(A folk tale from the Great Andamanese tribe that explains why birds are conserved in the Andaman Islands. The last speaker of the Bo language, the late Boa Sr., who died in February 2010, was seen talking to birds, as she believed that birds of Andaman understood her language. This is a story of a boy who belonged to the Jero tribe and lived near the seashore. Other tribes who lived near the seashore were Khora, Bo, and Sare. The protagonist of the story is swallowed by a Bol fish and then all the rescuers become birds. The tribes thus believe that birds are their ancestors. The translation of the narrative is kept as close to the original as possible.)
Jiro Mithe was a young boy from the Jero tribe who was very fond of hunting in the sea.
Once he went to hunt in the sea but could not find anything. Later on, he found a worm “khata”. He sat down by the seashore to clean it. The more he cleaned it, the bigger it became. Finally, Jiro Mithe swallowed the whole worm as he could not wait to eat it. While cleaning Khata and swallowing it, he had been sitting in a crouching position.
Suddenly a big fish “Bol[†]” came and swallowed Mithe. He wondered where he was as he was not aware of this new place, i.e., inside the stomach of the Bol fish. He could not even move his limbs as the place was rather tight and slimy.
Mithe Jiro’s family was worried as no one had seen him for one or two days. They went to the seashore and found the remains of the Khata and knew that this must have been the job of Mithe. They also found his bow and arrow and knew immediately that Mithe had not gone for hunting.
“Where can he go?” someone asked.
“He must be somewhere nearby” another said.
After searching for a long time Mithe was nowhere to be traced. His folks thought ‘he must have been eaten by the Bol’.
The folks started their journey into the sea to hunt for the Bol. They knew that the Bol could not have gone too far as his stomach was full of Mithe. Soon, they saw traces of dirty water in the sea.
“See the dirty line that the Bol fish has left behind” Phatka said.
“Yes, we can trace its track” Kaulo said.
Benge nodded in agreement.
As Phatka was the cleverest of all, he was asked to trace the Bol fish. Phatka went further into the sea.
Soon Phatka found the fish with a bulging belly. In fact, the belly was bulging in a way that all could see that Mithe was still sitting in a crouched position inside the tummy.
Phatka tried to kill the fish with a long bamboo, but it would not reach the Bol. Benge also tried but did not succeed. Finally, they agreed that this job can only be accomplished by Kaulo. They said: “Call Kaulo, call Kaulo,”
They started calling, “Kauloooooo”.
Kaulo heard the voices of Benge and Phatka. ‘Oh, they must have found Mithe.’ He thought and started rowing his boat near them.
“Where is he?’ Kaulo asked.
“Here he is, here he is” They said.
Kaulo said “look for the fish’s head, it must be in the sand”.
All the folks saw it clearly. The head was hidden in the sand. Kaulo said, “We have to hit him on the head and no where else because if we hit him in the belly, then Mithe will be hurt.”
“We found it we found it,” they yelled when they had found the fish’s head in the sand.
Kaulo hit the head of Bol hard. As soon as he hit him, the Bol started running in the water as fast as he could.
Kaulo ordered everyone to tie their boats with ropes so that the fish could not overturn them and could also be hunted easily. He threw one rope towards the fish to snare him and then Kaulo killed the fish. Thus, the Bol was killed.
“Tie the fish to the side of the boat and pull him to the shore” Kaulo instructed. His folks did as they were told. They all brought the fish to the seashore and with great care cut his belly with the knife that Kaulo had.
Mithe came out alive but he was still sitting in a crouching position but his limbs had got numb and soft as he had been squeezed in the stomach of Bol.
Everyone helped preparing a ‘machaan’, or a raised platform and lit a fire under it so that Mithe’s limbs could be warmed. After Mithe was feeling better, one of them asked
“How will we eat the Bol?”
“We will cut it up in small pieces and then roast them in the fire on the machaan”. Someone suggested.
And that is what everyone did. Each of them cut the huge fish into small pieces. Only the children were left behind. Kaulo’s children said,
‘Abba, cut the fish into pieces and give them to us so that we can cook them in the fire.”
The children started making lot of noise. Some started howling. On hearing their constant demand, Kaulo got very angry but did cut up the fish into small pieces for his children. The children went towards the raised platform and threw the pieces in the fire for roasting them.
When the pieces started getting roasted, one of them [known as totale] kept swelling like a tummy. It kept on increasing in its length too as if it was made of rubber. It became longer and longer and longer….
Kaulo and his folks were so engrossed in cutting the rest of the fish that they did not notice the swelling of the totale.
Suddenly the totale burst with a big noise and all the folks including the children became birds.
Kaulo looked back and realized all the children had become small birds and flew to the sky.
He himself had become a bird.
He looked at the machaan but could not find Mithe.
If the children had not cooked the totale, everyone would have been saved. But now, all of them had become birds.
Since then we do not kill Bol fish. And the names of our Andamanese birds are Kaulo, Phatka, Benge..
The story was narrated by Nao Jr. to Anvita Abbi on 4th January 2007 in Port Blair. In the present language Crow is known as ‘Phatka’; Andaman Serpent Eagle is known as ‘Benge’; Andaman Cuckoo-Dove is known as ‘Mithe’; and Kaulo’ is the name for the ‘White-bellied Sea Eagle’.
Jawaharlal Nehru University
Maya Jiro Mithe[*]
[*]The word ‘maya’ in the Great Andamanese language means ‘the departed’ or ‘late’.
[†] Bol is a large fish and is known to swallow big animals such as pigs etc. It hides its head in the seabed, in the sand and can be recognized by the Andamanese easily as it rests in the muck, in shallow water near the bay area.