Chapter 4
Theme and Motif Variation
In nonliterate societies, the only access to myth is through the intermediation of the narrative. Thus, in such societies, myth is entirely at the mercy of those who keep it alive through their narrating skills. Accordingly, most changes that myth undergoes, regardless of reasons, start right there -- in the minds of those who hear and know it. They are all potential narrators. In other words, the forms of survival of myth reside in the subconscious and conscious reactions of the narrators to myth, and in their power of assimilating information, which is conditioned by their culture. The Yami story-telling scene is by no means an exception to this rule.
For any activity carried out in the jungle, in the fields, in the village, on the road, on the shore, or under the waves of the ocean, Siapen-Kotan (Isamo) of Yayo will surely have a story to tell. Sometimes, especially if a story has been requested, he will start with a little ritual. It sounds like a prayer in which he asks for the protection of akey ta do to, "our heavenly grandfather," against any possible harm to be inflicted by those who are not alive any more, but whose names or deeds may come up in the stories. If he is not in high spirits, he will tell only the stories of his lineage, but if he is in a good mood, he will "break" into the stories of old folks from other villages and lineages, and the story-telling will carry late into the tropical night. After long hours, even with most of the audience fast asleep (sometimes with only the tape recorder alert), he will not give up until his four-generations-long rugged island life starts pressing down on his eyelids. It is only then that his chanting of ancient songs and chewing of fresh betelnut melt into a quiet whisper.
There is nothing peculiar about this, or about any such scene, because story-telling is a great joy for the Yami. This joy is enhanced also by the fact that they have no professional story-tellers similar, say, to the African griot. In other words, there is no "individual monopoly" on stories. Today there are some natives, though, who, due to their knowledge of the Japanese language, have been used over and over for story-telling by Chinese and, especially, by Japanese researchers. They are professionals in the sense that they charge money for their stories, but they are not necessarily considered by the rest of the community to be either good narrators or real connoisseurs of the stories.
The telling of the myths and stories does not require a special occasion or setting, but there are times when telling them would be considered out of place. During certain inauguration ceremonies, for instance, only the host is welcome to chant part of the genealogical story of his lineage, if he so pleases. According to local custom, it would be very inappropriate for a guest to do so. Actually, most stories are told not at ceremonies, but in rather casual circumstances. One may hear a great number of stories told on the beach among the men when they take a rest during diving sessions or when dropping in on a neighbor or relative in the evening. There is considerably less story-telling during work breaks in the jungle, where many taboos must be observed concerning talking in general and the use of certain vocabulary in particular.
The late Inez de Beauclair collected a considerable amount of data on Yami culture. Unfortunately, because of her advanced age she did not succeed in carrying out all her research and writing plans. In her Studies on Botel Tobago and Yap, she calls the Yami creation myths "genealogical stories" (1974, 56). Indeed, the Yami have a myth about the appearance of the first man on the island, a story that takes the listener through dozens of generations, usually ending in the present with the narrator as a direct descendent of the heroes of the very lineage whose story is being told. While they are, first of all, precise genealogies, the myths also account for the names of places, for the process of how the settlements emerged, and for the discovery of the existence of many plants, animals, and objects. They also clarify the people's relations to their gods and to the demons which make up the rest of the Yami pantheon. The creation myths of Irala do not, however, include the creation of the universe or the birth of any of their gods. Some of the old Yami remember having heard that in ancient times Heaven and Earth were one and the same, until a giant separated them, and that was how the sky and the land came into being. This story fragment, however, is not recounted as part of any of the Yami creation myths. Kano reported that the natives believed that the first Yami had been lowered from the sky on a golden ladder, and that it was also believed that the milky way was made of fish which jumped from the ocean and stuck to the firmament before the separation of Heaven and Earth (Beauclair 1974, 19). These stories are not told any more as a part of a creation process. As a matter of fact, out of all informants I asked, only one person, Siapen-Kotan (Manowawa) of Yayo, could remember them.
In story-telling the Yami do not have any rules to observe; hence the process of transmission does not present any particular patterns. Practically anybody who knows a myth or a story can tell it to anybody who is interested in listening. Old people said that if their parents did not know the genealogical story of the lineage, surely there was always an uncle, an aunt, or an even more distant relative who knew it and was willing to tell it if the right occasion arose. It was always important, however, that the story be recognized by the lineage as the story of the ancestral grandparent. By this, one usually means a male ancestor, but there are stories where the ancestral grandparent referred to is a grandmother. Siapen-Manabey, the famous story teller of Ivalino, did not hear the stories from his parents, but from his late uncle. Everybody in his lineage agrees about the legitimacy of his stories as being the "real stories of the ancestral grandfather."
In March 1984, while recording the amazing adventure stories of Simina-Vohang, which account for the founding of the village Ivalino, I asked a listener, a middle-aged man from Iratay, if he liked the stories. Just like the rest of the audience, the man seemed to have known the stories before, and while he sat all this time next to the narrator, it was obvious that he was enjoying himself. I was somewhat surprised when, responding to my question, he pointed out that he could not say anything because these stories were never really told in his family, so he did not know whether they were true or not. Later, as the narration proceeded, I observed that the listeners from Ivalino occasionally nodded approvingly--except for the man from Iratay, who behaved as if he were listening to something that he knew and liked, but was not supposed to be acquainted with so well as the other listeners from Ivalino, who were potential authorities on the subject, by virtue of their descent.
