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Master Poets, Ritual Masters

10

Suti Solo do Bina Bane as a Personal Composition

This is a version of Suti Solo do Bina Bane that belongs within the speech community of Termanu. It is entirely in the dialect of Termanu, but as a composition, it is not grounded in Termanu’s traditional ritual knowledge. It is a beautiful, personal composition by an unusual poet, Zet Apulugi.

Zet Apulugi, as his name indicates, is a Ndaonese, the descendant of settlers from the tiny island at the western end of Rote.1 I first encountered Zet in 1973 as a young man who was then living in the Mok Dae, a settlement in the village of Ono Tali. At the time, with Old Meno’s son, I sponsored a final mortuary ceremony for Old Meno. The ceremony, known as Lutu Tutus, involved the creation of a raised stone platform surrounding a living tree as a monument in Meno’s honour.2

The night before the main ceremony and feast was dedicated to chanting in remembrance of Old Meno. A number of leading chanters came from Termanu and from the neighbouring domain of Korbaffo and engaged, as was expected, in competition with one another. Pe’u Malesi was a prominent figure among these chanters because he was considered the representative of the village where I was living, Nggodi Meda. A particularly focused competition developed between Pe’u Malesi on behalf of Nggodi Meda and Zet Apulugi on behalf of Ono Tali. To me, Zet was clearly the more fluent speaker but in the judgement of all the elders who listened intently, Malesi’s chanting was far superior. Repeatedly I was told that Zet’s words were empty. He did not have ritual knowledge for proper chanting. At the time, I attributed these opinions to the fact that Zet was a young man in his early 20s and hardly of the age to be allowed to speak at a ceremony.

Although I had no chance to meet him after the ceremony in 1973, I remained interested in recording him at greater length. Fortunately, more than 30 years later, in 2006, I was able to invite him to join the first group of poets whom I recorded on Bali. On Bali, he related to me his background and the origins of his ritual language fluency. Unlike other Rotenese poets, for whom the transmission of ritual knowledge is crucial and who therefore invariably related their family situation and from which specific relative they learned their knowledge, Zet explained that his knowledge and fluency had come in a dream when he was still in school. An old man appeared to him holding a staff; slowly he prepared betel and areca nut and began to chew. After chewing for a while, he took a portion of the betel and areca nut from his mouth and put it into Zet’s mouth. This was the spiritual transmission that transformed him. After the dream, Zet became fluent in ritual language. He told me that he would regularly join the older men of Termanu when they would gather and speak in ritual language. He would insist on speaking in their company, even though they objected to his impertinence. Thus, from an early age, Zet defined himself as an insistent ritual speaker but one who had little ritual knowledge to support his ritual speech.

Zet, it would seem, has little or no concern with the ritual underpinnings of the compositions that he produces. His compositions can be beautifully clear and uncomplicated. He knows enough to be able to fabricate ritual names to enhance his compositions. This is particularly maddening for those Rotenese who regard ritual knowledge as both the reason and the basis for composition. For this reason, Zet is more often shunned than he is appreciated.

Figure 10: Zet Apulugi

This recitation, recorded on 4 July 2006, is a good example of Zet Apulugi’s oral artistry.

Zet’s Suti Solo do Bina Bane narrative is straightforward compared, for example, with Old Meno’s recitation, with its complex interweaving of sites and relations linking the Heavens, the Earth and the Sea. A woman with the ritual name Masi Bisa//Bisa Oli is credited with scooping the shells from the sea. (These names resemble the names used by Joel Pellondou, Ole Masi//Bisa Oli, in his recitation during the same recording session in 2006.) Suti Solo//Bina Bane speak up and declare that they are widow and orphan, having lost their mother, Solo Saik//Suti Liun (‘Solo of the Sea’//‘Suti of the Ocean’), who has died in the depths of the sea. Zet emphasises the weeping and sadness of being orphaned and being left to float on one’s own in the sea. In response, Masi Bisa//Bisa Oli offers to scoop up the shells and to place them on the earth but as Suti Solo//Bina Bane insist, in their reply, being on earth is insufficient without companionship. Suti Solo//Bina Bane ask for this companionship but also ask that eventually they be returned to the sea. Masi Bisa//Bisa Oli agrees to be a companion but, after a certain time, she returns the shells to the sea.

Zet’s version is a unique telling of Suti Solo do Bina Bane. It is well composed with the full dyadic conventions of ritual language. Although it does not have the set of successive directives that are prominent in other versions of this composition from Termanu, it nevertheless constructs its own dialogue and beautifully conveys the theme of the orphan and widow.

Introduction: The Search for the Ritual Fish

1.

Inaka Masi Bisa

The woman Masi Bisa

2.

