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Master Poets, Ritual Masters

5

Suti Solo do Bina Bane: Version IV from the Domain of Termanu

Some years later, in 1977, when I visited Rote with the filmmaker Tim Asch, I asked Pe’u Malesi to recite a number of bini including that of Suti Solo do Bina Bane. To my surprise, his recitation took a different turn. This time, instead of a mortuary rendition of the chant, Malesi set out to recite Suti Solo do Bina Bane as an origin chant. This version was intended as a revelation.

Malesi’s performance was not, however, straightforward. He initially hesitated on how to present the chant. He began with a comment: ‘Suti Solo do Bina Bane: our recitation comes from the west house—indeed from the deeds of the Almighty that extend to this day.’1 Mention of the ‘west house’ is, I assume, a reference to the house of the dead, which is located in the west. In numerous mortuary chants, the deceased is described as setting sail to the west from whence there is, on specific occasions, the possibility of a return of the spirit on a visitation to the living. Malesi’s comment thus indicates that his intention is to recite Suti Solo do Bina Bane as a mortuary chant.

He then began by describing the storm that carried the shells to land, but after only 10 lines, he interrupted his recitation, apologised for beginning in the middle of the narrative, and began his recitation again, asserting that he would begin at the beginning. His first 10 lines were as follows:

1.

Luli nala liun dalek

A storm arises in the ocean’s depths

2.

Ma sangu nala sain dalek.

And a cyclone arises in the sea’s depths.

3.

Liun neu na-edo

The ocean exudes

4.

Ma sain neu na-pode.

The sea puts forth.

5.

De pode heni Suti aten

It puts forth Suti’s liver

6.

Ma edo heni Bina nggin.

And it exudes Bina’s pods.

7

De ana ele piko

He floats forth

8

Ma ana bonu boa

And he bobs along

9.

Ana ele piko

He floats

10.

Ma ana bonu boa …

And he bobs along …

When he stopped his recitation, his comment was emphatic: ‘Ah, this is the middle of the recitation. Sorry. I will trace things from the beginning … Suti Solo do Bina Bane’s origins from the very beginning.’2

He then continued for some 110 lines but at the point when the shells return to the sea, he interrupted himself again and began to recount how the shells were made into objects for dyeing and spinning. Thus, his telling of Suti Solo do Bina Bane is essentially a combination of two versions. The first half of the recitation is a mortuary chant; the second half is an origin chant rendition.

For this first rendition, Malesi began his recitation not unlike his other version, with the origin feast and the need to search for the required ritual fish at Tena Lai//Mae Oe.

The Origin Feast and the Search for Tio Holu do Dusu La’e

1.

Touk-a Kafi Dulu tina-na

The man Kafi Dulu’s garden

2.

Ma ta’ek-a Kule Langa osi-na

And the boy Kule Langa’s field

3.

Bete-kala dio hu’u

The millet has ripened grains

4.

Fo ala sanga ketu

So they are ready to pick

5.

Ma pela-kala lona nggona

And the maize is full of cobs

6.

Fo sanga sei.

So they are ready to pluck.

7.

Boe-ma sanga peda poina

They want to celebrate ‘placing on top’

8.

Ma sanga fua bafana.

And want to perform ‘setting on the mouth’.

9.

Boe ma ala lali lala Sama Dai

So they bring forth Sama Dai

10.

Do soko lala Kuku Nou

And they carry forth Kuku Nou

11.

Tenga na ndai tasina

She takes a fishnet for the sea

12.

Ndai mahamu lilok

A fishnet with a gold-weighted belly

13.

Ma nggao na seko metina

And she picks up a scoop-net for the tide

14.

Seko matei besik

A scoop net with iron-weighted insides

15.

Neu seko sisi’u enggak

She goes to scoop, lifting seaweed

16.

Nai Mae Oe loek lutun na

In Mae Oe’s fish catch

17.

Ma ndai huhuka batu

And goes to net fish, turning rocks

18.

Nai Tena Lai la’ok de’an na.

At Tena Lai’s stone weir.

The Encounter and Dialogue with the Shells

19.

Ana seko sanga Dusu La’e

She goes scoop fishing seeking Dusu La’e

20.

Fo seko nala meti dua

Scoop fishing in two tides

21.

Na Suti nala meti dua

But Suti is there in the two tides

22.

Ndai sanga Tio Holu

She goes net fishing, seeking Tio Holu

23.

Fo ndai nala namo telu

Net fishing in three bays

24.

Na Bina nala namo telu.

But Bina is there in the three bays.

25.

Na ana ta hapu Dusu La’e

She does not get Dusu La’e

26.

Ma ana ta hapu Tio Holu

And she does not get Tio Holu

27.

Te ana seko nala Suti Solo

But she does scoop up Suti Solo

28.

Ma ana ndai nala Bina Bane.

And she does fish forth Bina Bane.

29.

Boe ma ana ndai neni Bina Bane

So she fishes forth Bina Bane

30.

