Letao to America
by Kelin

Letao was running away. He has played another trick on the iroij, the chiefs, of the Marshall Islands. Letao took off in his canoe and headed straight for Kiribati. When he landed, Letao met the iroij of that island. They became good friends. And, in Kiribati custom, all the people of the island brought food for Letao and the iroij.

After eating and eating all that Kiribati food, Letao told the iroij, "Let me make food for you and all the Kiribati people."

Letao got the people to collect a big pile of lava rocks, a big pile of hard wood and a nice bundle of big leaves.

"We'll dig an underground oven, an um," he told them.

They started a fire in the hole in the ground, putting in some rocks. When the rocks glowed, the um burned hot, so the people began to put in food. But Letao stopped them. "Instead of all the food, let me get in," Letao said.

The people's eyes popped in surprise. What was this stranger thinking? "The um is hot, very hot," the iroij said.

"Never mind how hot," answered Letao. "Just let me crawl in, then cover me with the leaves."

So they did, and after two hours they opened it back up. Instead of a cooked Letao, they uncovered plenty of well-cooked food! The iroij nearly burst with excitement. "I want to do that! Let me make the food. Build another um!" he told his people.

"No, no. You can't do that, you're the iroij." It was Letao. He just appeared from somewhere. "It's my job to make the food for you."

They made another big um with more hard wood to make sure it would burn nice and hot. More big leaves were brought to cover it. When the um burned really hot, the people opened it up for Letao to crawl in. Letao suprised the iroij. "Your turn now," he said.

The iroij walked up to the um but stopped and said to Letao, "My Marshallese friend, it is very hot."

"Never mind, it has to be hot," Letao said. "Just think of the delicious food you'll be." He pushed the iroij inside.

"Now hurry up, hurry up!" he told the iroij's wife. "Cover it up."

They placed the leaves on top and left it alone for a couple of hours. They they reopened the um. What did the Kiribati people see? Not much food. In fact, no food at all-just a very well done iroij under the leaves.

The Kiribati people wanted to punish Letao, but he is a trickster. He had already set sail for America. That's why the people there are so smart.

Originally produced as:
From: Tales in Tiny Islands. Kelin, 11, D.A. Storytelling, November 1995.

(c) picture: Precille Boisvert, Konawaena Community Technology Learning Center, Hawai'i Source of quote in picture: Carucci, L. The Source of the Force in Marshallese Cosmology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 92. Cited in Hanlon, D. Remaking Micronesia: Discourses over Development in a Pacific Territory 1944-1982. p. 216.

Bibliographic citation for this document

Kelin (2000). Letao to America. URL: http://marshall.csu.edu.au/Marshalls/html/ModTrads/Letao_to_US.html

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au

(c) Kelin 1995-2000 (Text) (c) Precille Boisvert 2000 (Image)
Reproduced with permission Precille Boisvert, Konawaena Community Technology Learning Center, Hawai'i
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