Ma fetoka Bisa Oli

And the girl Bisa Oli

3.

Ana lu’a na ndai tasin

She lifts the fishnet for the sea

4.

Ma ana lo’a na seko metin

And she takes the scoop-net for the tide

5.

Neu ndai sanga Dusu La’e

Goes to fish in search of Dusu La’e

6.

Ma neu sanga Tio Holu

And goes to seek for Tio Holu

7.

Fo Dusu la la’e ao

For the Dusu that support themselves

8.

Fo Tio la holu ao.

For the Tio that embrace themselves.

Suti Solo do Bina Bane’s Lament

9.

Te ana seko nai lifu be,

But in whatever pool she scoops,

10.

Na Suti bonu nai lifu ndia

Suti bobs in that pool

11.

Ma ana ndai neu lek be,

And in whatever waterhole she fishes,

12.

Na Bina ele nai lek ndia.

Bina floats in that waterhole.

13.

Te kada ana bonu nai lek ndia

But he just bobs in that waterhole

14.

Te ana bonu no nama-tani bobolu

But he bobs, crying tearfully

15.

Ma nasakedu dodopo.

And sobbing weepingly.

16.

Boe ma Suti Solo mulai dede’ak

Then Suti Solo begins to speak

17.

Ma Bina Bane mulai kokolak, nae:

And Bina Bane begins to talk, saying:

18.

‘[Au] asa-kedu ma ama-tani nana,

‘I am sobbing and crying,

19.

Au momoli ana-mak

I have turned into an orphan

20.

Ma au dadadi falu-ina.

And I have become a widow.

21.

Au ina tebengo ta

I have no true mother

22.

Ma au te’ong hungo ta.

And no origin aunt.

23.

Au inang Solo Saik

My mother, Solo Saik

24.

De ana sapu nai sain dalek

She has perished in the depths of the sea

25.

Ma au te’ong Suti Liun

And my aunt, Suti Liun

26.

De ana lalo nai liun dalek.

She has died in the depths of the ocean.

27.

Besak ia au bonu boa nai li poik

Now I bob like boa wood on top of the waves

28.

Ma au ele piko nai tasi bafak,

And I drift like piko wood on the sea’s surface,

29.

Au ele piko o nasakeduk

I drift like piko wood, sobbing

30.

Ma au bonu boa o namatanik,

And I bob like boa wood, crying,

31.

Lu ko-boa nau-na

Tears like bidara fruit in the grass

32.

Nama titi ate-lasi

Drip like sap as from an old ate tree

33.

Ma pinu kaitio telana

Snot like kaitio [leaves] in the underbrush

34.

Nama nosi oba-tula.

Pour forth like juice from a tapped gewang.

35.

Au mole duanga

My welfare is in twos

36.

Ta tona kale hade

Does not sprout like proper rice

37.

Ma au soda telunga

And my well-being is in threes

38.

Ta le’a bu’u bete.

Does not grow like good millet.

39.

Au doi doso an’seli

I am suffering terribly

40.

De au ele piko mai meti-ia

I have drifted like piko wood to this tidal site

41.

Ma au bonu boa mai namo ia.

And I have bobbed like boa wood to this harbour.

42.

Sueka mateik lai se

Who will have pity on me

43.

Madalek lai se,

And who will have sympathy with me,

44.

Na ana lipa nita au sodang

To look and see to my well-being

45.

Ma ana mete nita au moleng

And focus and see my welfare

46.

Nai lu mata pinu iduka,

With tears from my eyes, snot from my nose,

47.

Nai nasakeduk dodopok dale.’

Sobbing, inwardly weeping.’

The Reply to Suti Solo do Bina Bane’s Lament

48.

Boe ma inaka Masi Bisa

So the woman Masi Bisa

49.

Ma fetoka Bisa Oli

And the girl Bisa Oli

50.

Ana ndai toko nan

She fishes him up

51.

Ma ana seko toko nan.

And she takes him up.

52.

Boe ma nae:

Then she says:

53.

‘Au o o leo batu poi

‘I will take you to dwell on the top of the rocks

54.

Ma au o o leo dae bafaka

And I will take you to dwell on the earth’s surface

55.

Te o soda ma nai li poik

Instead of your being on top of the waves

56.

O soda ma nai tasi bafak.

Instead of your being on the sea’s surface.

57.

De o mu dae bafak

So you will go to the earth’s surface

58.

Ma o mu batu poi o

And you will go to the top of the rocks

59.

O se masa kedu dodopo ia

You will continue to sob weepingly

60.

Fo lu ta mada matam

For your tears will not dry from your eyes

61.

Ma pinu ta meti idum.

And your snot will not ebb from your nose.

62.