Ma seko neni Suti Solo

And she scoops up Suti Solo

31.

De mai enok telu tai-lolona

But coming to the three winding paths

32.

Ma dalak dua bobongona

And the two rounding roads

33.

Boe ma ana tu’u heni Suti Solo

She throws Suti Solo away

34.

Ma ana tapa heni Bina Bane.

And she casts Bina Bane away.

35.

Boe ma Bina Bane kokolak

So Bina Bane speaks

36.

Ma Suti Solo dedeak ma nae:

And Suti Solo talks and says:

37.

‘Ah! Tu’u au neu eno teluna

‘Ah! Throw me to the three paths

38.

Ma tapa au neu dala duana

And cast me at the two roads

39.

De au Suti, au o se

Then I, Suti, with whom will I be

40.

Fo asalai o se

On whom will I recline

41.

Ma au Bina, au o se

And I, Bina, with whom will I be

42.

Fo au angatu’u o se?’

With whom will I sit?’

43.

De Bina bei pinu idu

Bina has snot coming from his nose

44.

Ma Suti bei lu mata.

And Suti has tears in his eyes.

45.

Boe ma inaka Kuku Nou

So the woman Kuku Nou

46.

Ma fetoka Sama Dai

And the girl Sama Dai

47.

Lole halana neu

Raises her voice

48.

Ma selu dasi na neu ma nae:

And lifts her speech and says:

49.

‘Meu mo neka hade

‘Go with the rice basket

50.

Ma meu mo bou tuana.’

And go with the lontar syrup vat.’

51.

Boe ma Suti Solo nafada

Then Suti Solo talks

52.

Ma Bina Bane kokolak ma nae:

And Bina Bane speaks and says:

53.

‘Ah, malole la so

‘Ah, that would be good

54.

Ma mandak kala so

And that would be proper

55.

[Te] bou tua la heok

But if the lontar syrup vats turn

56.

Ma neka hade la keko

And if the rice baskets shift

57.

Na au asalai o se

Then with whom shall I recline

58.

Ma au angatu o se?’

And with whom shall I sit?’

59.

Suti bei namatani

Suti continues to cry

60.

Ma Bina bei nasakedu.

Bina continues to sob.

61.

Boe ma inak leo Kuku Nou

So the woman like Kuku Nou

62.

Do fetok leo Sama Dai nae:

Or the girl like Sama Dai says:

63.

‘Mu mo doa-lasi

‘Go with the forest cuckoo

64.

Ma mo koloba’o le.’

And with the river woodcock.’

65.

Boe ma Bina Bane kokolak

So Bina Bane speaks

66.

Ma Suti Solo dedeak ma nae:

And Suti Solo answers and says:

67.

‘Ah, malole la so

‘Ah, such would be good

68.

Ma mandakala so.

And such would be proper.

69.

Hu koloba’o le la ba’o-ba’o tunga le

But if the woodcocks ba’o-ba’o down the river

70.

Ma betu doa lasi la do’o-do’o tunga lasi,

And the cuckoos do’o-do’o through the forest,

71.

Na Suti au o se

Then for me, Suti, with whom will I be

72.

Fo au asalai o se

With whom will I recline

73.

Ma Bina au o se

And with me, Bina, with whom will I be

74.

Fo au angatu o se?’

And with whom will I sit?’

75.

De Bina bei nasakedu

Thus Bina continues to sob

76.

Ma Suti bei namatani.

And Suti continues to cry.

77.

Boe ma inaka Sama Dai

So the woman Sama Dai

78.

Do fetoka Kuku Nou nae:

And the girl Kuku Nou says:

79.

‘Mu mo mafo ai

‘Go with the trees’ shade

80.

Ma mu mo sa’o tua.’

And go with the lontar palms’ shadow.’

81.

Boe ma Bina Bane kokolak

So Bina Bane speaks

82.

Ma Suti Solo dede’ak ma nae:

And Suti Solo answers and says:

83.

‘Ah, malole la so

‘Ah, such would be good

84.

Ma mandakala so

And such would be proper

85.

Mafo ai la heok

[If] the trees’ shade turns aside

86.

Ma sa’o ai la hiluk

And the lontar palms’ shadow recedes

87.

Na au asalai o se

Then with whom will I recline

88.

Na au angatu’u o se

Then with whom will I sit

89.

Fo Suti Solo no se

With whom will Suti Solo be

90.

Ma Bina Bane no se?’

And with whom will Bina Bane be?’

91.

De Bina bei nasakedu

Thus Bina continues to sob

92.

Ma Suti bei namatani.

And Suti continues to cry.

93.

Boe ma inaka Kuku Nou

Then the woman Kuku Nou

94.

Do fetoka Sama Dai

Or the girl Sama Dai

95.

Lole di’u doe halana

Raises her voice softly

96.

Ma hele tai boni dasina ma nae:

And lifts her voice gently and says:

97.

‘Ah, mu oli titian

‘Ah, go along the estuary’s edge

98.

Ma mu le tatain

And go along the river’s bank

99.

