The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Three: Momo, the Witch Woman
Synopsis: Tee Totum, a stranger of the island of Waiki-pali, goes exploring early in the morning before anyone is awake. Watches a brown-skinned boy dive down a waterfall to the pool beneath. The strange boy is not friendly, and a fight ensues, at the end of which they become good friends, and arrange to meet the following morning at the same time.
Though Tee Totum ran most of the way to the swimming pool the following morning, he found that his friend had already arrived.
“Hi!” he shouted. “Can I come in this morning?”
Well he knew that he could, for by this time he had learned that the pool belonged to his uncle. But he wanted to assure himself that Namay still felt friendly toward him.
“Helemai!” Namay waved. “Come!”
Tee dived in, and found that he could keep himself afloat, and even swim for a short distance. Namay showed him a number of strokes, the one which Tee found easiest being the breast stroke.
“Soon you come to the crawl,” prophesied Namay. “That best of all. And when you swim well, you shoot falls with me.”
Tee resolved to practice swimming every day until he could do that stunt. He would feel like a bird, he thought, swooping from the clouds to the earth.
“Today,” Namay said, as they lay sunning themselves on the bank, “I fetch coconut and banana for Momo. You want come?”
“Sure thing!” replied Tee eagerly. “Where shall I met you?”
“Other side ranch. Makai.”
“Makai? What’s that?”
“Down more close to sea. After breakfast.”
“OK. I’ll be there.”
When Tee made his way to the place where he had promised to meet Namay, he encountered some boys on the way to the pool. They begged him to join them, but he shook, his head. “I’m going for a walk.”
“We come too,” they proposed eagerly.
“Oh, no, I’m going alone.” He smiled good-naturedly, and walked off, whistling nonchalantly.
If those boys treated Namay as Namay said they did, he certainly didn’t want them along. Although he liked them all, he felt as if Namay was going to be his particular chum.
Soon he passed from brilliant sunshine into the cool shade of the forest, and stopped to look around him with awe. The growth here was monstrous, dank and dark. Palms shot straight upward, feathery tufts at the very end of their long, smooth stems. Lower were the still forms of ironwood, banyan, monkeypod, and other queer growths whose names he did not know.
A shrill whistle ahead reminded him that somewhere in this dense jungle Namay waited, so he answered with a long, low whistle, their pre-arranged signal. Again Namay’s whistle sounded, and then they were together, looking very small in their gigantic surroundings.
“Come. I find much good coconut. Ripe. And much wild banana. Sweet.”
The track was not much more than an animal run, and they had to walk single file.
“Say! What’s this, Namay?” called Tee, as they passed a tree of luscious looking fruit.
Namay looked back. “Them ohia – mountain apple. Good and sweet. Many here. Pick if you want to. Me. I don’t want – today!”
The fruit did not look much like the apples that Tee knew, but he plucked one, and ate it. It tasted good, with a flavor entirely different form the ordinary orchard apple. It had a pulpy flesh, with a kernel inside, something like that of a peach.
They soon reached a small opening in the trees, where the sunshine filtered in, and a stream trickled through from the hillside. They fell flat on their stomachs, and drank deep of the cool, sparkling water.
“See, up there? Them coconut! I get pretty darn quick now!”
Tee looked up, and saw a bunch of fruity things somewhat like melons, at the very top of a tall palm. They were not at all like the coconuts he had seen in stores. They had had a rough fibre all over them, but these had a smooth surface, yellowish-green in color. Following the stem of the palm from the ground upwards, Tee wondered how on earth Namay was going to get them down.
“That easy!” said Namay. “Watch, see!”
With that, he took a long run at the palm, leaped up the trunk, and clasping it with arms and knees, shinnied up with the agility of a monkey.
“Look out!” he warned, as the nuts began to fall. Tee kept his distance, and in a moment Namay was back on the ground again, with a pile of coconuts at his feet. Whipping a knife from his belt, he slit the shell of the nut down the side, quarter-wise. This shell was soft, and inside of that was the fibre covering that Tee had been accustomed to see on store coconuts.