The creation myth or the genealogical story of the narrator is interwoven with stories having something to do with the lineage of the narrator, or are at least believed to be part of his family history. The occurrences of these stories within the main body of the myth differ in sequence from lineage to lineage, and very often there are substantially different versions of the same story even within the same lineage. Of course, across villages and different lineages, the stories belonging to a given version of the creation myth may differ even more.
In some cases the differences seem to have been induced by topographical reasons, and largely influenced by "local patriotism." In all versions of the great flood, for instance, the physical height of the "highest" mountain of the island is usually ignored. In most variants, Ji-Peygahngen is the one which remains uncovered and where some people survive during the great flood. Though it is common knowledge on the island that the highest peak is J-Akmimozong, each village tells its own story of the flood during which only one peak remains unflooded, which, of course, often happens to be the one next to the narrator's village. In most versions of the creation myth the motif of the heavenly maidens who descend to Earth and are found in a bundle of miscantus grass near the settlements of the different narrators, is present. In a similar way, the mythical discovery and sharing of the lice takes place at locations that differ according to the origin of the narrators.
As far as motifs are concerned, it may happen that certain episodes of the main myth or some of the inserted stories are basically the same, or at least originate from one and the same piece of narrative, but they may occur in a completely different order and may be linked to different circumstances. For instance, the Yami include in most variants of the creation myth at least one story of the giant serpent Kamoley. In one of the versions recorded in Iranmilek, the one included in this study, the snake swallows a boy and takes him to heaven, from where he has to be rescued by other celestial beings, and finally he is allowed to return to his own world. In the creation myth of Ivalino, the giant serpent is wrestled by a boy, who is finally saved from the snake by his father. In the Iranmilek version of the myth, the episode accounts for the origin of plants, boat-building, and rituals. In the Ivalino version it is included to explain why one of the narrator's grandfathers went insane.
The basic Yami story of Man's creation describes genesis from stone and bamboo. Both of these versions are very common in the folklore of Southeast Asia. The six villages of Irala have their own versions of the same myth, and not only the villages but most lineages equally have their own versions. One of the causes of the great variety in which themes or stories appear in different lineages of the same or different settlements is the inconsistency of the narrators in passing on their knowledge of the myth. Leaving aside the discussion of all the possible causes of narrative change, I will concentrate here on one of the most frequent factors, "memory failure," which results mainly in omissions, in reversals of the order of events, or both.
Besides a changing or reshaping effect, the inconsistencies occasionally cause the native narrators to take off their "myth-spectacles" through which they usually see the world and make them question the "unmythical reality" of something. Siapen-Kotan (Isamo) of Yayo starts his version of the creation myth by stating that genesis from stone is unlikely, because, according to what he had heard from his grandfather, their tribe came from another island. Then he proceeds with the story that starts on the island of Ikbalat with genesis from the knees caused by the consumption of a forbidden tropical fruit. The child who committed the shameful act is put into a wooden box and cast into the ocean with the instructions to follow the current and land on the beach of Tabedeh, near what was to become Yayo village. There, by further births from the knee, the child populates the island. The story includes the big flood, the survivors, the beginning of the new life and the founding of the settlements. Siapen-Kotan never questions the truth of the myth, since it is the story of his ancestral grandparent. When it comes to genesis from stone and bamboo, however, he shakes his head. He knows about his tribe's blood relation with the inhabitants of the Batan Archipelago, and his reasoning is that "if the Supreme Being dropped us here on this island of ours in the form of a stone and a bamboo, how come we drifted here from another place?" Then I asked him if he believed that the stone and bamboo genesis took place on Ikbalat. He said that the stories of the ancestral grandparent never mentioned that. When asked what he thought of the others on this island who believed in genesis from stone and bamboo, he said that for those people it may have been true. This is a typical case of a native trying to tackle a mythical problem by what outsiders call "logic." It would be easy to digress into the maze of myth and the so-called "savage mind," knowledge that is carefully sifted through the duality of our Western cultural tradition. This approach would offer many avenues for theoretical speculation. For my part, I see the problem simply as a question of cultural relativity and leave it at that. In other words, if only the ancestral grandparents' story is true, no matter how filled with magic, supernatural beings, and fantastic happenings, then, in the case of the Yami, all that is not one's ancestral parents' story is certainly made up of thoughts meant to deceive. One example of this is the fact that there is only one highest mountain on the island or that we could not have been always here if we came from somewhere else.
If information about the environment and human activity is held together in such a frame of mind, one wonders what "history" may mean to a native of Irala. Malinowski's famous argument that natives can distinguish myth from history can be accepted only if by history we mean any happening that is within living memory. Since there is no way to determine what will be preserved by oral heritage, which in nonliterate societies is the only means of recording events, it is hard to tell what part of the total events present in living memory will become part of the local mythology. Among the Yami, everything that is known as the "story of the ancestral grandparent" is called truth. As mentioned above, the most fantastic story elements are accepted to be true and constitute reality.
The Yami also make a distinction between several categories of their oral heritage: the genealogical story, three different kinds of chants, and spells. The relation of all of these categories to "tradition" is conditioned by whether they are part of the "ancestral grandparent;s' story or not." There is a story among the Yami in which a child secretly feeds a crab at the shore. The parents want to find out why the child never eats his food with them, so they spy on him and find out about the crab, which has grown to an enormous size. They send the child for firewood, and while he is away, the parents go down to the shore, chant the secret ditty by which the child summons the crab, and when the crab comes out, they catch it, take it home, cook it, and eat it. When the child finds out, in his sorrow he goes to the shore and, with the help of another ditty, becomes part of an old coral rock. There are at least two variants of the story. In the first, the child changes slowly into old coral while the parents, who want to save him, are running towards him. The parents arrive only when the child has gone completely through the metamorphosis except for a single lock of his hair. In the second variant, the child does not undergo a metamorphosis, but is simply swallowed by the rock, except for a single lock of his hair.
