The Tale of Kariti and Tapaki


There lived a mother and her son. Her son was named Tangata Katoa, “Man of All Men.” They lived together for another day, and they went together to the sea. Tangata Katoa went out and surfed back toward the shore.

When he reached the shore, Tangata Katoa cried out, he was having so much fun. His mother said to him, “Don’t shout. That place is taboo. You must surf in silence.” But Tangata Katoa didn’t listen to his mother. Every time he surfed to the shore, he shouted. He couldn’t keep from shouting.

He surfed more, and then his mother told him it was time to go. He surfed one last time to the shore, and he saw a woman sitting there, holding his waistcloth.

He came and told her, “Give me my waistcloth, my sister.” But the woman said, “Come and take it yourself.” Then he said to her, “Give my waistcloth, my aunt.” But she said, “Come and take it yourself.” Then he said to her, “Give me my waistcloth, my mother.” And the woman said, “Come and take it yourself.” Then he said, “Give me my waistcloth, my grandmother.” But she still didn’t give him the waistcloth, and she told him to come and take it himself. Then he said to her, “Give me my waistcloth, my wife.” And she gave him his waistcloth.

He put on the waistcloth, and they both came to his mother. His mother said, “That is why I told you not to shout. When you are surfing, don’t shout, be quiet. Well, now, let’s go.”

They went to their house, and Tangata Katoa’s mother told him how we should treat his new wife. “You must take good care of her. You must not swear at her. You must only speak properly. Because she is the chief of the heavens, and she is taboo. You must be careful; don’t say any bad words to her.

Later on, Tangata Katoa’s wife became pregnant. She bore him a son. His name was Puma. When the child was still small, Tangata Katoa took a trip to the heavens. Because he was the husband of Puru Roroa, “Long Hair.” Not long after that, Puru Roroa became pregnant again and gave birth to another boy, whom they named Nima.
Every time there was a meeting in the heavens, Tangata Katoa had to attend, and Puru Roroa looked after the children.

Time passed, and Tangata Katoa got ready to go to another meeting in the heavens. He started to crawl out the door to go outside. While he was crawling out, he put his hand in his child Nima’s excrement.
He grew angry and said a bad word to his wife Puru Roroa. “You didn’t look after the child. See how I’m holding your food in my hand: his shit.” When he went outside, Puru Roroa was very angry.
The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were there with the children. Then the mother-in-law saw Puru Roroa leave to bathe in the sea. When she finished, Puru Roroa came back and took the children to bathe, and then she adorned them with flowers and rubbed turmeric on their skin.

Puru Roroa gave the children to their grandmother and sat down in the middle of the house. Tangata Katoa’s mother saw spines begin to grow out of the woman’s body like a sea urchin’s spines. Coral grew out of her. All things of the sea grew out of her body. The sea urchins, the coral, came out of her body and started to crawl around the house. The woman sat down and looked up at the sky. Her mother-in-law saw that she was only looking up. All the things that had come out of the woman’s body went back into it. And at the same time the roof of the house opened up. Tangata Katoa’s mother saw Puru Roroa ascend to the heavens.

The grandchildren with their grandmother remained together in the house. When Tangata Katoa arrived from his meeting in the heavens, his wife had already gone away. When he came he asked the grandchildren and grandmother where his wife was. His mother said, “She has already gone to the heavens. I told you not to use bad language with her. She left. You didn’t do what I told you.”

Tangata Katoa went and sat and cried on the top of the house. They told him to come down, but he wouldn’t come. He cried and cried day and night. He cried and cried himself to death. He lay down and died on the roof and rolled down to the ground. The sun dried out his body like a pandanus leaf.

The grandmother and grandchildren lived on. They lived on, and the children grew up. The two brothers lived there until their grandmother died. After a time, they married.

Puma had ten sons and one daughter. The ten boys were named in order. The first born was named “Ten,” Ongopuru; the next was named “Nine,” Iva; then third was named “Eight,” Uru; and so on up to the tenth, who was named Tai, “One.” Their sister was named Niutaakotorua.

Nima had two sons, Tapaki and Kariti. The first born was named Tapaki, and his younger brother was named Kariti.
The family lived on, and the children grew up. They lived on, and their parents died.

The brothers of Ten made a plan to go to the heavens. They sent their sister Niutaakotorua to go tell Kariti and Tapaki to come and lead them in their voyage. But Tapaki and Kariti said they should wait a little while, because their parents had just died, and they had just buried them. They should wait for a few days to pass, and then they would go. So they all waited, and they sent their sister again to tell the two brothers to come. The brothers said, “OK, we’re ready to go to the heavens.” They all went to the heavens, and the two brothers Kariti and Tapaki came behind the others. The ten brothers went in front. The two brothers joined them behind.
They went. It was night, it was day. They went and reached the end the dry land, the end of the island. They reached the shore. They ran over the ocean. One of the group fell down somewhere. Because he was short of breath. “One” was the one who fell. He lay down on the seashore. The others went out to the deep ocean. “Two” fell down. He lay down on the sea. The others went still farther over the seas. Another fell down, dead. They ran on like this, passing through the first of the heavens, one brother falling after another. Then “Ten” fell. He was the last one of his brothers to fall. But Kariti and Tapaki ran on.

They ran and ran and came close to the shore. They ran up to the beach. Then Kariti fell down. Tapaki took out one of his brother’s eyes, one of his brother’s eyes. He slid the eye into a fold in his waistcloth. And he ran on.

He reached a mountain, and he climbed. He climbed to the highest peak, to the Highest Heaven, the place where he longed to be, because it was sacred, taboo. He was the only one to reach it.

