Myth of Bai
[Told by Benny Mabo at Murray Island, 12 September 1968]
One day, when word got round that Ib would walk that night, a woman named Bai who lived at Warwei was so afraid that she went to stay with relatives at the village of Las. There she would be safe, she thought, for she would have the protection of the zogo le whose headquarters it was. When Ib was heard at Las that night, Bai, who was hiding inside a house with other women and a boy named Mabo, poked her finger through the thatch of the wall and peeped through the hole she had made, She recognised Ib as men she knew!
"There's Baton, and Guiai, and Wane!" she whispered to the women - and she named others, too. "The men have been fooling us. Men have been making ib, pretending to be ghosts."
In the morning, Bai said to the men at Las: "You've been frightening us all this time by making us believe you were ghosts. But I saw you last night. It was you, Mamai, you, Wano, Baton, Guiai." And she went on to name every man whom she had seen. The men flashed glances at each other.
Afterwards they talked and made a plan: as the first move, Wano was to take Bai, she was a close relative of his, to his garden at Teiri. So presently Wane, his wife, Kak, and Bai left for Teiri, and there the three of them began to clean the land of weeds. After a while they felt thirsty, so Wano suggested that they go to Tar, which was not far away, where he told Bai to climb a coconut palm and knock down some coconuts for drink. Bai refused. At this, Kak ran away into the scrub, leaving Bai alone with Wano: Kak had been told by her husband that Bai was to be punished for betraying the secret of Ib.
The tami le who were in hiding at Tar looked at each other. It was time to act.
They ran out from the bushes and grabbed hold of Bai, demanding that she give herself to them ; when she would not, they commenced the process of maid on her, squeezing her windpipe until she dropped to the ground unconscious. They were, however, unable to complete every stage of maid before Bai regained consciousness, and had only just forced -poison- down her throat when Bai struggled free and ran away.
The Tami le chased her, but they could not catch her; they threw stones at her, but they missed in their aim. One man, Gasu, left the path and took a shortcut through the bushes to get in front of her and block her. At Nargiz he came back to the path ahead of Bai and stood waiting for her. She tried to dodge round a sem tree. Gasu threw a stone at the back of her head, killing her instantly.
The Tami le took Bai back to Tar and placed her body at the foot of a coconut palm. One of them climbed it, stripped off leaves and coconuts and threw them to the ground. These the Tami Ie arranged over and around Bai to make it appear that she had died of a fall while knocking down coconuts. They returned to Las.
After Wano and Kak had drunk from coconuts at Tar, they, too, returned to Las.
The day Bai was killed she was missed by her people at Warwei, who, when they could not find her in the village, went to Las to inquire if she was there. Wano and Kak told them that Bai had gone with them to their garden at Teiri and had run away from them.
The people of Warwei searched for Bai until they found her. They carried her body home; and, as soon as the men had armed, they set off to avenge her. At Gazir Pit they began to fire arrows at the men of Las. Koit of Las stepped out to meet the men of Warwei. "The woman spoiled our zogo," he called to them. "She told its secret to some of the women."
Immediately, the men of Warwei stopped firing arrows and walked to Las, where they sat down and smoked and talked. The women and the boy, Mabo, who had been with Bai the night that she learned about Ib, kept still tongues in their heads until after the missionaries arrived in 1871. Bai talked, so she died.
Ib was believed by those who had not been initiated into the cult of Malo-Bomai to be a kind of male ghost who went from village to village on Murray Island making the sound called ibkep. Ibkep consists of slapping sounds- in imitation of the sound made by Malo as octopus. Thus: -making ib (ib iknnri)- was a sacred ritual of the cult, to be hidden from the uninitiated. The secrecy required for the performance of the ritual was obtained through the notion of Ib, the ghost. Initiates spread word during the day-time that Ib would be abroad in certain villages that night. This had the effect of keeping indoors all who were uninitiated, and of ensuring privacy for the ritual, sacred re-enactment of the sounds made by Malo as octopus. Recorded here is the story of a woman who spied on Ib.
1. The Zogo le were those men who had advanced through the cult of Malo-Bomai to the final degree, that of wearing the sacred masks. To Bai, the Zogo le were Malo Zogo le. To her, as to all the uninitiated, Malo stood for protection and peace. No one who was uninitiated knew that behind Malo lurked Bomai who was always ready to strike secretly, savagely, and ruthlessly at anyone who either penetrated the sacred mysteries, or broke the rules, of the cult.
2. Tami le were the fully initiated members of the Malo-Bomai cult who gave effect to instructions issued by the zogo le.
3. Maid, sorcery. Here, the form of sorcery used by members of the Malo-Bomai cult to kill outsiders who penetrated sacred rites. It is said to have proceeded by stages. Briefly, these were: startling the intended victim, overpowering him, throttling him unconscious, administering poison, erasing from his mind all memory of the attack- this, to the accompaniment of a chanted formula which began with the words, "Malo-Bomai"- and finally, after the victim had regained consciousness and was on his way home, again startling him. The victim invariably died some days later; nothing could prevent him from dying. Before death he manifested physical symptoms characteristic of all people who died by this type of maid; after death his body showed signs which were always found on people who had been maided in the name of Malo-Bomai. It is also said that maid le needed to concentrate to the degree of excluding everything else from their minds when they were performing maid, and they must have observed sexual continence for a certain period beforehand. A pregnant wife precluded the successful performance of maid. For an early account of this type of maid, see Reports, VI, 222-25, 300.
4. Since Bai recovered consciousness before the details of the attack had been erased from her mind, and since, had she reached home, she could have identified her attackers as the men who had been masquerading as Ib the previous night, she had to be killed at all costs. Maid had failed, so another means was used.
5. The practice of ib.
Keywords: Mabo, Benny, Meriam culture, Meriam history, myths
Lawrie, Margaret 1970, 'Myths & Legends of the Torres Strait', University of Queensland Press.
Author: Sharp, Nonie
Source: Lawrie, Margaret