The first variant was collected in the village of Imorod, from the narrator Siapen-Mangawat, the second from Siapen-Mangananaw. The latter narrator was not satisfied with the end of the Imorod version and started a discussion on this topic with other Yami listeners. The strongest argument of the Yayo narrator was this: "Had the child changed into a rock, where is that rock? The ancestral grandfather;'s story does not mention any rock which previously was a human being." I asked him if the ancestral story mentioned the place where the boy entered the coral. The answer was "Yes, we all know the place, but not a certain spot." Of course, none of the arguments gains an inch on the other, but when the "ancestral 'grandpa' factor" is brought in, the issue is as good as resolved for one of the parties, at least. The gist of this argument shows that for the Yami the only authority, after all, is the "story of the ancestral grandparent." What we understand as "truth and reality" depends on the degree of accuracy with which an element occurs in an ancestral story.
In such circumstances, it is pointless to try to separate myth from history and to separate different oral performances on the basis of what we understand as tradition.
The Yami are equally aware that many stories are variations of the same events. Variations are perceived as "change," and some of the narrators are very much intrigued by it. As a quite extraordinary reaction to the problem of narrative change, I mention here the comment of the Ivalino narrator Siapen-Manabey. He starts the ancestral story of his lineage by stating the following:
"Even at the risk of saying something wrong, now I shall tell you everything that I have heard from my late uncle. I shall not omit anything of what I know from him and I shall not add anything to it either. Actually I believe if I add something of my own that would be the worst. So, I will say everything exactly as I have heard it from my late uncle. There are various stories about our island. In many villages many people told our friend the stories that had been handed down from generation to generation. Those people who told them may not have heard their stories always from the same person. So, the main points of the stories are different. It would be very nice if those of us who are about the same age and still know the origin of our ancestors, the source of our stories, could get together and exchange our ideas."
The factors that contribute to narrative change are so numerous that the subject is an inexhaustible source of theories. The complexity of the phenomenon is due to the fact that all aspects of human interaction with the surrounding environment contribute to it. As has been mentioned before, many of the changes start in the mind of the narrator simply as a result of his forgetting parts of the story or as a subconscious manipulation of the story due to the presence of elements that clash with the overall world view of the narrator. Of course, not all changes in narrative are caused by such lapses in memory or conceptual conflicts. Sometimes they may even be premeditated. Such cases should always be carefully annotated and explained clearly. Proper fieldwork techniques may help to spot them before they become a basis of comparison. A good example of such a case is that of Siapen-Noungan, an old man of Iraralay. He starts the telling of the local creation myth by announcing his belief that if there was a flood, as many say there was, it must have been long before man lived on the island. In his version of the creation myth, the Supreme Being threw down a stone from which a man was born. "Later, when there were more of them, they changed from ghosts into human beings." They moved from their original place not because of a flood but an earthquake, which had destroyed the large plain of the island. Later the second sun was extinguished and people had nothing to cook with, etc.
A few months after Siapen-Noungan had told me the story, I went fishing with some of his family members and had the opportunity to ask them about the myth and the flood. They all agreed that there must have been a flood because that is how they have always heard it in the stories. Finally, after having been asked about the same problem several times, the narrator confessed that he left the flood out in order to cut the story short, and he presented me with the following reasoning: "of course there must have been a great flood, everybody knows that. But what good is it talking about it all the time? What is important is who our ancestors were, where they lived, and where they made their fields."
At that time this statement of the old man sounded like an excuse, but later it turned out to tie in with some important observations related to the overall-purpose of storytelling.
Another theme of great diversity and potential arguments is that of "origin as a result of drifting." Two villages, Iratay and Yayo, share a tradition according to which the inhabitants of the island drifted to Irala from somewhere else, arriving in one or in several wooden boxes. It is interesting that the theme of drifting in a wooden box occurs in versions of other villages as well, but in different circumstances, having nothing to do with an initial stage of populating the island. For instance, the creation myth; of Iranmilek describes an event when a wooden box approaches the coast, concealing a warrior from another island who finally kidnaps a Yami child.
It is only in Yayo and Iratay that the drifting box theme accounts for the Yami's origin, though the drifting box itself seems to be a common Indonesian theme. In the case of the Yayo and Iratay myths, its presence is probably the result of borrowing from the ancestral story of Ivalino, in which Simina-Vohang, a widower from Ivatan, comes to Irala to marry a Yami woman. They sail back to Ivatan, but after several years famine strikes there and they want to return to Irala. In most variants, before their return journey Simina-Vohang puts his only daughter into a wooden box and throws her into the ocean. He does this because his wife hates her stepdaughter. (In the version of Siapen-Manabey, the wife likes the stepdaughter and she asks her husband to take the little girl along, but he refuses.) When the man casts the box into the current, he instructs the box on how to drift to the beach of Tabedeh at Yayo, on the island of the Yami. This episode seems to be a quite minor one compared to the fantastic journey that follows, so rich in adventures. Nevertheless, the story of the wooden box must have been important enough for the inhabitants of the coast around Tabedeh, because they have included it in their story of origin.
Other themes that occur in most myths unrelated to creation; or origin include stories accounting for the existence of certain subsistence activities. The story of the black winged flying fish, which appeared in the dream of a Yami and gave instructions for the summer fishing, is known to be a version of the Sira do Kingasan lineage of Imorod. The extremely complicated and taboo-ridden set of rules concerning subsistence activities linked to migratory fish were all supposedly included in the instructions of that mythical flying fish. The theme diffused to other villages, too, but the ancient chants originally present in the story survived mainly in Imorod.