He went on, and he saw the smoke of a fire rising in the distance. He decided to go find out what it was and who was there. He went and saw a small house, a small ovenhouse. The smoke of the fire was coming up from there. Tapaki went and peeked inside. He saw an old woman by the fire. She could not see him, because she was blind.
He looked at her fire. A yam was baking in it. It had ten branches sticking out from it. Tapaki sat and watched it bake. When he saw that one of the branches had finished baking, he reached out and broke it off. Then he sat and ate it. He sat, and another branch finished baking. He reached out again and broke it off and at ate it. The old woman reached down for her yam and felt that its branches had been broken off. She didn’t know who had taken them. She reached down again, and the last branch was gone. She said then, “Who is stealing the branches of my yam?” There was not one branch left. They were completely gone.

Tapaki sat and then reached out and put his hand on the stem of the yam, from which the branches had grown. He didn’t pull his hand away. The old woman reached down and felt Tapaki’s hand on top of the yam. She said, “Who is this?”

Tapaki answered. He told her the name of his father, Nima. Then the woman understood: this was her grandson. He was the son of her son, Nima.

She said to him, “It is well. So you have come? Then tonight you will go climb the coconut tree there.” She went out and showed him a coconut tree standing in the yard. It was a tree bearing yellow kena or kura coconuts, close to the ovenhouse. She showed it to him. Then she said to him, “When we reach evening, when the rays of the sun are still in the sky, go then and climb up the coconut tree. You will stay up there. You will feel the storm come, blowing, then the rain, the rain will fall and the earth will quake and the lightning will strike, and you will still hold tight and be careful not to fall. You will hold tight with your hands. You will stay there through any cyclone. But be careful not to let go with your hands—hold tight. You will stay until the dawning of the day. You will see the red day come, and you will jump onto it.”

The grandson spent the day with the old woman, the mother of his father, the wife of his grandfather who had killed himself on the roof, Tangata Katoa, “Man of All Men.” They were together until evening began to come.
Tapaki went to climb when the last rays of the sun were coming down. He went to climb the coconut tree, and he stayed up in it. He stayed until the night grew dark. A cloud came. A cyclone blew. The wind shook the tree this way and that. He held on with his hands. The cyclone blew him and the tree this way and that. He nearly fell; he felt his hands letting go, felt himself almost falling off the top of the tree.

Then he remembered his brother Kariti’s eye. He took it and tied it behind him in the back of his waistcloth. And he spoke to his brother Kariti: “Give me strength!” Then he felt his hands holding strongly again. He held on until the stormy rain began, the stormy wind, an earthquake, lightning. He was cold in the night; he felt he was about to fall off. He told his brother Kariti again to give strength to his hands. And he felt his hands become strong again. He held on tightly with his hands.

He stayed there through the storm, through the night until dawn, until the dawn of the people, when people rise to begin their day. He saw the red day starting to come up. When it was close, he jumped onto it.

The wind had started to die down. The red day came down to stand on the ground. He went back to his grandmother, and she said to him, “Yes, it is well. You are free from your trials.” She said to him, “Go, bring me one leaf of sugar cane, and two leaves of a nonu tree, and two black ants.”

Tapaki brought the leaf of sugar cane, the two leaves of a nonu tree, and the two black ants. He brought them, and his grandmother said to him, “Come and break them into my eyes, break the nonu leaves so their midribs poke my eyes.” He took the nonu leaves and broke them into her eyes. When he finished she told him to bring the two black ants and make them bite her in the eyes. So he made them bite her two eyes. Then she told him to cut her eyes with the sharp edge of the leaf of sugar cane. When he finished making the two ants bite her eyes, he took the leaf of sugar cane and cut through her eyes. When he had finished, her eyes shone with a bright light, and she could see. Then she said, “You will go back down tonight. Go.”

The grandmother and grandson stayed through the day, and she said to him, “Now, you go, you go. It is very good that you came to visit me. Great is my happiness that you came to see me here, that we could see each other. Now you will go back down.” Down to the world of men, back to the world of men.

So in the evening the two of them shook hands. She anointed him with turmeric and adorned him with flowers and leaves. And when she finished, she told him to go back to the world of men. Night came down, and he ran down to the world of men.

He ran and ran and reached the place where his brother Kariti lay. He took out the eye that he had taken with him, and he put it back into its place. His brother Kariti stood up again. The two brothers ran, ran to the beach. They moved onto the sea. They saw “Ten,” their cousin-brother, lying there. His eye had turned into the eye of a shark. The two brothers left him and ran on to “Nine.” His eye had also turned into the eye of a shark, and his mouth had become a shark’s mouth. They left him and ran, ran, ran until they reached “Eight.” They saw that his head had turned into a shark’s head. And he had shark’s fins. They left him and ran until they reached “Seven.” They saw that his head had turned into a shark’s head, and he had fins, and his back had become a shark’s dorsal fin. They left him. They approached “Six.” His head, his whole body was a shark’s body. Only his legs were still the legs of a man. They left him. They ran to “Five.” “Five” had turned into a shark. Only his legs had not fully changed into a shark’s tail. They came to “Four” and then “Three.” It was the same as with the others. They moved on to “Two.” He had become a shark. His tail had completely changed into a shark’s tail. He was swimming in circles in the place where he had fallen. They left him. They ran on and reached “One.” He was lying on the beach. They ran to him. He had turned into a crab. He was crawling around like a crab on the sand. They left him, and they reached the land of men.


(Told by Lazarus Keve Mapi. Translated from the Anutan language by John Toomotu Penuarerei [John Fenua] and Joseph Grim Feinberg [Pu Parikitonga].)