Fo timu lamatua dulu

So when the wind increases in the east

100.

Do fak lamanalu langana

And the monsoon arises in the headlands

101.

Na timu nggefu Suti Solo

The east wind sweeps Suti Solo away

102.

Do fak foki Bina Bane.’

Or the west wind carries Bina Bane away.’

The Return of the Shells to the Sea

103.

De fak fupu Bina Bane

The west wind blows Bina Bane

104.

De dilu neu [mu] liun dalek

Descending into the sea’s depths

105.

Timu nggefu Suti Solo

The east wind sweeps Suti Solo

106.

De loe neu [mu] sain dalek.

Turning down into the ocean’s depths.

107.

Tama ota neu liun

Crowded together in the sea

108.

Ma tesa bela [isi] neu sain.

And packed tightly in the ocean.

109.

Boe ma luli nala sain dalek

Then a cyclone arises in the ocean’s depths

110.

Ma sangu nala sain dalek.

A storm strikes the ocean’s depths.

Malesi’s Further Interruption and the Redirection of the Chant

Having carried his recitation to this point, Malesi interrupted his performance with the following interjection: ‘Our Lord wishes to do this tale to the present.’3 The term ‘Our Lord’ has to be taken as a Christian reference and his remark can be interpreted to mean that Malesi sees himself as the vehicle of revelation on God’s behalf. What follows is sacred revelation.

The resumed recitation gives the genealogy of the woman who scoops up the shells and is the first to use them for spinning cotton and preparing indigo dye as ‘whorl shell’ (ifa bina) and ‘indigo pot’ (tena tau). This is not, however, the woman who then does the tying and dyeing of the cloth. Another woman is named who performs this task and, when it is completed, a search is begun to find yet another woman who can weave. This search leads to the far eastern end of Rote where there is a woman who can weave particular named textile patterns. The chant concludes by naming a succession of places—all in eastern Rote.

In the general context of Rotenese culture, this revelation of the origin of weaving is notable because other origin chants that recount the origin of weaving, including one from Old Meno, give another account of the origin of weaving and specifically name a woman associated with the west of the island. Across the island, the assertion of different origins is common. Specifically, for Malesi as a chanter, this revelation confirms what many in Termanu said to me about him: that his knowledge came from eastern Rote where he was said to have spent some time before he was married and settled down in Termanu.

Not all of the lines in what follows are in strict canonical parallelism: Malesi seems more intent on conveying the narrative of his revelation than in maintaining its proper form. As he proceeds to his conclusion, the composition becomes a recitation of the ritual names of the various domains of the eastern side of the island.

This version of Suti Solo do Bina Bane proceeds as follows (continuing with the numbering from before the interruption):

111.

Ana fe luli a mai

He causes a cyclone to come

112.

De luli neu liun dalek

The cyclone moves on the sea’s depths

113.

Ma ana fe sangu mai

And he causes a storm to come

114.

De sangu neu sain dalek.

The storm moves on the ocean’s depths.

115.

De sain neu napode

The ocean moves, extending forth

116.

Ma liun neu naedo

The sea moves, exuding forth

117.

De edo heni Suti nggina

Exuding forth Suti’s pod

118.

Ma pode heni Bina atena.

Extending forth Bina’s liver.

119.

Nate inaka Pasa Paku

The woman Pasa Paku

120.

Ma fetoka Finga Fiti

And the girl Finga Fiti

121.

[Ana] tu Kokolo Dulu

She marries Kokolo Dulu

122.

Ma ana sao Manupui Peda.

And she weds Manupui Peda.

123.

De Manupui Peda osina

Manupui Peda’s garden

124.

Ma Kokolo Dulu tinana.

Kokolo Dulu’s field.

125.

Tauk-ala mofa ndana

The indigo grows grey branches

126.

Ma abas-ala sai oka.

The cotton lets out its tendrils.

127.

Boe ma inaka Pasa Paku

The woman Pasa Paku

128.

Ma fetok Finga Fiti

And the girl Finga Fiti

129.

Ana pena na abasa

She picks the cotton

130.

De naleo nan.

And draws it out.

131.

Tehu ifa binan bei ta

But there is no winding stick shell

132.

Ma tena taun bei ta.

And there is no indigo pot.

133.

Boe ma neu seko pepei oli

So she goes to scoop deliberately in the estuary

134.

Ma ndai ndondolo le

And she goes to fish steadily in the river

135.

De neu hapu Suti louna

She finds Suti’s shell

136.

Ma neu tongo Bina louna.

And she encounters Bina’s shell.

137.

Boe ma ana hai neni Suti louna

She picks up Suti’s shell

138.

Ma ana tenga neni Bina louna, fe mai

And she takes up Bina’s shell, bringing it back

139.

De besaka ana dipo ine

Then she turns the spindle on its base

140.

Ma ana lole aba.

And she winds the cotton.

141.

Boe ma kolu tauk

So she picks the indigo

142.

De ana dopo lifu,

She stirs the liquid,

143.

