- 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 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- I shall not quote the translation of the whole
myth, but present an inventory of its most essential themes and
- the flood.
- highest mountains uncovered: Ji-Peygahngen
- after 9 years a rat is sacrificed.
- after 10 years, first yam fields
- after 11 years, first taro fields.
- after 14 years the ocean is back to
- 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
- the one from the stone went to
- the one from the bamboo went to
- genesis from knee joints.
- incest causes blindness of
- elimination of incest resulting in healthy
- 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
- discovery of animals.
- first fishing for flying fish by torch
- Ivatan boat arrives, the Yami are called
- giant millet ears diminish to normal size
because they are shouted at by strangers.
- discovery of fishes and plants (about a
- birth of zoomorphic child: half fish, half
- Ivatan man makes friend with Yami.
- evil travelers kill the Yami, Ivatans seek
- Ivatans come to propose marriage.
- two children go up to Si-Toriyaw in Heaven
- 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
- Simina-Vohang is the leader of the
- chickens fly over the Gods' food,
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- - "I got them from my husband," she
- - "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
- - "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
- - "But I shall go with you," the father
- - "I shall stay in your home for one
- 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
- "So why do they manawatawag?"
- "This is not manawatawag but maniaway, and
they do it because they are launching a boat. Wait and you
- 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
- 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
- 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