She took the fish and cooked them for supper. When she finished she called the men and everybody ate and then retired for the night.

The next morning Jemediknene and his men launched their canoes, but before they sailed away, Jemediknene reminded his wife about the pond. The canoes raised their sails and headed to their fishing spot. While they were gone the wife became curious about the pond. She ate some fish and then went to wash her hands in the pond. After she washed her hands, she clapped them, and at that very moment a woman spirit sprang out from the pond and sat beside her. The spirit disguised herself to look exactly like Jemediknene's wife. Then they both went to the shore and waited for Jemediknene and his men to return.

When the men arrived, they saw that two women were sitting on the beach waiting for them. When Jemediknene saw them he was very angry. He said to his wife, one of the women "I told you not to do it, but now look what has happened to us." Jemediknene and his men couldn't tell which was the spirit and which one was his wife. Then Jemediknene began to ask the two women which one was his wife.

The real wife answered first. She said. "Here I am, your real wife."

Then the spirit said "She is lying. I am your wife."

"She is lying. I am your wife and she is a spirit" the real wife said. They argued back and forth but Jemediknene couldnžt distinguish them apart at all. They looked exactly the same.

Jemediknene decided to get rid of the spirit. He prepared a big log and put his real wife on it and put it in the ocean to drift away. He thought that he had got rid of the spirit, but it was his real wife. So the log drifted away and landed at Kili. The wife was already pregnant and she lived on Kili and gave birth to a son.

The boy grew up on Kili with his mother. When he was old enough, he gathered some men to help him build a canoe. Jemediknene was still on Imroj.

When the canoe on Kili was completed, the boy and his men launched it and sailed away. They sailed to Jemediknene's fishing place, near Lijeron and Pingelap. Later when Jemediknene's canoe came to the place, they saw the other canoe. Then the crew called to the other canoe "What canoe is that?"

"North by south" the boys in the other canoe answered. Jemediknene's men said "Why do you talk nonsense?"

"Why not? We want to" the boys answered.

Then Jemediknene's men said "You are talking like that. Do you know where Jemediknene is?"

The boys replied "He is hiding under the mat."

"How do they know?"

"Why shouldn't we know?"

Then Jemediknene's men said "Let us move closer to see who these men are."

When Jemediknene's canoe moved closer, the boy jumped to the stern of his canoe. He grasped the paddle and sang a chant. He chanted,


Li bedelua-Jarom

Jebel jako.

His canoe disappeared and the other men couldn't see it at all.

Jemediknene and his men began to ask each other about what happened. Then Jemediknene said to his men "Let us go back home now and come back tomorrow to find out more about the unidentified canoe." They all liked the idea.

When they arrived home, the wife came to meet them. Jemediknene gave her the fish and said "Cook some for us now!" Then she said "Why cook? Let us eat." When Jemediknene heard the woman, he thought to himself that he had got rid of his real wife and he was living with the spirit.

The next day the men launched their canoe and sailed to the same place. Jemediknene decided to stay home with his wife because he really wanted to find out if she was the real wife.

Jemediknene stayed home but his men sailed away. When they came to the fishing place, they saw the same canoe. Then they shouted to the unidentified canoe "What canoe is that?"

The boys replied "North by south."

"Why are you talking like that. Do you know where Jemediknene is?"

"We say he stayed home."

"How do they know?"

"Why shouldnžt we know?"

Then Jemediknene's men said "Get closer to that canoe so we can find out who these men are."

When they moved closer the boy jumped to the stern of his canoe and grasped the paddle. Then he sang,


Li bedelua-Jarom

Jebel jako.

The canoe disappeared again and no one knew where it went. On the island Jemediknene and the woman waited for the fishermen to return. While they were waiting, Jemediknene said to his wife "Come and remove lice from my hair." [50] She moved closer and began to remove the lice from Jemediknenežs head. She deloused Jemediknene for a while; then she asked him to deloused her, so he did. When he began to delouse her, she said to him "Please do not get closer to the back of my head, because it hurts right there." Jemediknene deloused his wife for awhile and she slept. When she was really asleep, Jemediknene deloused down to the back of her head. When he separated the hair, he saw a mouth with some sharp teeth sticking out.

He leaped into the air. He was really scared. He gathered all the dry leaves and wood and covered the house. He then lit the fire. The fire burned the house and the spirit died with the fire.

The next day he went fishing with his men. They saw the same canoe again and followed it all the way to Kili. When they arrived at Kili, Jemediknene's son was bathing himself and he was using half of a ripe coconut. Jemediknene went to talk to him. He asked him "Who is your mother?" and the boy told him. Then he said "Who is your father?"

"Jemediknene" the boy answered. Then he put his arms around his son and cried. The wife came and found her husband. Then Jemediknene and his wife and their son lived on the island of Kili after that.

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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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