De tao neu Suti dea-na

She puts it into Suti’s outside

144.

Le’a na abasa.

Draws the cotton forth.

145.

De ana dadi aba do.

It becomes cotton thread.

146.

Boe ma ana lolo nan,

So she stretches it out,

147.

De ana dadi futus.

It becomes a bundle of thread.

148.

Boe ma ana du’a sanga manahenge.

So she thinks and plans to be the one who ties.

149.

Inaka Kuku Dula

The woman Kuku Dula

150.

Boe ma pila nggeon,

She wishes to use red and black dyes,

151.

Fetoka Lima Le’u.

The girl Lima Le’u.

152.

Kuku Dula ana henge nan ndia dale dulak,

Kuku Dula ties a pattern in it,

153.

De ana tao nan,

So she works it through,

154.

De ana dadi futus.

It becomes a bundle of thread.

155.

Tehu pila-nggeon bei ta.

But it is not yet red and black.

156.

Boe ma inaka Lima Le’u,

So the woman Lima Le’u,

157.

Ana tao pilana

She makes it red

158.

Fo pila manukudu-na

Making it morinda-red

159.

Ma ana tao nggeona

And she makes it black

160 .

Fo tao nggeo tau isi-na.

Making it indigo-black.

161.

Tata nan boe ma.

When this is done.

162.

Boe ma ala sanga ina manando selu

Then they seek a woman who can work the shuttle

163.

Ma feto mananggiti atis.

And a girl who can weave on a loom.

164.

De ala losa Dulu Balaha oli-na

They go to the estuary of Dulu Balaha

165.

Fo losa Diu Dulu

All the way to Diu Dulu

166.

Ma Langa Mangaledo le-na

And to the river of Langa Mangaledo

167.

Fo losa Kana Langa.

All the way to Kana Langa.

168.

Ina bei Lata Nae la

The woman still at Lata Nae

169.

Inaka Adu Pinga

The woman Adu Pinga

170.

Ma [feto] bei Pinga Dai la

And the girl still at Pinga Dai

171.

Fetoka Leo Lapa

The girl Leo Lapa

172.

Lole halana neu

Raises her voice

173.

Ma selu dasi na neu, nae:

And lifts her words, saying:

174.

‘Ah, au ta alelak tetenuka.

‘I do not know how to weave.

175.

De nggele boo nggenggele

Rage, do not rage

176.

Ma nasa boo mamanasa.’

Angry, do not be angry.’

177.

Boe ma besak fetoka Kuku Dula

So then the girl Kuku Dula

178.

Ma inaka Lima Le’u

And the woman Lima Le’u

179.

Latane seluk bai

They ask once again

180.

Fo latane manatenu

Asking for someone who can weave

181.

Ma ala teteni seluk bai

And request once again

182.

Fo teteni managgiti atis.

Requesting someone who can weave on a loom.

183.

Boe ma leo Dulu Balaha olina

So at the estuary of Dulu Balaha

184.

Fo Pota Popo delan

Is Pota Popo’s delas tree

185.

Ma Langa Mangaledo le-na

And at Langa Mangaledo’s river

186.

Fo Solu Oebau nitan

Is Solu Oebau’s nitas tree

187.

Leu te inaka Menge Solu

There the woman Menge Solu

188.

Ana ndo selu nai ndia

She works the shuttle there

189.

Fetoka Li Pota

The girl Li Pota

190.

Ana nggiti ati nai ndia.

She weaves on the loom there.

191.

Besaka inaka Kuku Dula

Now the woman Kuku Dula

192.

De fetoka Lima Le’u fe futusa neu.

And the girl Lima Le’u gives her the thread bundle.

193.

De inaka Menge Solu

The woman Menge Solu

194.

Ma fetoka Li Pota, ana tenun.

And the girl Li Pota, she weaves.

195.

De ana tenu nan dadi pou

She weaves it to become a woman’s cloth

196.

Fo lae pou dula selu-kolo

They call this woman’s cloth the selu-kolo pattern

197.

Ma ana tenu nan dadi lafa

And she weaves it to become a man’s cloth

198.

Fo lae lafa dula tema-nggik

They call this man’s cloth the tema-nggik pattern

199.

Losa faik ia.

To this day.

200.

Pou dula selu-kolo la

Women’s cloths with the selu-kolo pattern

201.

Bei lai Dulu Balaha olin

Are still [found] at the Dulu Balaha’s estuary

202.

Fo bei lai Diu Dulu

Still at Diu Dulu

203.

Ma lafa langa tema-nggika la

And men’s cloths with the tema-nggik pattern

204.

[Bei] lai Langa Mangaledo le-na

Are still [found] at Langa Mangaledo’s river

205.

Fo bei Kana Langa

Still at Kana Langa

206.

Fo bei lai Bolo Tena

Still at Bolo Tena

207.

Ma bei lai Soti Mori

And still at Soti Mori

208.

Bei lai Londa Lusi

Still at Londa Lusi

209.