Another interesting theme that occurs in many variations is that of the origin of plants, animals, all kinds of subsistence activities, chanting, all festivals, and rituals. In one of the Iraralay versions, included in part 3, The Creation Myth of Iraralay, after the great flood there were only three people left--the ancestral grandfather, who had been thrown down at the beginning of creation by the Supreme Being; in the core of a rock, and his two grandchildren: a boy and a girl. The story mentions that after the second sun had been extinguished, the remaining sun was not strong enough to cook their food, so the children set out to find fire. On their journey, they discovered animals, plants, and seaweed. Finally, on the beach at Ji-Kanioyan they saw a lot of ghosts gathering food from the reefs. They saw one who was cooking a turban shell on a fire. The ghost gave it to them, and also gave them the fire.
In another version related by Siapen-Mangavat of Imorod, a story which will be presented later, all the knowledge of the Yami concerning animals, plants, and various activities, came from the demons who lived in the caves of Ji-Karahem. And in yet another version of the same theme, narrated by the same person at the end of the same interview, the knowledge comes from the underground people. The narrator adds that in old times people did not think that the underground people were ghosts. The way the underground people are described in his story, though, makes them appear like the vongkow, the "master demon" of the Yami.
From what has been presented so far, it emerges that the Yami mythologic scene is characterized by the presence of a very large body of culturally encoded narratives consisting of a proliferation of variations along a rich vein of mostly basic Malayo-Indonesian and Polynesian themes. The differences in variations are of such a nature that it is hard to create classifications to accommodate them. At the same time, there is no way to obtain a "perfect"or "real" version of "the myth," but only a "mythic frame" which includes all possible themes in any order of occurrence.
Before continuing the presentation and discussion of themes, I wish to point out that, theoretically speaking, certain themes can be regarded as traditionally belonging to the heritage of particular villages. The flying fish dream is known as the heritage of Imorod. The story of the tazak, the celestial maiden, belongs to Iratay. The arrival in a floating box is basically an Ivatas theme, now shared by both Iratay and Yayo. The story of the kanini, the earthquake fish, is a Yayo theme. The birth of a zoomorphic child, half fish, half human, is basically an Iraralay heritage belonging to the sira do rarahan, the roadside lineage. The appearance of outsiders clad in iron and bearing weapons, presumably white men, usually called by the name Ipra, is an Iranmilek theme. Ivarino contributed to the main body of Yami mythology the amazing seafaring adventures of the founders of the settlement. Besides these themes, there are several other famous stories which came down more in the sense of "historical records" of certain lineages in given settlements. The Story of Siapen-Mitozid, a good example, is the ancestral story of the sira do kawri, the left-end lineage, of Iratay. The story of Simina-Vohang is the ancestral story of sira do avak, the lineage of the center, residing in Ivarino.
As has been stated above, in a theoretical sense these themes and stories can be attributed to certain settlements, but practically they are commonly shared by the Yami myth-retaining and myth-making process. Most old men can easily reproduce the above list of themes and story properties of the villages. With a little effort they can also tell some of the stories without infringing on the narrative domains of other settlements. But if no specified requests for non-infringements are made, today, most Yami narrators will tell a story in which all kinds of themes will mix in the most fantastic order and fashion.
In certain cases the diffusion of themes is easy to follow. Some of the stories are shared by two or more lineages, so it is understandable that they will have a wider circulation. For instance, it is said that Simina-Vohang came from Ivatan and founded the village of Ivarino. The woman he married was from Iraralay, however. Thus the tradition is shared by both villages. Simina-Vohang's eldest daughter landed in a wooden box next to the ancestral landing place of today's Yayo village. Through the intermediation of Ivatas, an old settlement absorbed mostly by Yayo and partly also by Iratay, the theme became part of the ancestral stories of both villages. The participation of a culture hero in an historic event, however, does not necessarily mean that the event will be retained by the native settlement of that hero. For example, the "Story of Siapen-Mitozid" of Iratay ends with his son's successful return to Irala. The son returns with another Yami, and, as soon as they reach Irala, they part. Siapen-Mitozid's son returns to Iratay, and the companion, whose name often changes according to variants of the story, goes home to Iraralay. In spite of this obvious connection, the people of Iraralay did not retain this remarkable story. They did, however, retain certain motifs of the story, which were somehow detached from their original context and then incorporated into other stories--for example, the mixing of tabooed food into the taro cake, or the Yami's cheating on others. These motifs spread, gaining a strong foothold in different stories all over the island. There is no pattern to the diffusion. It is not linked to transitions through lineages. They are just there. It is only fair to mention, furthermore, that this process may have taken place in the opposite sense: these motifs may have diffused from other stories into the historic journey.
For years I have tried to work out a mythological pattern for settlements and lineages based on the different variations within this conglomerate of narratives, but so far this rich oral heritage has evaded all acceptable social classificatory framing devices that I could think of. The only way I can illustrate the problem is by comparing the myth itself, the narration of the myth, and the listeners to the movement of a railroad train made up of a certain number of cars. The tracks represent what the Yami know as the "the ancestral grandfather; line of the story." The cars are the stories, and they are packed with theme-boxes in which there is a multitude of building blocks representing the motifs. The narrators are the train operators, the listeners the passengers. Just as a train moves on a pair of tracks, with its cars following each other in a line, so the Yami stories follow one another in a narrative. The same as in the case of shipping records, by virtue of theme analysis every story is checked and compared to someone else's story. These records show that when a Yami narrator starts a genealogical narrative, that is, when the myth-train leaves the station, the number of cars and the order in which they are advancing may be different each time. The number of boxes in the cars is also different each time, the boxes are piled up in a different order, and the building-blocks that the boxes contain are not the same either, or they are packed in a different order, or both. Finally, the different shipments may serve different purposes. Each time the train leaves the station, everything moves in a different combination from each previous departure. What seems to be the only important factor for all trips is that the train should always remain on the tracks.
