This print relates to Part 1 of the story of Aib, Meuram and Zogo Ni Pat. Part 2 relates to the print Aib ene Zogo Ni Pat – see https://www.canopyart.com.au/product/aib-ene-zogo-ni-pat-aib-the-sacred-waterhole/
This is a story of my people, the Meuram people of northeastern Erub Island, also known as Darnley Island, in the eastern-most Torres Strait, we call Zenadh Kes*. Three other tribes on the island border our au nener (traditional neighbours) Samsep, Saisarem and Peiudu people; west and the south west of our land respectfully. The Samsep, Peiudu and Meuram share everything to this day.
Many centuries past, the Meuram tribe inhabited the northeastern section of Erub, now in the common tongue known as Darnley Island, Torres Strait. To the West and the South West of the Meuram people three other tribes including Samsep, Saisarem and Peiudu occupy the island. The Samsep and the Peiudu share “au nener” (traditional borders) with my people the Meurams. One day the “Koiet Baba” (principal chief) of my people had sent the Meuram hunters out to sea to capture the first mating female turtle of the annual season, so they could celebrate with a tribal feasting and dancing. In turn the hunters set off in their two “au narr” (big canoe) led by a man named “Desarr” and the lead hunter “Damoi” accompanied by the “pazar” (crewman). The village chief and people stood on the beach at “Keirari” (main village of the Meuram people) wishing them successful hunting. Bonau, Damoi’s favorite wife and children were also there to say goodbye however there was a strange atmosphere unlike previous hunting trips when sailing eastward.
Many miles out at sea the hunting party spotted “sirwarr” (mating turtles). Damoi stood up at the bow of the canoe with the wap (harpoon). When the sirwarr was several meters from the canoe, Damoi leapt over and harpooned the female turtle, causing a fatal complication. Damoi became entangled in the “amo” (harpoon rope) along with the “alba” (accompanying male turtle). So the female and tangled male turtle towed the leading canoe further out to sea. The other hunters tried to free Damoi without cutting the amo but to no avail. The canoe continued to be dragged out to sea until the highest hill on Erub could not be seen. In the end the hunters cut the rope hoping Damoi would free himself but their effort proved futile. The sirwarr, alba and Damoi went many times to the “ub” (ocean floor) to the deepest part of the sea called “saam karem” and when they came up for air again the Meuram hunters saw that Damoi was now dead. The tangled turtles revisited the “ub” with Damoi again and did not resurface. Nevertheless, Desarr, Damoi’s friend ordered the hunting parties to paddle onwards out to sea to find and recover his friends body. But Damoi was lost at sea forever.
After realizing their fresh water was now finished the hunters struggled back against the strong fast easterly currents, without the help of their mat sails because the wind had died down. So they paddled on till they were thirsty and exhausted. Soon they saw “kerged” a small high coral cay, where they resided for safety. Visually Erub was perceptible to the west along with Mer (Murry Island) to the southwest. When the Meuram hunters arrived at Kerged they collapsed in their canoes out of exhaustion, perched upon deaths doorstep waiting for their veil of misery to be lifted.
As Desarr laid there on the bow platform dying, a little reef bird called “Toleh” (Sand Pipper) flew down and sat down near Desarr returning to and alternating back and forth from the top of the sand cay several times. This caught Desarr’s attention, bringing him to notice that the Toleh was landing on top of bobbing “zorr” (pumice stone) like it was on water. Desarr struggled up and made his way to the top of the coral cay and when he got there he pushed the pumice stones apart and there was fresh water. He drank the water in order to regain his strength first, venturing back to the canoes so the others too could do the same. When they had quenched their thirsts Desarr told them how the Toleh led him to the water. All acknowledged the bird as the spirit of their lost tribesman Damoi whom had come back to save them from certain death. To this day Erub people call the sand piper “Toleh” because it means “there’s a person inside this bird”. From here Meuram hunters found an unusually vast “izerr”(bailer shell) on Kerged, which they filled with the remaining water and set off to home the next day.
When the hunters had gone some distance from kerged they drank some more water from the izerr, to their dismay the water remained the same amount regardless of how much they would drink. They came to realize that this was “zogo ni” (sacred story water). Tavelling further west they had soon arrived at their “ged nor” (home reef), approaching Keirari from the east they could see their Meuram people lined the shore to welcome them back.
The village “zogo le” (witch doctor) had informed the principal village chief the night before that a tragedy had fallen upon the tribe but something positive would come of this misfortune. As soon as the canoes were beached and the sad news was announced, the Meuram people went into mourning. Damoi’s wives rubbed themselves with ash and cried aloud, though Damoi’s favorite wife believed he was still out at sea and would return one day. She went to the reef’s edge and waited and cried until she transformed into a big “Bonau” (Brain Coral) were she remains to this day.
The men of the village removed the big bailer shell from the leading canoe and hung it up with “kolap lagerr” (woven rope) from a shady wongai tree where in the sun’s or moon’s light it could be seen from afar and was the joy of the Meuram people. The Meuram tribe enjoyed the “zogo ni” for everyday life use such as healing and gardening. They guarded this water jealously keeping it a secret from the other Erub tribes, living prosperous and sickness-free lives for many years.