Ma bei lai Batu Bela

And still at Batu Bela

210.

Bei lai Tua Nae

Still at Tua Nae

211.

Ma bei lai Selu Beba

And still at Selu Beba

212.

Bei lai Fai Fua

Still at Fai Fua

213.

Ma bei lai Ledo Sou

And still at Ledo Sou

214.

Bei lai Oe Manu

Still at Oe Manu

215.

Ma bei lai Kunu Iko

And still at Kunu Iko

216.

Leo faik ia

To this day

217.

Ma leo ledok ia.

And to this time.

218.

Pou dula selu-kolo

The woman’s cloths with selu-kolo pattern

219.

Do lafa langa tema-nggikala

Or the men’s cloths with tema-nggik pattern

220.

Bei lai Diu Dulu

Are still [found] in Diu Dulu

221.

Ma bei lai Kana Langa

And are still [found] in Kana Langa

222.

Fo bei lai Lamak-anan fo losa faika.

Still [found] in Lamak-anan to this day.

Composition Analysis: Malesi Versions I and II–Old Meno–Seu Ba’i Comparisons

Malesi’s second version of Suti Solo do Bina Bane consists of 222 lines. If one adds the additional 10 lines with which he began his recitation, the entire chant extends for 232 lines. It is shorter than Meno’s composition (299 lines) but longer than either Seu Ba’i’s composition (209 lines) or his own first version (164 lines) of this chant. It is composed on the basis of 75 dyadic sets and shares 23 sets with Meno’s version, 19 sets with Seu Ba’i’s version and 28 sets with the first version of his composition.4 Although there are a few passages that closely resemble his first version, the composition as a whole is a distinctive chant. As an origin chant, it is in accord with Meno’s composition in linking the use of the shells to spinning and dyeing. In this, it is more explicit than Meno’s composition, but in the naming of places and of textile patterns, it points to eastern Rote, whereas Meno’s composition, though not explicit, suggests an association with western Rote.5

Despite the evident difference among these four chants, it is useful to focus, at least initially, on compositional similarities. Perhaps most notable are the opening lines of both of Malesi’s versions, which are similar and, in certain formulaic phrases, virtually identical to the passages in Meno’s and Seu Ba’i’s compositions.

The opening lines of both of Malesi’s versions describe the storm that expels the shells—or, more specifically, expels the ‘insides’ of these shells. The first version consists of four lines; the second has six lines. The first two lines in each passage are identical.

Malesi I

1.

Luli nala liun dale

A storm arises in the ocean’s depths

2.

Ma sangu nala sain dale

And a cyclone arises in the sea’s depths

3.

Bina nama-toko isi

Bina puts out its insides

4.

Suti nama-edo nggi

Suti exudes its pods

Malesi II

1.

Luli nala liun dalek

A storm arises in the ocean’s depths

2.

Ma sangu nala sain dalek.

And a cyclone arises in the sea’s depths.

3.

Liun neu na-edo

The ocean exudes

4.

Ma sain neu na-pode.

The sea puts forth.

5.

De pode heni Suti aten

It puts forth Suti’s liver

6.

Ma edo heni Bina nggin.

And it exudes Bina’s pods.

Meno and Seu Ba’i rely on a similar phrasing.

Meno

56.

Boe ma sangu nala liun dale

A storm striking the ocean’s depths

57.

Ma luli nala sain dale.

And a cyclone striking the sea’s depths.

58.

Boe ma besak ka Suti lama-edo nggi

Now Suti exudes his pods

59.

Ma Bina lamatoko-isi

And Bina puts out his insides

Seu Ba’i

202.

De luli nala liun dale

A storm strikes the ocean depths

203.

Ma sangu nala sain dale

And a cyclone strikes the sea depths

204.

Liun dale na-hopo

The ocean depths are upset

205.

Ma sain dale na-foki.

The sea depths are shaken.

206.

Boe te Suti nama-toko isi

So Suti expells his insides

207.

Ma Bina [nama-]edo nggi

And Bina exudes his pods

In their first lines, all three poets combine the set luli//sangu with the set liun//sain. Malesi and Seu Ba’i combine luli with liun and sangu with sain to create an alliterative formula, whereas Meno does not. The rules of composition allow either possibility.

Interestingly, in his first version, Malesi combines the set -toko//-edo with the set isi//nggi. This is the same formulaic combination as Meno and Seu Ba’i use. In his second version, however, Malesi uses a different combination of sets: -edo//-pode with ate//nggi. This combination allows him to use the same verbal set, -edo//-pode, to describe the eruption of the sea and expulsion of the shells’ insides.

Another similarity in composition across all versions is one that describes the scoop-net used to fish forth Suti Solo do Bina Bane. All compositions refer to this simple apparatus, with the same recognisable formula, as ‘a scoop-net with iron-weighted insides’//‘a fishnet with gold-weighted belly’ (seko matei besi//ndai mahamu lilok).

Malesi I

29.

Ana neni neu seko

She makes them into a scoop-net

30.