And indeed, all the recorded creation myths are made up of stories which are either different or similar (but occur in a different order), containing themes and motifs mixed in all imaginable combinations. To illustrate how diverse in variety the creation myth of Irala actually is, in addition to two creation myths included in part 3, I present an older version of the myth collected in 1923. The researcher was a Japanese scholar named Erin Asai; (1936, 46). The story was recorded in the village of Imorod, primarily for linguistic purposes. The name of the informant is Siamen-Jagalit, who was fifty years of age at that time.
I shall not quote the translation of the whole myth, but present an inventory of its most essential themes and motifs.
the flood.
highest mountains uncovered: Ji-Peygahngen and Ji-Cakolman.
after 9 years a rat is sacrificed.
after 10 years, first yam fields appear.
after 11 years, first taro fields.
after 14 years the ocean is back to normal.
two human beings survive the flood.
Supreme Being's intervention.
genesis from rock which fell from heaven to a place named Ipaptok.
genesis from bamboo which sprouted on the island.
the one from the stone went to Iratay.
the one from the bamboo went to Ivarino.
genesis from knee joints.
incest causes blindness of offspring.
elimination of incest resulting in healthy offspring.
discovery of silver and iron.
boat launching.
the one from bamboo puts the ribs of boat outside -- destroyed.
the one from stone puts the ribs of boat inside -- floats.
use of tree cotton.
birth of zoomorphic child: half dove, half human.
discovery of animals.
first fishing for flying fish by torch light.
Ivatan boat arrives, the Yami are called thieves.
giant millet ears diminish to normal size because they are shouted at by strangers.
discovery of fishes and plants (about a hundred items).
birth of zoomorphic child: half fish, half human.
Ivatan man makes friend with Yami.
evil travelers kill the Yami, Ivatans seek revenge.
Ivatans come to propose marriage.
two children go up to Si-Toriyaw in Heaven to eat.
the mast of their boat pokes the Heaven; it must be cut five times.
the dance of the Ikaldong people.
Yami steal the property of Ikaldong.
the Ikaldong look at the ocean and they all die.
Simina-Vohang is the leader of the adventure.
chickens fly over the Gods' food, contaminating it.
Yami take all the contaminated food.
landings on many islands.
initial fishing results in bad omen.
grandfather refuses to let them land because of bad omen.
foundation of Ivarino.
Except for the description of the discovery of fishes and the plants, the story does not elaborate on details, as if the narrator thought that touching on all subjects was more important.
When examining the themes of Yami myths, the best approach of course, would be if every major theme and motif of the Yami mythology could be followed up and carefully compared in all variants against a general background comprising all occurrences in Bashi mythology. That would probably take many more years and several thousand pages. For now, the analysis will have to be limited to a brief comparison of a few major themes and motifs. I shall start with the comparison of the creation scenes in six versions, recorded in the six Yami villages.
The Creation Myth of Imorod starts with the motif of the ebbing ocean. After that the deluge follows, which, in accordance with most variants, is caused by a pregnant woman who turned over a white coral stone. Years of hardship follow. Except for two persons, all people die. The Supreme Being; throws a rock to the ground, which results in genesis from stone. Genesis from bamboo follows and the island is repopulated.
The Ivalino version of the creation myth starts with the island being populated by ghosts, who are so sinful that the Supreme Being destroys the island by means of the great flood. All the ghosts die except for a few, who succeed by surviving on two mountaintops. The survivors procreate, their descendants have human faces, they are not ghosts anymore, and they repopulate the island.
The creation myth of Iranmilek, starts with an empty island and the rock which is thrown down from Heaven by the Supreme Being. The rock opens, the first man is born, and, due to additional divine interventions, manages to grow up. Then genesis from the knee follows, and a boy and a girl are born who will populate the island. After many generations a huge earthquake occurs and the ocean rises in a tide to cover the island, killing off all people except for two men. Then two heavenly maidens are discovered, who had been sent down to Earth by the Supreme Being. Thus the island is repopulated.
The Iraralay version the creation myth starts with the Supreme Being as he throws a rock down to the island. Genesis from stone produces a ghost called Si-Mamoka. It is not explained how several other ghosts appear. Later, when there were more of them, they all changed into human beings. Then, with or without a deluge, people are exterminated for their sins, after which genesis from stone follows again.
The creation myth of Yayo, denies genesis from stone on Irala. Instead, there is genesis from the knees on the island of Ikbalat. Drifting in a wooden box to Irala follows, and the island is populated by further genesis from the knee. The great flood comes, and it is inferred that it is due to incest. Finally two people survive and repopulate the island.
The creation myth of Iratay, starts with three wooden boxes drifting in the current towards Irala. Each of them contains a human being. The narrator states that they may have been created by the Supreme Being. One box washes up on the shore of Tabedeh at the location that would become Yayo village, the second at Lyos close to the village of Ivatas, and the third reaches land at Iraralay. Procreation follows, then incest causes blindness. Next there is the ebbing of the sea, followed by the turning over of a white coral stone, which causes the great flood. Two brothers survive it. The Supreme Being calls on two heavenly maidens to descend and marry the two brothers, so the island is repopulated again.
