Rated: ASR · Prose · Action/Adventure · #685106
The birth and death of an island culture. Based on a book I wrote Twilight's Dawn
An Island Created by People and Gods
Once, where the waters of the ocean are shallow, a teaming growing coral reef was bursting with life. Like many others it had started centuries ago as a small collection of rocks and plants. Over the millennia it evolved into a thriving marine community. As it rose from the ocean floor, shafts of light became visible below the waters and the reef began to grow towards the light appearing as a giant slanted column below the waters. As it grew closer and closer to the surface, the first rocks became visible above the waves.
Aside from an occasional pelican, no eyes beheld the emerging piece of land. The reef was far from the islands where the people lived, and they had no cause to visit these waters.
More and more tiny pieces of land rose above the waters. Frequent storms washed up sand, which became trapped among the rocks and grew into a small beach. It was this beach that one man of the people found when he wandered farther than usual on a fishing expedition, and he anchored his small boat. After resting, he decided to explore the waters below him and was rewarded with bounty beyond his expectations. He easily filled all of his nets and then to thank the gods for the fish, he took the pouch of seeds that each of the people carried and sprinkled them onto the small barren piece of land.
He filled his nets with the larger fish and buried the smaller ones in the sand so that they might help the seeds grow. The sun was low in the sky, but fortunately, the waters were calm. Even so, night came before he reached the shore of his village. As he anchored his canoe, he heard the children's squeals as they ran down to the shore.
Soon the entire village was there, and he answered their many questions. How had he found these fish? Were there more? Had the waters been treacherous? Did he know the path back to this Island of bounty?
Later that night, they gathered at the fire, The old ones sat in the innermost circle, followed by the men and the children. The women brought out the delicacies they had prepared: small pieces of fish in coconut sauce, spiced shellfish and salmon in a special mixture of wild berries.
For the next three days and nights the people ate well. They ate until they could eat no more. And there was great happiness as the bounty made it unnecessary to select the more important members of the village for better sustenance.
Each night the voices of the old ones pierced the din as they sang the history of the people. The songs were always the same and the words were simple words, so that all of the people, even the children, would know who they were and where they had come from.
In the beginning, there were two Gods one male and one female. Their passion was great; it could not be contained, and so their embraces gave birth to the world of the people. As the song continued to describe the growth of the people, the children began to sneak away and play games behind the trees.
The people grew quickly, feasting on the bounty of the gods' creation. But as the gods continued to create more and more worlds, they lost interest in their prior creations and evil and hardship came to be. The songs recalled the years of starvation and famine, which led to the migration of the people to more and more distant islands.
When they sang of the history of each family, those who knew the words joined in and the older people knew more of the songs than the younger people. In this way, the history of the people continued long after each group of old ones departed this world.
After the end of the third night, when all of the food had been consumed and all of the songs had been sung, the people continued to sleep around the dying fire. Little work got done that day, and even the children were too tired to play.
The new island feasted as well. The rains came quickly, and a few years later several small trees grew. As time passed, fruit trees, palms, coconut and mangroves as well as grasses and small flowers grew on the land above the reef. When the trees grew larger, small birds came to eat the seeds and fruit, and some remained.
Pelicans began to use the island as a place to land. Zooming across the waters, they spotted their prey plunged in and appeared to ingest their prey in one gulp. Then they rested on the Island to digest their meal. The mangroves on the shore were fertilized by their waste, an occasional dead fish, trapped sand and rubble, and the Island grew wider and wider. From below the waters, it looked like a giant mushroom.
Earthquakes were not foreign to the region, and eventually one hit the little Island transforming it completely. Two jagged peaks jutted high above the surface. These high cliffs overlooked a rocky beach composed of remnants of former fringing reefs. At the uppermost point, a large crater lay at the bottom of the peaks.
As time passed, abundant rains filled the crater which became an overflowing lake and a waterfall came to flow below the peaks. On the shores, little streams of water came to feed the fertile soil below so that gradually one side of the Island became a jungle. Only on the east side of the Island were the sandy beach and fringing reefs untouched. Below the waters, the mushroom was thinner at the top but sill quite ample to support the island.
With its' large jagged peaks, the island was now easily visible from a distance, and so it was spotted by the people on one of their fishing trips. Much time had passed since the first fisherman had rested there, and as he was unable to locate it again, the island and its' bounty had long retreated to the realm of myth and song.