Fo seko matei besi

A scoop-net with iron-weighted insides

31.

Ma tale na neu ndai

And fashions them into a fishnet

32.

Fo ndai mahamu lilok

A fishnet with a gold-weighted belly

Malesi II

11.

Tenga na ndai tasina

She takes a fishnet for the sea

12.

Ndai mahamu lilok

A fishnet with a gold-weighted belly

13.

Ma nggao na seko metina

And she picks up a scoop-net for the tide

14.

Seko matei besik

A scoop-net with iron-weighted insides

Meno

87.

De ala teli kokolo ndai

They string and wind a fishnet

88.

De ndai mahamu lilok.

A fishnet with a gold-weighted belly.

89.

Ma ala ane seko, bui seko

They braid a scoop-net, twine a scoop-net

90.

De seko matei besik.

A scoop-net with iron-weighted insides.

Seu Ba’i

9.

Ala teli kokolo ndai

They string and wind a fishnet

10.

Ma ala ane balu-bui seko la

And they braid and twine scoop-nets

11.

Seko ma-tei besik

A scoop-net with iron-weighted insides

12.

Ma ndai ma-hamu lilok.

And a fishnet with a gold-weighted belly.

Compositional Comparison: Malesi I – Malesi II

The most noticeable differences between Malesi’s two versions are in the way in which the dialogue directives to the shells are reworked. Malesi’s first version contains five distinct proposals directing the shells to: 1) house post//cross beam, 2) syrup vat//rice basket, 3) boundary tree//border stone, 4) kumea grass//kuku shrub, and 5) forest cuckoo//river watercock. The fifth proposal directs the shells to follow the cuckoo and watercock through the forest and along the river to ‘the estuary’s edge and river’s bank’ and then out to sea.

Malesi’s second version retains the rice basket//syrup vat directive but not the boundary tree//border stone or the kumea grass//kuku shrub directives. Instead, in his second version, Malesi introduces a new directive to go with the trees’ shade//lontar palms’ shadow—a directive also used by Meno in his chant. Malesi also recomposes the long directive in his first version to follow the forest cuckoo and river watercock into two separate directives: first to the cuckoo//watercock and then to the river bank//estuary’s edge. In his second version, Malesi’s four directives are the following:

49.

‘Meu mo neka hade

‘Go with the rice basket

50.

Ma meu mo bou tuana.’

And go with the lontar syrup vat.’

63.

‘Mu mo doa-lasi

‘Go with the forest cuckoo

64.

Ma mo koloba’o le.’

And with the river woodcock.’

79.

‘Mu mo mafo ai’

‘Go with the trees’ shade

80.

Ma mu mo sa’o tua.’

And go with the lontar palms’ shadow.’

97.

‘Ah, mu oli titian

‘Ah, go along the estuary’s edge

98.

Ma mu le tatain

And go along the river’s bank

Comparison of Malesi’s composition of the directives to rice basket//syrup vat in the two versions is particularly instructive. The eight lines of these two compositions are virtually identical except for the use of two particular dyadic sets. The two compositions are as follows:

Malesi I6

73.

‘Mu no bou tua

‘Go with the lontar syrup vat

74.

Ma mu mo neka hade.’

And go with the rice basket.’

75.

Bina Bane kokolak

Bina Bane speaks

76.

Ma Suti Solo dede’ak ma nae:

And Suti Solo replies and says:

77.

‘Malole la so

‘That would be good

78.

Ma mandak kala so.

And that would be proper.

79.

Bou tua na tono6

[But if] the syrup vat is overturned

80.

Ma neka hade lulunu

And the rice basket is rolled up

81.

Na au asalai o se

Then with whom will I recline

82.

Ma au angatu o se?’

And with whom will I sit?’

Malesi II

49.

‘Meu mo neka hade

‘Go with the rice basket

50.

Ma meu mo bou tuana.’

And go with the lontar syrup vat.’

51.

Boe ma Suti Solo nafada

Then Suti Solo talks

52.

Ma Bina Bane kokolak ma nae:

And Bina Bane speaks and says:

53.

‘Ah, malole la so

‘Ah, that would be good

54.

Ma mandak kala so

And that would be proper

55.

[Te] bou tua la heok

But if the lontar syrup vats turn

56.

Ma neka hade la keko

And if the rice baskets shift

57.

Na au asalai o se

Then with whom shall I recline

58.

Ma au angatu o se?’

And with whom shall I sit?’

Where in lines 75–76, Malesi uses the set kokolak//dede’ak (‘to speak’//‘to reply’), in lines 51–52 of his second version, he uses an alternative set, kokolak//na-fada (‘to speak’//‘to talk’).

Similarly, but more unusually, where in lines 79–80, Malesi uses the common set tono//lunu (‘to overturn’//‘to roll up’), whereas in lines 55–56 he uses the set heok//keko (‘to turn aside’//‘to shift’).

Both Meno and Seu Ba’i use the formulaic set tono//lunu in their compositions, as does Malesi in his first version.