To break this fibrous shell was not so easy, but Namay solved the problem by throwing the nut with all his might against the hard bole of a palm.
How sweet and luscious the white meat was, and how refreshing the milk!
“Now I show you the banana,” said Namay, leading the way across the stream, and into the thick jungle at the far side. Here Namay pointed to a great blossom, somewhat like a Japanese lantern, and a very gorgeous one at that, hanging low from a banana palm.
“But – where are the bananas?” asked Tee.
“Not on that palm,” answered his friend. “That just banana flower. Here banana fruit.” He pointed in another direction, and there Tee saw a great bunch of the luscious fruit, yellow and tempting; and this time not far up, the banana palm growing comparatively low.
Namay had started to break off the fruit, and throw them at Tee’s feet, when a sudden yell from the thicket behind startled them into sudden attention. Namay’s hand went to the knife in his belt.
“Hi! Hi! Popolio! Ilio! Ilio! Popolio! Kahuna!” words which Tee learned afterwards meant, “Crazy! Dog! Witch Doctor!”
“Them!” exclaimed Namay. “My enemies!”
At that, a band of boys about Tee’s age bounded from the shadow of the trees into the clearing, jeering and yelling. They were the same boys, Tee immediately saw, who had been so friendly toward him yesterday and the day before. Suddenly they seemed like a lot of heathen in the way they looked at Namay, entirely ignoring Tee. Tee, however, stood sturdily beside is friend, his fists clenched, wondering what they were going to do next.
He did not wonder long, for the boys made a dash first for the pile of coconuts on the ground, then for Namay, the leader turning toward Tee.
“Come away from that boy!” he shouted. “He bad! Your uncle not like. He son of a witch-woman!”
“I don’t care if he is!” answered Tee. “And those coconuts belong to us. You better give them back!”
“We give them to you, you come away with us!” they cajoled, at the same time jeering at the boy beside him.
“P’raps you better go,” suggested Namay in a low voice, “if you uncle get mad! me, I stay!”
“I’m not going!” exclaimed Tee indignantly. ‘Besides, those are our nuts, and I’m going to get them back!”
There were six boys to the two of them, and Tee didn’t know just how he was going to do it, but he was determined to get those nuts. It was not for himself that he wanted them; Namay had already told him that that was about all he and his mother lived on – the wild things he could find around. Herbs, fruit, and nuts – with, of course, fish. It would mean a real hardship to Namay and his mother to lose the nuts and bananas they had collected.
The boys were drawing nearer now, with clenched fists and scowling faces. Namay stuck his knife back in his belt, and clenched his fists to protected himself. Tee, close at his side, did the same thing.
“Say, boys,” Tee exclaimed, “just what do you want? Are we trespassing, or anything?”
“No you!” answered the leader of the bang. “That boy, he witch boy. No good. Him mother, witch-woman. Bad for all peoples!” He gesticulated wildly. “Witch boy no can have nut and banana. No good you stay with that boy!”
“Look here, you fellows!” yelled Tee at the top of his voice. “You can say what you like, and do what you like. Unless my uncle tells me not to, I’m going with Namay as often as I like! And if you don’t want trouble on your hands, you’ll give up those nuts right away!”
“We no give nut! You come with us! Your uncle wait!”
With that the leader of the gang pushed against Namay in an effort to get the bananas which he had pulled down. Namay pushed him back, and stood squarely before the bunch of fruit. Three of the boys rushed in, but Tee, seeing their intention, met them with both fists, and Namay followed up with his.
Then started a hand to hand fight, six boys to two. For Tee it was easy, for not one of the boys aimed a blow at him, though he occasionally got one that was not intended for him. They all tried to get at Namay, but Tee made a good guard. Each time he saw a fist aimed at Namay, he struck it off. This embarrassed the boys considerably; and Tee knew he was safe only on account of fear on the boys’ part, of his uncle’s displeasure. Namay, in the meantime, was kept busy, too, and it was impossible to prevent two boys sliding in and capturing the precious bunch of bananas while the fight was on.
