The Maishun Spirit
(a Ponongese folktale)
When the goddesses were still young mothers, they despaired that their children, the Ponongese, fought day and night. The goddesses came together and decided to tell each clan to gather on the high ground. When this was done, the goddesses plowed deep lines into the low ground and invited their friend, the Te’Am Ocean, to irrigate the furrows. Each high ground became an island, and the clans, now separated by the ocean, could no longer fight. The goddesses, enjoying the peace, went to their hut on the mother mountain and fell fast asleep.
The people looked across at the other islands and were jealous, each believing that the goddesses had favored the other clans with better land. They learned to swim so they could invade other islands, but sharks and treacherous currents were in the water, and while the people were willing to die in war, they did not want to die before they could fight.
The people of the Jui clan were very clever and had the idea of a boat that would carry them safely to the other island so they could make war. They worked quietly on in it secret so the goddesses would not awaken and stop them. The people of the Shi clan were also clever, because all people are, and they also decided to make a boat. The Shi also thought only of war.
Every day, a daughter of Jui would catch fish in the tide pools. From there, she could see across the channel to Cay Shi where a Shi son also fished along their shore. Jui daughter was very shy. She liked to fish apart from the other Jui so she would not feel obligated to talk. Shi son was the perfect companion—he could not talk to her across the water, but she could see him so she was not lonely. One day, Shi son sent a message with their seabird friends, who flew between the islands. It was easier to write than to talk for her, so she answered his messages. In the manner of such things, she decided he must be similar to her people, and he believed she was like his, and thinking they knew each other, decided they must be together.
Every day, Shi son asked Jui daughter to come to him. She sadly replied that she could not. One day, he did not come to the fish. She was sad, but caught her fish and took it back to her people. The next day he came to fish, but he did not read the messages she sent to him and did not send any back. She was puzzled by his actions, but caught her fish and took them to her people. The third day, he sent a message ordering her to come to him. Again, she replied that she could not. She wanted him to be happy again, and wondered why he looked so angry now. His next message said that if she really loved him, she would steal the boat her clan had built and come to him. She was shocked that he would ask her to betray her people, so she refused.
Jui daughter decided she should not see Shi son again, so she went to tide pools on the other side of their island to fish with the rest of her people. She missed her silent shore and wished she could hide her face when the other fishers talked to her. Birds came every day with messages from Shi son asking why she had not come to fish at her regular place. Then the birds came bearing apologies and sweet words. Jui daughter’s heart was touched, so she returned to the place where she could see Shi son.
It was as if they’d first met, but after a while, Shi son began to demand she come to him again. He would often turn his back to her and refuse to answer her messages. Finally, in despair, she threw herself into the sea and swam to his shore. Rather than greeting her with love, he shoved her back toward the sea and shouted that she must bring him the boat her people had made, and then he would love her. His fingers bruised her arms. His face was a war mask and his eyes showed his blood lust. She knew he meant to use the boat and the one his people made to attack the Jui.
Crying, she stumbled back into the waves and began the swim home. Auntie shark, who had watched their courtship, felt pity for Jui daughter and let the girl hold onto her fin while she brought her safely back home.
Auntie shark said, “I once loved a squid. One day I grew angry and ate him, because that is my nature. I cried afterwards, but that did not bring him back. Shi son would also cry when your village is nothing but ashes.”
Jui daughter thanked auntie shark for saving her, and for the lesson. For the rest of her life, she warned young fishers from the tide pools where they might look across the water, see Shi sons and daughters, and be tempted to betray their clan. Even though she was still very shy and it pained her to talk to people, she pointed to auntie shark’s fin and reminded them that the channel between the islands was dangerous. After she died, she clung to this world and became the first maishun spirit, who warns people before they make a foolish mistake, then flees into the jungle.
(c) 2013 Jill Braden
I promised if more than seven (why did I pick this number? no clue) reviews on Devil Incarnate, I'd write a folktale about maishun spirits. I'd glad I had to.
First thing: research! I read folk tales from many south Pacific cultures as well as from southeast Asia to get a feel for them. Then I had to think of a story. Writing it was odd. Most folktale 'tell' you everything, which is considered poor writing style nowadays. We're supposed to 'show' the audience things and let them draw their own conclusions. So I had to turn off that training. But the good thing about writing a folk tale? Talking sharks.