Meno

165.

Fo bou lo totonon

So that the vat must be overturned

166.

Ma soka no lulunun

And the sack must be rolled up

Seu Ba’i

78.

Fo soka lo lulunun

So that the sacks must be rolled up

80.

Fo bou lo totonon

So that the vats must be overturned

Malesi’s use of heok//keko is highly idiosyncratic. The verb keko generally occurs in two sets, either with lali (keko//lali), when describing the transfer of a bride after marriage, or with hiluk, in reference to the shifting of shadows, as in the directive regarding the lontar palms’ shadow//trees’ shade.

Meno, for example, uses the set keko//hiluk:

186.

Te leo mafo ai la hiluk

But if the trees’ shade recedes

187.

Ma sa’o tua la keko

And the lontars’ shadow shifts

By contrast, Malesi Version II uses the set heok//hiluk:

85.

Mafo ai la heok

[If] the trees’ shade turns aside

86.

Ma sa’o ai la hiluk

And the lontar palms’ shadow recedes

In all of the chants I have gathered from Termanu, this is the only occurrence of keko//heok as a set. The use of this set has to be considered idiosyncratic and not part of recognisable formulaic convention.

Malesi’s use in both versions of the set nasa-lai//na-ngatu (‘to recline’//‘to sit’) in the shells’ plaintive refrain ‘with whom shall I recline//with whom shall I sit’ is distinctive of his composition but the use of this set is not uncommon.

Both Meno and Seu Ba’i use the plaintive query about speaking in their compositions. Thus in Meno, the shells utter this refrain:

150.

‘Na Bina, au o se

‘Then I, Bina, with whom will I be

151.

Ma Suti, au o se

And I, Suti, with whom will I be

152.

Fo au kokolak o se

With whom will I talk

153.

Ma au dede’ak o se?’

And with whom will I speak?’

By contrast, Malesi Version II uses a refrain that evokes a sense of resting in a secure location:

39.

‘De au Suti, au o se

‘Then I, Suti, with whom will I be

40.

Fo asalai o se

On whom will I recline

41.

Ma au Bina, au o se

And I, Bina, with whom will I be

42.

Fo au angatu’u o se?’

With whom will I sit?’

In cultural terms, reclining and sitting are closely linked; reclining, however, is superior to sitting. In a traditional house, the head of the household is entitled to recline on a resting platform located at the eastern end of the house. This honour may also be accorded to an esteemed guest, whereas most guests will sit on other raised platforms arrayed under the extended roof of the house. Standing is reserved for those outside or for those who serve within the house.

The Second Half of Malesi’s Composition: An Origin Chant

Malesi’s second version of Suti Solo do Bina Bane is, in effect, two chants. The first 110 lines are a mortuary chant conceived as a metaphoric journey of two shells through a variety of symbolic locations from the sea and back to the sea; the second 115 lines are an origin chant that recounts the transformation of these same two shells—the nautilus shell, Suti, into a container for dyes and the bailer shell, Bina, into a base on which to spin cotton. Although more explicit on the transformation of the shells than Meno’s origin chant, much of the second half of Malesi’s composition is elusive. It is a text that requires some exegesis to be deciphered.

The second half begins with the storm at sea and the expulsion of the shells, as do the first eight lines with which Malesi began his composition before starting over again. Malesi then introduces new chant characters. Instead of Kafi Dulu//Kule Langa, with his field of corn and millet, and the woman (presumably his wife) Sama Dai//Kuku Nou, in the first half, Malesi invokes Manupui Peda//Kokolo Dulu with his field of indigo and cotton and his wife, Pasa Paku//Finga Fiti. Manupui Peda//Kokolo Dulu is the same chant character identified in Meno’s chant, but where Meno speaks of Nggiti Seti//Pedu Hange, Malesi has Pasa Paku//Finga Fiti. It is Pasa Paku//Finga Fiti who scoops Suti Solo//Bina Bane from the sea.

What follows is a narrative of the transformation of the two shells that runs from line 147 to line 163. These lines are, however, for the most part not in strict parallelism. They have the appearance of parallelism by the use of a number of canonical dyadic sets—feto//ina (‘girl’//‘woman’), nggeo//pila (‘black’//‘red’) and the chant character Kuku Dula//Lima Le’u—but many seeming pairs in these lines do not follow the canon. Thus, for example, in line 139, dipo ine (‘to turn the spinning stick on its base’) should pair with ifa lolek (‘to cradle the winding rack’) (see Meno: lines 255–57); kolu (‘to pick or pluck’) should pair with ketu (‘to break, pluck or snap’).

The canonical format resumes with line 163 and continues, with a few orphan lines, to the end of the composition.7 These lines describe a search for a woman who can weave the cloth that has been dyed by Kuku Dula//Lima Le’u. At first sight, they offer a confusing succession of both personal chant character names and specific place names. The place names, all in eastern Rote, form an ordered succession of identifiable locations—an interpretable topogeny of particular places.8

The whole of Rote is blanketed in ritual names. Some of these names are specific and only locally known; others are more generally known and are taken to represent the various domains and prominent landmarks on the island. Knowledge of these names is essential for all poets, but some poets, like Malesi, are noted for the extensive knowledge of these names and the frequent insertion of topogenies in their recitations.