Surprised to find that it actually existed, the people, seeing it's beauty named it: The island created by people and gods" to honor the memory of the fisherman who had planted the first seeds that had apparently become a lush paradise.
Again, the people were rewarded with a bounty of fish and planting their seeds along with small fish, they promised the island that they would return with even greater offerings. And so it happened that several times each year the people went to the Island, feasted on its plenty always being careful to leave behind things of value to the Island: deer, monkeys many other different types of animals, trees and plants, all of which thrived and multiplied.
As the years passed, the people came to the Island less regularly and came to use it as a place to celebrate marriages. After the festivities, the new couple would be left on the Island to consummate their marriage.
There being no set time, each couple stayed as they wished. Some stayed less than a week and others over a month, and so it was only a matter of time until one of the young couples did not come back at all. Several other couples followed, and soon there was a tiny community.
The migration of the people from one island to another was not unusual. The only unusual thing was the way in which this particular migration had happened. The usual practice of those wishing to migrate was to appoint a spokesman who approached the old ones with the request. After several days of pondering, the old ones would provide an answer.
While the answer was invariably 'yes', the old ones always added specific requirements and each case the requirements were different. One group had been ordered to visit their old home once each year. In another case a house for the gods was to be built on the new Island, and in yet another case specific names were given to be used for the first child born on the new island. Several old ones always accompanied the migrants to their new home to insure that the history of the people was not forgotten.
This time none of the usual actions had been taken, and as the fourth couple did not return, it became clear that something had to be done. The old ones gathered together to decide. Some felt that the new community should be prohibited as punishment for not following the tradition. Others pointed out that as the migration had already begun, it was best to provide consent. After several days of much heated discussion, they gave their consent and its conditions and sent a messenger to the new little community to convey their words.
On the older Island there was a large tree. Each year at the first moon after the big rains, the people gathered at the tree and a large notch was made on the tree to celebrate the year. By looking at the tall tree with its many marks, each of the people was able to grasp the many years during which the people had lived on the island.
Around the tree were numerous sapling. The new community was to plant one on the new Island. Each year, they too would gather together and make a large notch in the tree to symbolize the growth of their new community.
And so it came to pass that at the next wedding there was such a large celebration that it was sung about at circles around fires on both islands for many years. Along with the union of the couple, the official birth of a new community of the people was celebrated. The tree was planted near the small houses that the couples had built, the first notch entered, and the Island was blessed.
In many ways life on the new Island was similar to the way life had been on the old one – it being the only life that was known – but over time, differences began to emerge. Because there was never any shortage of food, life took an a more relaxed pace. The people still built their homes of grasses as their parents had, but as there was no need to move from place to place in search of food, the houses became more spacious.
Because there was ample food, all of the children were nurtured, even those who were less than completely healthy. Barren women were no longer cast out, and the rites of circumcision were slowly abandoned. Sexual activity among young people before marriage came to be the rule rather than the exception. Young children drank their mothers milk as long as they wished and crawled, walked, and swam without clothing.
While the division of labor between the sexes remained, it also became less strict. Although the hunt remained the sole domain of the men, women often fished with the men . Medicine and childbirth continued to be the realm of women, but many men learned how to cook food.
Due to the bountiful food available, the people gathered around a circle of rocks to eat, sing, and talk not only on special occasions but every night. And as the songs were repeated and repeated, it was not long before all of the people on the new Island could sing their history. As they had promised, at the first moon after the big rains, they gathered at the tree to carve a notch. With the lush fertile ground to nurture it, it was not long before the tree grew tall.
Because life on the island was easy and pleasant, the people developed a benevolent relationship with their gods who visited their dreams frequently and spoke of many things, some were understood and more were not.
Over time, visits between the two islands became less frequent until they stopped altogether. The people of the new Island continued to change. Where their parents had been suspicious they were naive, trusting and generous. Where their parents had hoarded anything that might be useful into their small huts, they tended to have large empty homes, always content that, if they needed something, they would be able to find it.