De o dudu’a fe au dudu’ak esa

Your pondering gives me to ponder

63.

Ma o kokolak fe au kokolak esa,

And your talk gives me to talk,

64.

Fo au bei dudu’a dalanga

For I am still pondering a way

65.

Ma au bei a’afi enong

And I am still thinking of a path

66.

Fo au amopo o lu matam

That I may dispel the tears from your eyes

67.

Ma au amopo o pinu idum.’

And I may dispel the snot from your nose.’

Suti Solo do Bina Bane’s Reply

68.

Boe ma Suti Solo nahala ma nae:

So Suti Solo gives voice and says:

69.

‘Faik ia o ndai ndano ma au

‘This day you fish me forth

70.

Ma o seko toko ma au.

And scoop me up.

71.

Nde ndia tehu hataholi mai seko metina

When someone comes to scoop in the tide

72.

Ana sanga du’u lalu-na

That person seeks morsels for their beer

73.

Ma ana sanga eke nggeto na

And that person seeks snacks for their drink

74.

Tehu losa na sona

But for that reason

75.

Boso nasu hihilu au,

Do not put me aside,

76.

Te au ia momoli ane-ana [?]

For I am here to grow into a person

77.

Ma au dadi hataholi.

And to become a human.

78.

De au leo dae bafok

So that I may dwell on the earth’s surface

79.

Ma au leo batu poi.

And I may dwell on the top of the rocks.

80.

Te neuko-se au ta lili do neka

But if I am not attached or cared for

81.

Au sodanga nai liun mananggenggeon

Then my well-being will be in the dark ocean

82.

Ma [au] molanga nai sain manatatana.

And my welfare will be in the pounding sea.

83.

De o ndai muni au nde ia

So when you fish and carry me here

84.

Tehu [au moli] neu tiak esa

I [will grow] to be a companion

85.

Ma au dadi neu senak esa.

And I will become a friend.

86.

De faik esa mate’ena

But on one particular day

87.

Ma ledo dua ma nuni

And at a certain time

88.

Na sona mo fali au leo liun dale

You will return me to the ocean’s depths

89.

Do mo fali au leo sain dalek.

Or will return me to the sea’s depths.

90.

Fo o po’i fali au

You will throw me back

91.

Leo liun do sain dalek.’

To dwell in the ocean and sea’s depths.’

The Return to the Sea

92.

Boe ma ledo la soko muli

The sun inclines to the west

93.

Ma fai la loe iko

And the day descends at the tail

94.

Ledo soko leo muli

As the sun inclines toward the west

95.

Fo leo iko beku-ten

So that its tail hangs down

96.

Ma fai loe leo iko

And the day descends toward the tail

97.

Fo leo langa loloen.

So that its head is lowered.

98.

Boe ma inaka Masi Bisa

Then the woman Masi Bisa

99.

Ma fetoka Bisa Oli

And the girl Bisa Oli

100.

Ana dudu’a neu dalen

She ponders in her heart

101.

Ma ana a’afi neu tein.

And she thinks within herself.

102.

Ia momoli na momoli ana-mak

He grows, indeed grows as an orphan

103.

Ma ia dadadi na dadadi falu-ina.

And he becomes, indeed becomes a widow.

104.

Tehu esako mamana leleo napa lasan

But now in these surroundings

105.

Ndia neu oe manaleleuk

He goes to the winding waters

108.

Ma au nai dae bafak.

While I am on the earth’s surface.

109.

Ami dua de’a-de’a

We two converse together

110.

Ma ami dua kola-kola.

And we two speak together.

111.

Nafada nae:

She speaks and says:

112.

‘Ami dadi neu tiak

‘We have become companions

113.

Ma ami dadi neu senak.

And we have become friends.

114.

Te hu ana ta lili-neka nai dae bafak

But he has no attachment to the earth’s surface

115.

Ma ana [ta] ingu-leo nai batu poi.

And he has no clanship on top of the rocks.

116.

De malole lenak,

It would be far better if,

117.

Au uni falik la loe iko

I bring him back to the lowered tail

118.

Meti sai-kala nggonga

The tidal seas sounding

119.

Ma unu pedakala mada.

And the edge of the dry reef

120.

Neni falik ana neu tasi tatain

Taking him back to sea’s edge

121.

Ma neni falik ana neu oli bibifan.

And taking him back to estuary’s lip.

122.

Ana ele piko de neni leo liun

That he may drift like piko wood to the ocean

123.

Ma ana bonu boa de neni leo sain.

And bob like boa wood to the sea.

124.

De ana fali leo liun

So that he may return to the ocean

125.

Ma ana fali leo sain.’

And that he may return to the sea.’

126.