As additional proof of the fact that all versions of the Yami myth are extremely unstable in the sense that they easily incorporate new elements and change the contextual meanings of already existing ones, I will give one more example. We have seen that Yami narrators of the six villages are aware of the existence of differences and similarities among their stories. The genealogical stories of Iratay and Iranmilek seem to have developed this consciousness into an actual myth-making process. Therefore, similarities between the creation stories of the two settlements are not only a matter of borrowing or diffusion of themes. The mythic descent of two heavenly maidens to marry the two pitiful brothers, who are among the survivors of the great flood, is known as the heritage of Iratay.
In the Iratay version, the two heavenly maidens are sent down by the Supreme Being. The elder one is instructed to marry the elder brother, the younger one the younger brother. After meeting the brothers, the elder fairy sister ignores the Supreme Being's orders and marries the younger brother. The younger sister flies back to heaven to complain to the Supreme Being. (What happens to the older brother is not mentioned.) The younger brother living with his tazak wife is happy because his wife miraculously provides plenty of food. The tazak is a celestial character sometimes personified by a beautiful maiden -- a kind of Yami fairy. The man wants to investigate his wife's secret, but she forbids him to do that. At this point, the Iratay narrator inserts a statement that in Iranmilek there is another man who also has a tazak wife, and he too has plenty of food to eat. From here on, everything the narrator has said about the younger brother and his fairy wife becomes valid with the Iranmilek couple. The narrator continues the story with the Iranmilek man who transgresses the interdiction of the wife and discovers her secret, which is that she has snakes and rats as servants to provide food for her. The wife now cannot stay on Earth any more, so she takes her child and flies back to heaven. At this point, the Iranmilek man says: "There is a friend in Iratay who has a tazak wife; I better go and warn him not to discover her secret." And so he does, but finally the Iratay man fails, of course, to follow the advice, and his wife and child end up flying to heaven as well.
There are two remarkable turns in the story. The first is that the narrator transports the scene of narration from one place to the other and gets very close to what would be a plot unravelling simultaneously on two different levels. This does not happen, however, because the plot is applied only to the second level, and the simultaneous progression on the temporarily abandoned first level can only be inferred. Thus the mechanics of the passage remain within the Yami storytelling tradition, in which the listener is not transported back and forth in space and time between simultaneously progressing levels of the plot.
The second outstanding feature of this passage is the fact that the narrator suddenly includes "a friend" in Iranmilek who also has a fairy wife. The Iranmilek version does not mention another person with a fairy wife in Iratay, because that is where the story comes from in the first place. What has apparently happened is that the tazak story was borrowed by Iranmilek, probably through intermarrying narrators, and then Iratay, in time, re-adjusted its myth in order to accommodate the Iranmilek version.
Another aspect of the variation of themes in Yami genealogical stories concerns the portrayal of magic and the ghosts. Magic is present in all the layers of the narrative, and even in the events comprising the transition from one level to another.
The upper level is what the Yami know as do to, or up there, the level also known as langarahen, or heaven. The Supreme Being; and his undefined company of celestial beings, good and bad populate this level. At the start of the ancestral story of Ivarino, Siapen-Manabey reminds us that in the beginning there were no human beings on the island, only demons. He uses the words anito no savik, which translates as "half-ghost." It is only implied that the other half is human. These half-ghosts were lying around on the multi-layered clouds of heaven enjoying themselves in the sunshine. Since they were "half-and-half," they lived on both levels: the upper and the middle level. (The middle level, of course, is the world of the humans.) It is interesting that when the half-ghosts are on the upper level, they are described as harmless, gentle creatures. When they are presented by the narrator in their human-world environment, however, they are terrible murderers and thieves, who, on top of all their other sins, chop up, boil, and eat their own children. These are the most horrible sins a Yami can imagine. Accordingly, these traits account for the "human-half" of the "half-ghosts."
The interactions between the upper and the lower levels are not one-way events. In other words, beings of celestial origin descend to the human world and then return to heaven. At the same time, humans ascend to heaven and later return to the human world again. The descent and the ascent of the celestial beings is always an extraordinary event. In all the variants of the Yami creation myths, there is at least one instance of such a descent and ascent. Those who perform it are known either as tawo do to, the gods, or tazak, the fairy. The stories are full of incidents in which the Yami see the celestial beings descend from the sky. Sometimes the Yami even succeed in preventing them from ascending again, or at least from ascending with all their belongings. In such situations, the Yami usually clap their hands and the celestial beings fly up to heaven, leaving behind their baskets which, in most cases, are full of gold, silver, and precious beads. Humans may also ascend or descend in circumstances resembling the ways of the celestial beings.
The ascent of the humans may occur as a normal voyage without being associated with the realm of the supernatural. For instance, in the story about the mythic bird that kidnapped one of Siapen-Manabey's ancestral grandmothers, the vendetta party walks up into heaven to Si-Toryaw, just as if they had gone up a mountain. Also, the crew of Simina-Vohang reaches the islands of heaven and feasts with the gods in a very worldly manner. On another occasion they reach heaven when they are thrown by the wild waves of the cursed ocean, which actually smashes their boat against the firmament so hard that they have to cut the mast several times to prevent it from poking through the sky.