There were countless notches in the tree at the time that the man of our story was born into a loving circle of family and friends. He was the first child of a younger man and an older woman, and like the others, he led a carefree happy life. As a child, his life was not unusual; he swam in the ocean waters at an early age, played games with the other children and listened to the stories around the fire at night. If he had given the matter any thought, he would have assumed that his life would be much as his parents and parent's parents before him. But he had no reason to think of such things, as he had no way to know that life as he knew it was about to come to an end.
As a young boy, he would often come to the lake between the twin peeks with his friends. The waters were always cool and fresh. Most years, the lake was high, and they played and laughed under the rushing waterfall.
They knew they were safe from the prying eyes of parents, because the only other time the people came to the beach below was to say farewell to the dead. When an old one departed the world, when a hunter was killed or a child was stillborn, the people would bring wood and build a large fire on the rocks by the shore. The body would be burned and the remains of the person carried in a canoe to the deep ocean waters where they would be returned to the gods. That was the way of the people.
One day he spotted a boat approaching. It was the largest boat he had ever seen, and it came closer until it was right near the edge of the island. Two men emerged from the boat and began to bring many things to the shore and the boys were amazed at the strange things.
The men built a house in what seemed to be a few minutes, although it did not appear to be of straw. They carried many big boxes, and brought them into the strange house. Finally, they stopped and began to make food.
The faces of the men and their skin appeared strange to the boys. They were pale. One man had hair the color of a dark coconut shell. He had hair all over his body including his legs, his back, and even his chest and legs making him appear a bit like an ape. The other man had orange hair and spots all over his body even on his face.
He had never seen such people before, so he and his friends went home and told their parents what they had seen. The adults laughed and told them not to go back to the lake as clearly strange visions were to be found there.
Of course, the youngsters didn’t listen. The next day and the day after that, they returned to the place, and the men were still there doing strange things. They put on strange clothes that made them look like beings from other worlds and held large tubes on their back. Then they jumped into the water and disappeared for some time. Relieved that the men were finally gone, the boys went back to their games, but the next day they found the men to be in fine shape despite the length of time they had spent below the waters. Putting the same strange clothes on, they once again jumped into the water. The men continued to do this day after day as if they were searching for something.
He did not speak of what they saw at the village knowing that nobody would believe him and that he would be scolded or even thrashed for returning to the place. Nevertheless, he understood that the secret needed the attention of adults.
He found themselves wishing that someone in the village would die. Then the people would be forced to gather at the place where the strangers were living and confront the problem. But much to his dismay, all the babies were born healthy, there were no serious hunting accidents, and at night, the old ones around the fire looked healthy and vigorous.
Several weeks passed, and still at a loss about what to do, the boys decided to make themselves known to the strangers. They arrived to hear voices from inside the house. He cold see the strangers inside talking and drinking a beverage from strange looking urns.
The strangers were clearly surprised and not at all pleased to see the young boys. The man with the spots came towards them and extended his hand with something that appeared to be small brown foods. He took one; it was sweeter than the sweetest fruits.
The man asked a question but they did not understand and to illustrate the man began to draw houses and people on the sand with a twig and finally he understood that the man wanted to know how many other people there were.
With the help of his friends, he drew a picture of the village. Then he made marks outside each house to indicate the approximate number of inhabitants. As he drew, the man seemed to become more and more upset.
The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the boys left confident that at the very least the problem was out of their hands.
Three days later, a canoe came to the island, and in it was a man who appeared to be of the people but of a distant Island. He told them that he had to go to the other side of the Island but that he would return in the evening. He did return; this time there were three people in the canoe, the man of the people and the two pale faced men.
There was no singing at the fire that night. The man of the people from the other island spoke to the pale men in their language and then to the people of the island.
The hairy one of the pale men began to speak and the man of the people repeated his words. He told them that he was very sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but that in one month many bad things would happen to the island. There would be many fires, flames would come up from the earth and the island would be destroyed. The people looked at him in shock and disbelief. This could not be true! Only gods could know of such events before they happened. The island had always taken care of the people, and it would continue to.
The men had anticipated this and told the people that they would show proof. Slowly over the next days, the people became convinced that the pale faced men spoke the truth. They showed the people their great powers making sounds louder than anyone had ever heard before. They captured a deer and pointed a long pole at the animal; a sound went off and the deer was dead. Then they demonstrated a box that spoke voices. At this point, even the old ones and the most skeptical among the people believed that the pale strangers were every bit as powerful as the gods.
