Gawet (Pelican Drum Story)
Long, long ago, there lived a Saisarem tribe man called Saui at a place called Gau, on the South Western point of Erub (Darnley Island). Saui had a pet pelican bird which he had raised from little, given to him as a gift by Kulkaram Le (a native man of central Torres Strait Islands). Now, Saui was a person who liked to live by himself, a loner and didn’t mingle much with his tribal people, so the pet pelican became his only true friend. So, Saui named his pet bird Gauei after his place Gau, because Gauei is plural in Erubam language, meaning now there’s two with such a name.
Saui trained Gauei to catch sardines and fish for them both, and she was very well trained and skilled. Both master and pet became inseparable. When Saui would go out on his sailing canoe to visit to trade, or go out to hunt and fish at sea, Gauei would sit on the canoe bow and stretch her wings outwards (this is called peu detredi) as the canoe travels along. And if they were out at sea, Gauei would warn saui if bad weather was coming by flying off first, straight towards Gau Paikai (Gau Point) where they lived.
In the evenings Saui would sing and beat his traditional drum called boroboro to make Gauei tuck her head under her wings to sleep. These are the words of the song that Saui sang:
Gauei uti uti ki asamare—boroboro Kega
Peu ge puni asamasam-e-
Gauei uti uti ki asamare-e-boroboro Kega
Peu ge puni esami-e-
One day during the start of the calm weather season called Naigerr-Kerkerr (usually around October or November) a wild flock of pelicans flew to Erub from the Kulkaram Kaur (central Torres Strait Islands). They came to feed on the numerous sardine schools that are always at Erub. This is primarily so the female pelicans can fatten themselves quickly for the breeding and nesting season and for their chicks to hatch and be grown before the rainy monsoonal North Westerly season, called Koki Kerkerr starts.
After several days on Erub feeding on the sardines (Tup) this group of wild pelicans called Awaikubi came and floated on the sea just off Gau point. As soon as Gauei saw them, she swam out to check these pelicans out. Not long afterwards, Saui saw them all take off together with his pet Gauei amongst them. They flew and circles Gau Point three times for Saui to see Gauei bidding him farewell. Saui’s pet Gauei had now found a mate and would have her own family. And so the Awaikubi with Gauei flew away towards the Central Islands.
When Saui saw this, he cried aloud and took his traditional boroboro drum out of his hut, tand uned the wild beeswax to make the drum cry louder. He then held it, embracing it firmly to the side of his body, because it has no handle. Saui then beat his drum towards the Southwest (Ziai Pekem) to call Gauei back. But the Awaikubi with Gauei flew onwards to the most outer reaches of the central Islands to their homeland, a high sand bay near the island of Pitub (Dugong Is) called Gauei Kaur by Eastern Islanders and Awai Kaur by Central Islanders (Kulkaram Buaigiz). Saui however, tirelessly continued to beat his drum as he cried and lamented for Gauei by singing this song:
Gauei eti Boroboro gemait waria ziai kubikubi,
Gauei eti boroboro gemait saui-a-pa taumi,
And as Saui continued to lament and sing the sound end of his boroboro drum changed and became as the mouth of a pelican when open. This feature is called Gauet in Erubam until this day. And Saui’s tears became as a heavy rain storm which fell upon the sea, and the sound of it was iramer (the sound of teardrops). This word eventually over time became shorter as irmer, what Erubam people called “rain” today.
Saui soon after turned into stone and stood at Gau Paikai still looking south westward (ziai pekem) until this day. And so as in its an annual re-enactment, each year the awaikubi would fly up to Erub from Gauei Kaur or Pelican Sandbank as it is commonly known today, but they will always return to their homeland in Central Torres Strait, before the north westerly monsoonal rain sets in.
We hope you like the story.
Mr Dick Bart. Pilot Mr Kapua George Gutchen Snr Mrs Florence M Gutchen (nee Fauid)
Saisarem Tribal Elder Meuram Tribal Elder Meuram Tribal Elder
Erub (Darnley Island) Erub (Darnley Island) Also Saamu Clan Elder
Other Relevant Information
The wild bee wax Torres Strait Islanders used to tune the drum skin on our drums today are called Isau, a flick around of Saui’s name to mean “a lot of shed tears” as “Ii” pronounced “yee” (in English) means “tears or lamentation” and sau means “in abundance” or plentiful. We apply the Isau to the drum skin to make the Island drums “cry out” and reverberate louder and properly in tune. When a drum is really tuned up, its sound echoes like crying. This crying sound from a boroboro or warup drum is called warup era imerr, meaning “the cry of a drum”.
This story is associated with the Saisarem tribe of Erub (Darnley Island) and the Kulkaram people of central Torres Strait Islands. The Saisarem tribe occupies the south-west to north-west area of Erub. The other three tribes of Erub are Peiudu, Samsep and Meuram. The word Ii (yee) is synonymous with the Saisarem tribe as they have other traditional stories of Imermer and kikemermer, including a place or old village called Irmet.
When a flock of birds called birubiru (their name derives from the boroboro drum) start to appear on Erub (Darnley Island), it will tell us that the monsoonal rain (Saui’s tears) is not far away as per the legend. The central and western Torres Strait Islanders called the traditional boroboro drum burubur.
The warup drum with handle was introduced to eastern Islanders by the Parama Island natives called Gebarobi. Until this day the sacred birubiru stone is standing at Sadi village next to Gau Point. It is a magic garden stone and also for rain-making ceremonies.
Gauei is the Erubam word for pelican and Awai is the central and western Torres Strait word for pelican. Kaur means Island in both languages.
This is how the pelican mouth shape drum design came to be in the Torres Strait from this story.