Due to the human-like behavior of the gods, celestial journeys are not exempt from the potential dangers of black magic. In the episode in which the crew of Simina-Vohang steals the bananas of a person from heaven, the aggrieved owner of the plundered banana grove puts a curse on the thieves. In a variant of the story told by Siamen-Cingfo of Yayo, the enraged god performed black magic; on the fleeing Yami. When he saw that the Yami craft had sailed out and that he could not reach them anymore, the angry god took a piece of hollow bamboo and blew air through it in the direction of the ocean, saying, "This is how the storms of the heavens should blow down on you." As a result, a terrible gale blew up. Then the god took a kakaho, the wooden spatula-shaped instrument used for stirring boiling millet, and with it stirred the seawater at his feet, saying: "This is how the waters of the ocean should whirl under your boat." Immediately, enormous waves started tearing across the surface of the ocean. Next, he took a paper butterfly and threw it into the water, saying, "This is how your boat should be thrown about in the raging sea." Finally, he took another piece of white paper, blackened it with soot at the side of the cooking cauldron, and said: "This is how black the sky should get over your boat." In no time a sinister darkness descended as the roaring tempest was tearing the ocean and boat apart. The black magic; performed by the angry god is all homeopathic and is known and practiced in a great number of cultures.
Another kind of magic-associated phenomenon that often occurs in Yami stories, especially when heavenly beings are involved, is similar to the well-known Indonesian mythological motif that supernatural beings abhor dirt. For example, Simina-Vohang and his crew make chickens fly over the food of Si-Toryaw's household. Because of this the gods do not want to touch the food any more. Thus the Yami can take it all. From the same attitude comes the idea that a god's excreta is fatal for humans. When Simina-Vohang launches the wooden box, he instructs his little daughter to threaten anybody who may approach her drifting box by saying, "I shall spray you with Si-Lovoloyin's excrement! "
In another story of a man who obtains the permission of the ghosts to catch their raccoons, at the time of the final "showdown" the man fights the ghosts successfully with a bag full of animal and human excrement.
Returning now to the topic of multi-layered spatial exposition in Yami narratives, the second layer, that of the humans, coincides with the Island of the Yami. It is populated by the Yami. Outsiders also arrive once in a while, but never stay too long. All humans fall into two categories: tawo, which means the Yami themselves, and dehdeh, which means the non-Yami.
The third layer, the underworld, which the Yami call tiyrahem, also means "ground" or "down," as in "down on the ground." The underworld is populated by the "underworld people," whom the Yami call tawo no tiyrahem or tawo no tiyraheb. According to some Yami, the underworld people are not ghosts or demons of any kind, but "just" underworld people. Inez de Beauclair reported also that the inhabitants of the mythological underworld of the Yami are not considered anito (1974, 71). Should this have been the belief forty years ago, then it is possible that as the tradition is getting more and more restricted to the knowledge of the present oldest generation, their perception of mythic elements is also changing rapidly, because today most Yami believe that the underground people are ghosts. Here I shall quote again Siapen-Mangavat of Imorod, who tells us his opinion on the matter and relates a story:
Old stories also say that there are ghosts in the underworld as well. Siapen-Parogso knows about them, but not only he, it is all known around the island.
There is a story about the sister of Siapen-Parogso's grandfather of Iraralay, it was told by Siapen-Parogso's mother.
People did not know that there were ghosts in the underworld. The sister of Siapen-Parogso's grandfather was ugly, therefore her parents did not like her. The little girl was always thinking how and what would she do if she were just a little better looking. She grew up, but her parents still did not love her. They always gave her the worst food and the worst pots, while to her little sister they always gave the best food and the best pot. "Why do my parents not love me and always give me the worst things?" she asked herself and decided that it would be better if she killed herself. She told her little sister that she wanted to go out on the fields alone, but her sister wanted to join her. She told her: "You'd better stay home and if our parents ask you where I went, you tell them: she just went out here somewhere." The little sister wanted to follow her anyway, so she told her, "Our parents do not love me and my heart is full of pain, but they love you, so you'd better stay home and, if they ask about me, tell them what I have just told you." "No," said the little sister, "I will go with you. "
So they went out together to a place near Iraralay called Rakwaraw, the place where there is a deep hole in the ocean. There, a huge fish was swimming around. The elder sister wanted to jump off the rock into the water to be swallowed by the big fish. When she jumped off the rock, just before she reached the water she saw that a rat had jumped down from the rock just in front of her. "Where are you going?" asked the rat. "I am going to kill myself in this hole because my parents do not love me," she answered. "My heart is sad, so I am going to feed myself to the big fish so that I can die," she said. "What?" said the rat. "Well, I can understand you," the rat continued, "but before you kill yourself, let's go up on the top of the rock and talk a little." When they reached the top of the rock, the rat said. "Yes, your parents do not love you and made your life unbearable, so you are very sad. So, come with me, there is plenty of everything at my house, lots of fruit as well." The girl thought: "That would be very good, my parents will not see me there any more." At the rock of Ji-Papaloy the rat lifted a bunch of red grass and, under that, there was a huge hole, which they entered. The rat, which actually was not a rat but a ghost, took the souls of the two sisters and put the souls into a karoy, a small bag made like a net. They descended and saw a really large village, which was very beautiful and interesting. There were people living there. There were boats, house celebrations, carvings, people building houses, grinding millet, and growing taro. There was also miscantous grass for torchlight fishing, and there were people fishing in small boats. There were people weaving. They were living there like real people.