They showed pictures of the bad things they said were going to come. The pictures moved and although there was no sound, they spoke more than any words could. They showed many great fires, people dying, children crying, and other people with deep wounds or no arms and legs and nobody helping them. When the pictures ended nobody spoke.
Then the pale faced man began to speak again and told them that they must leave the island. He offered safe passage to a large Island that could easily accommodate ten or twenty times their number.
The eldest of the old ones approached the strangers saying that a decision would be made within two days, but there was no question about what the decision would be. Some of the people had family on other Islands, and all the families began to make plans.
Only his father refused to go, insisting that the since the people had helped the gods build the Island, it would not be allowed to die. In any event, his father knew that his life and the island were one, and if the gods were in fact prepared to allow the island to die, than let that be his fate as well. People pleaded with him, but he was a stubborn man, and his wife would not leave his side. People begged his parents ti let the young boy leave, but his father refused, his mother said nothing, and he did not want to be separated from his family.
So the people began to depart not all at once, but every day large canoes would leave the Island and when they had all gone, the remaining people went into the large boat of the pale men carrying with them what they could. With his parents, he watched the last of them leave silently until the boat was no longer visible and they were alone.
At first they simply waited for the world to end, but time passed and nothing happened. At first they were elated. Although he had no friends to play with, his father began to treat him like a man. They built the biggest house ever built and , taking walls and parts from the deserted village.
At the end of the first year, they marked the tree as the people had always done. They tried to put the past behind and live for the future, but in order for there to be a future, there had to be children, and after several years, it became clear that his mother would bear no more of them.
As he came to understand this, his father lost interest in all things. He often sat on the rocks by the shores near the house for hours without moving. He ate little and spoke less. And then suddenly one day, his father seemed to be his old self again, and he gathered his spears together saying he was going to hunt. He begged to go along, but his father refused and told him to take good care of his mother. Disappointed, he did not notice the tears in his mother’s eyes as she bade him farewell.
Three days later, when his father did not return, he and his mother looked in the jungle and found the remains of his fathers body torn to shreds. His mother wailed saying that at least he had died a hunter's death. They carried his remains to the shore, gathered wood together and lit a fire so that his soul might be freed to go to the other world.
When all the remains had burned, he went to get the canoe, but his mother stopped him. She took out a large pouch of the type the people used when collecting seeds. All that remained of what had been his father easily fit into the pouch with much room to spare. She took the pouch and gave it to him and made him swear that when she died, he would mix her remains with those of her husband and pour them together into the waters so that they might be together in the next world. Unwilling, he promised nevertheless.
The next morning his mother began in earnest to teach him everything she knew. She taught him all of the things that traditionally only women knew: how to cook and sew, how to collect small brush for the fire, how to mend the house. She showed him which plants and berries were edible, which were to be avoided and which to use others for ointments that would heal wounds.
One evening, she told him "Tomorrow I will join your father."
He did not wish her to go but knowing that it was what she wished, he did not argue with her.
"Remember your promise," she said.
The next day he stood at the crossroads, where a steep path led up the mountain to the twin peaks, facing his mother for the last time.
" You are last of the people" she said.
"Why"? he asked.
"There is always a beginning, a middle and an end. Now it is the end for the people, and somebody must be last. You are that person.
He wanted to cry out, but he could think of no answer to her words. He watched her climb the steep mountain path until he could no longer see her.
The next day he took the long walk around the two peaks and at the rocky shore on the other side, he found his mother's body. He burned the body as they had burned the body of his father. He put the ashes in the sack that held the ashes of his father and shook the bag. Then he poured its contents into the ocean water as he had promised.
And then for the first time he felt the full weight of his aloneness, and he cried out loudly to the gods he had swore he no longer believed in. Their only response was the sound of the water against the rocks.
Somewhere in the midst of the shallow waters lies a small island. Once it was considered as a possible location for nuclear testing by a nation that no longer exists.
Once the voices of children, the laughter of people around a fire, the howls of joy after a good hunt, the cries of mourning and pain pierced the din. Now the island sits silently. Waves still wash up on it’s shore, beauties that eyes do not feast upon sway beneath the waters, and a waterfall throws forth a permanent rainbow as it gushes between twin peaks pointing to the gods. You will not find the island on any map or in any geography book. But the gods see everything and the gods never forget.