In this recitation, Malesi identifies the initial area in which the search for a woman to weave begins:

164.

De ala losa Dulu Balaha oli-na

They go to the estuary of Dulu Balaha

165.

Fo losa Diu Dulu

All the way to Diu Dulu

166.

Ma Langa Mangaledo le-na

And to the river of Langa Mangaledo

167.

Fo losa Kana Langa.

All the way to Kana Langa.

Dulu Balaha//Langa Mangaledo refers to eastern Rote.9 Diu Dulu//Kana Langa refers to the domain of Diu located to the east of Termanu. Both names are formed around the same set, dulu//langa, which links the idea of ‘east’ (dulu) with the ‘head’ (langa) of the island. The island extends physically in an east–west direction, so that by a similar directional logic the ‘west’ (muli) is linked with the ‘tail’ (iko) of the island. Rote is often spoken of as if it were a living creature—generally associated with the body of a crocodile floating in the sea. Thus, Rote’s southern coast (kona) is synonymous with ‘right’ (kona) and its northern coast (ki) is synonymous with ‘left’ (ki). Ritual names often reflect this quadripartite orientation/directional system.

The first woman to be contacted, Adu Pinga//Leo Lapa, at the site Lata Nae//Pinga Dai, apparently within the domain of Diu, states that she cannot weave, so Kuku Dulu//Lima Le’u go to find the woman Menge Solu//Li Pota, the daughter of Solu Oebau//Pota Popo. This woman is able to weave and she creates a special design pattern, selu-kolo, on the woman’s cloth that she weaves and another design pattern, tema-nggi, on the man’s cloth she weaves.10 This pattern, Malesi asserts, is still found in the domain of Diu and in other domains in eastern Rote. This assertion is then reiterated in a short topogeny that recalls the names of the different domains of eastern Rote:

1.

Bolo Tena//Soti Mori

Landu

2.

Londa Lusi//Batu Bela

Ringgou

3.

Tua Nae//Selu Beba

Ringgou

4.

Fai Fua//Ledo Sou

Oepao

5.

Oe Manu//Kunu Iko?

Bilba?

6.

Diu Dulu//Kana Langa

Diu

As a poet, Pe’u Malesi demonstrates his standing as a ‘man of knowledge’ through recitations that explicitly embrace the island of Rote as a whole rather than simply the domain of Termanu.


1 Suti Solo do Bina Bane: Ita kokolakana neme uma muli—hu meme Manakuasa tata nonoin fo nakatok losa faik-ia.

2 ‘Ah! Kokolakana nai talada ia. Maaf dei. Tao neme hu-na mai dei, te au lilin … Suti Solo no Bina Bane dadina makasososana.’

3 ‘Ita Lamatua sanga tao dede’a nakatok losa faikia.’

4 In counting the number of dyadic sets for each composition, ritual names are not included. In Meno’s composition with its dyadic genealogies and in Malesi’s second recitation with its interwoven succession of ritually named people and places, there are a considerable number of additional dyadic sets.

5 This is a judgement that cannot be made on the basis of Meno’s version of Suti Solo do Bina Bane alone, but rather in the context of his recitation of the origin of weaving, which constitutes a separate composition.

6 It is worth noting that here one would expect the semi-reduplicated form totono in order to conform with the semi-reduplicated lulunu. Whether this is simply a minor mistake in performance or, possibly, a mistake in the transcription of Malesi’s words cannot be determined.

7 Even though line 156 is an ‘orphan’ line (‘So the woman Lima Le’u’), its pair (‘And the girl Kuku Dula’) is implied by the use of these same lines just a few lines earlier. (Another ‘orphan’ line occurs at line 174.)

8 I have coined the word ‘topogeny’ to refer to the recitation of an ordered succession of place names, the equivalent to a genealogy, which consists of the recitation of an ordered succession of personal names. See Fox (1997b). In this article, as an example of a topogeny, I examine an origin chant by Malesi that recounts the origin of rice and millet and includes a topogeny of 32 distinct places that moves in a cycle around the island of Rote from the ritual site Tena Lai//Mae Oe, in eastern Rote, which is mentioned in virtually all versions of Suti Solo do Bina Bane, back to this same ritual site.

9 Translated literally, Dulu Balaha//Langa Mangaledo means ‘East Tomorrow//Head Dawning’. Another name for eastern Rote is Timu Dulu ma Sepe Langa, which, translated, literally would be ‘Eastern East//Brightening Head’. See Fox (1973: 356–64) for a further discussion of the Rotenese orientation system and its ritual significance.

10 Neither tema-nggi nor selu-kolo is a textile pattern in Termanu, but since both tema and kolo occur in the names of various birds, there would appear to be some association of these patterns with bird-like motifs.


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