The elder sister got married there to a demon, and I do not know what happened to the other sister. Siapen-Parogso didn't know. Now that the girl was married, soon she had a child and then one more. The children were growing up, and when the first one was five years old, the woman asked her husband: "Can we not go to see my mother and my father? Now that we have a children we should go and show them to them," she said. The demon husband said, "That is all right." So they gathered a lot of taro, killed a pig and a goat, and started ascending. The soul of the woman was still there in the little bag, now she got it back, and the demon-husband took his old human body and he put on his silver helmet, and nice clothing, combed his hair, and put on his gold and silver pendants. The woman put on nice clothing, too, and all four of them went out through the hole. They went back to the woman's village. When they got home, her father and mother just looked at them.
- "I got married," she said to them.
- "Ah! Who are you? Why did you come here?" they said, because a long time had passed since she left home and now they could not recognize her.
- "I am your child," she said to them.
- "Why do you say that?" they asked.
"It is true," she said.
- "And where do you have the beautiful clothes from?"
- "I got them from my husband," she answered.
- "Who is your husband?" they asked. She did not tell them that he was a demon. She said that he came from another village.
- "You are someone else because our daughter died already a long time ago," they said.
- "I am your daughter and my name was Si-Raob," she said.
- "Si-Raob, ah! You are really our child," they said, "How come you are still alive?"
- "I went to another village and got married," she answered. The father and mother were happy.
- "I do not know anything about my little sister," she said.
"Is that so?"
They feasted for a day and they stayed over.
- "We shall go with you to your village," the parents said.
- "You didn't love me so you had better not come," the daughter said.
- "No, no, that is not true," the mother said. "I will go with you and I shall weave clothes for you."
- "No, no, it is better if you don't," the daughter said.
- "But I shall go with you," the father said.
- "I shall stay in your home for one year."
So the couple, the two children and the grandfather, all five of them left together. When they reached the place at Ji-Papaloy, the demon-husband pulled up the red grass and opened up the entrance and they all descended. The demon immediately took away the soul of the grandfather and put it into the little bag. "Now where do we go here?" the grandfather asked. Then he saw that there was a village underneath the ground and he was surprised. Then his daughter told him that those were not people in the village, but demons. "Is that so?" he said. "If they are demons they would not know how to do anything," he said. They took him and showed him the place.
They reached a very high house that had a boat ornament on the top. They lived there together, the couple and the father of the woman. There the father of the woman saw the boat launching and house-making ceremonies. He saw how they carved and heard how they chanted. "There is nothing like this at my place," he said.
He went on living there, watching everything: how they were building boats, how they were carving them, and all the ceremonies. In those times people on the island did not know how to carve boats. Suddenly there was a big commotion. The father was surprised.
"Are people about to fight now?" he asked.
"No," said the son-in-law. "They do not fight."
"So why do they manawatawag?"
"This is not manawatawag but maniaway, and they do it because they are launching a boat. Wait and you will see."
The father stayed there and one month had passed, then three, and finally twelve months passed already and he was still there after a year, and he had learned how to do everything. Then the man told the father, "Your time is up tomorrow, so you will go back home." "Is that so?" the father said. They gathered a lot of presents and told him, "Take these to your village and tell people how to use them and teach them how to do things." Then they started ascending and, when they were almost up, the demon took the father's soul out of the little bag and put it back into his body. Then he went out, but he did not know that he had been without his soul for one year.
When he got home, he gathered all his relatives and shared all the pork and goat meat and all the presents with them. While they were eating he told them all about what he had seen. "Aah," people said, "we did not know there were people living underground." They did not call them anito, but tawo no tiyraeb, "underworld people." People found what he said very interesting and after that whenever they built a house, they gathered a lot of taro and covered the new house with it for the celebration, they had pigs and goats for the occasion, and they also chanted mirawod. People liked very much the boat carvings and the boat and house celebrations, and the chants. So they said, "The ways of the underworld people are not bad." So this is how people learned how to carve boats, how to do the celebrations, how to weave, and how to chant the mirawod. It all came from the underworld people.
There is an interaction between the different layers of the mythic world of the Yami narratives, but the narrators usually do not pay much attention to the transitions between these worlds. This trait of Yami narration often leads to confusion for the researcher. The confusion usually stems from the fact that the Yami language is not extensively equipped with words for expressing mythic descent. The words for going down to a lower world are practically limited to do tiyrahem, which indicates descent but does not make clear "down where." When a heavenly being descends, the direction of descent is expressed by the same word as when someone descends to the underworld. The location marker do translates as "towards," but also as "at." Consequently, if someone is do tiyrahem, it is not clear whether the person has just descended from heaven and is in the world of the humans, or has just descended from the world of the humans and is in the underworld.
In the creation myth of Iranmilek we ran into exactly this problem. I sensed it at the time of the recording, so I asked my Yami friend to interrupt the narrator for clarifying information. In a story of the creation myth, when the parents of an underworld person meet a Yami child who has previously been swallowed by the celestial snake, they say that it was he who took their son away for several days to an upper level from which he descended back. It is not clear to which level he was taken -- to heaven, or to the human world -- and from where he descended. The narrator kept using tirahem in order to clarify the problem, but he soon got himself so entangled in the transitions from one layer to the other that he finally gave up and said to my inquisitive Yami friend: "Such questions are never asked when listening to a story!"
As for the great abundance of theme and motif variations in the rich Yami folklore, it is hard to tell what caused it. Since the greatest differences occur between themes of stories which are told in different lineages, I assume that in former times most lineages developed their own version of any given myth. As the importance of the lineages as a social category declined, mainly because of intermarriage, the different versions of the narratives lost their ties with the groups that created them. As long as a narrative is known as the story of the ancestral grandparent, it is accepted by the Yami, and it is viewed as reality.
In the following I shall analyze the links between the Bashiic cultures as seen in the mythologies of these peoples.