Tee and Namay fought well and bravely, but the odds were all against them. Namay’s nose was bleeding, Tee’s eye was closing up, and they were both gasping for breath, wondering how much longer they could keep up, when something – he could never remember what – caused Tee to look hastily around.
There, from the dense growth at the back of them appeared the head and shoulders of Peter Malua, Uncle Tom’s friend and native head man. A grey dove was perched, as always, on the tall man’s shoulder, cooing and swaying with an air of utter content.
The intruders, following Tee’s gaze, gave a low mumble of warning and took to their heels, and before one could say “Jack Robinson” they had disappeared so completely that Tee began to wonder if they had ever been. A little ashamed, he began to explain things to Peter, but Peter raised his hand.
“I see everything. I wait only to see if you can fight. You can. Good! On Island need much fight sometimes. Protect yourself, your property – and your friends.” The last words were added with a smile of approval.
“Gosh!” exclaimed Tee, “six fellows against one! It isn’t fair. Doesn’t give a fellow a chance.”
Peter Malua had been gazing keenly at Namay. “So! You witch-boy,” he smiled.
“That what they call me. If me witch-boy, me pretty darn quick turn those others into worms. Then – catch fishes with them.”
Tee yelled with glee. “Golly, what a grand idea. I’d like to tell them you’re thinkin’ of it. Wouldn’t that put a scare into them?”
Namay, collecting the nuts and bananas that the boy had abandoned, put them into a grass cloth he had brought for the purpose, and slung the awkward bundle over his shoulder.
“Here, I can carry some of them.”
He shook his head. “No, Tee, take what you want to your home, I carry these to Momo.”
“But we have much more than we can eat on the ranch.” He picked up the remainder of the food. “I’m going to take these to Momo.”
“Better look out!” Namay warned. “Mebbe boys wait for me in there.” He nodded toward the jungle.
“So much the more reason why I should come,” argued the other.
“And me come too,” concluded Peter.
Delighted to have the support of this great man whom the pigeons loved, the boys re-entered the forest gloom and followed a trail that led steeply down toward the sea. Apparently nobody but Namay used this trail, and he had taken obvious care to keep it hidden. Watching the native boy’s efforts to cover up his tracks, Tee realized what a serious menace the ranch boys were to Namay and his mother. Everything the boy did was done with the utmost secrecy and caution; his movements were like the movements of some wild hunted animal.
Because of the constant struggle to free themselves of overhanging branches, ferns, and clinging vines, the friends could not talk much, and Tee was glad when at last they emerged into an open space and clear sunshine again.
They were now on what appeared to be an almost barren plateau on the face of the mountain, with forest on both sides, and a precipitous descent in front, leading down to the sea.
The sunshine was so sudden and dazzling after the darkness of the forest, that Tee had to wait a moment before he could see things clearly. Then the beauty of the scene before him held him speechless. The face of the mountain above and below them scintillated with color, partly from the many-hued blossoms that grew there, partly from the sunshine and sparkle of a rock that had the semblance of millions of small diamonds, and partly from the vivid scarlet of the kole-kole – the red soil that characterizes Waiki-pali. Below, the vast expanse of blue sea, with its dancing white breakers, seemed to mirror the sky with its fluffy white clouds.
Tee stood amazed and silent before such beauty, and started back to reality only when he heard a soft voice – a voice of such sweetness as he had never heard before – call: “Ae! Ae!”
He looked around, and found that the words came from the bent form of a tiny old lady. She stood in the entrance to a cave in the face of the mountain. Over the opening of this cave hung a curtain of flowering vines, which she now held back with her hand, but which ordinarily hid the fact that there was anything there but the face of the mountain.
“My mother say ‘Ae’ to you,” reminded Namay. “That mean welcome.”
Instantly recovering his good manners, which in his surprise he had momentarily lost, Tee bowed and said: “Thank you, ma’am!”
Then, following the others, and filled with curiosity, he entered the cave.