Boe ma besaka ana le’a bu’u bete

Now he sprouts like good millet

127.

Ma ana tona kale hade.

And grows like proper rice.

128.

Nama tua kada nai liun dalek

Grows large only in the ocean’s depths

129.

Ma nama nalu kada nai sain dalek.

And grows long only in the sea’s depths.

130.

Te ta nama-nalu nai batu poi

He does not grow long on the top of the rocks

131.

Ma ta nama-tua nai dae bafak.

And does not grow large on the earth’s surface.

132.

De ana losa kada ndia

He has only gone there

133.

Fo besaka ita tuti popo selukana.’

So that now we may be connected again.

Compositional Analysis and Comparison

Zet’s recitation of Suti Solo do Bina Bane is composed of 52 dyadic sets expressed in 133 lines. As a formal composition, Zet’s version is well constructed: lines pair beautifully and successively. Nonetheless, compared with the versions of the other poets of Termanu, it is notably different. The differences are not so much in what the composition does but what it does not do. There is, for example, very little ritual grounding to the composition. Apart from Suti Solo//Bina Bane, the only ritual name evoked is that of the woman who scoops up the orphaned shells, Masi Bisa//Bisa Oli. More significantly, there is relatively little of the recurrent formulaic phrasing that characterises most compositions. Suti Solo//Bina Bane’s plaintive refrain is a pertinent example because it is considered one of the distinguishing features of the chant.

Old Meno uses the refrain:

‘Na Bina, au o se

‘Then I, Bina, with whom will I be

Ma Suti, au o se

And I, Suti, with whom will I be

Fo au kokolak o se

With whom will I talk

Ma au dede’ak o se?’

And with whom will I speak?’

Seu Ba’i follows Meno closely:

‘Au dede’ak o se

‘With whom will I speak

Ma au kokolak o se?’

And with whom will I talk?’

Pe’u Malesi uses a variation on this refrain:

‘Na au asalai o se

‘Then with whom will I recline

Ma au angatu o se?’

And with whom will I sit?’

Mikael Pellondou’s refrain is like that of his cousin Seu Ba’i:

‘Nah, au kokolak o se

‘Then with whom will I speak

Ma au dede’ak o se?’

And with whom will I talk?’

Even in Joel Pellondou’s short version of this chant, this refrain is used:

‘Fo au kokolak o se

‘With whom will I talk

Ma au dedea’k o se?’

And with whom will I speak?’

Pak Pono alternates between two refrains. One is the familiar refrain:

‘Na ami dede’ak mo se

‘Then with whom will we speak

Ma ami kokolak mo se?’

And with whom will we talk?’

The other, like that of Malesi, is a variant on this refrain:

Na ami mama hena neu se

‘Then on whom will we depend

Ma ami maka bani neu se?’

And on whom will we rely?’

Where one might expect this refrain to occur, Zet provides a multiline peroration, rather than the simple, expected formulaic phrase. Thus, for example, Zet’s phrasing is:

16.

Boe ma Suti Solo mulai dede’ak

Then Suti Solo begins to speak

17.

Ma Bina Bane mulai kokolak, nae:

And Bina Bane begins to talk, saying:

18.

‘[Au] asa-kedu ma ama-tani nana,

‘I am sobbing and crying,

19.

Au momoli ana-mak

I have turned into an orphan

20.

Ma au dadadi falu-ina.

And I have become a widow.

21.

Au ina tebengo ta

I have no true mother

22.

Ma au te’ong hungo ta.

And no origin aunt.

This is not a trivial difference. In ordinary discourse, a repetition of the phrase ‘with whom will I speak, with whom will I talk’ can be used to allude to this composition. In Termanu, no other lines are more evocative of this chant.

There are other stock formulaic phrases that one might expect in a Suti Solo do Bina Bane composition but that do not occur in Zet’s composition. Old Meno, along with the other poets, often uses some variant of the formulaic phrase that asserts that something is ‘good and proper’. This is not a formula that is distinctive to this composition. It is in fact a formulaic phrase that occurs in most compositions.

In Meno’s composition, this formula is phrased as:

‘De malole-la so

‘These things are good

Ma mandak-kala so.’

And these things are proper.’

In Seu Ba’i’s recitation this phrase occurs as:

‘De malole ndia so

‘This is good

Do mandak ndia so.’

Or this is proper.’

Malesi makes use of this formula in various ways; one such example is:

‘Ah, malole la so

‘Ah, that would be good

Ma mandak kala so’

And that would be proper’

Mikael Pellondou’s phrasing is:

‘Boe ma malole lai ndia

‘Such things would be good

Ma mandak lai ndia’

And such things would be proper’

Joel Pellondou twice uses only the orphan line, which can be understood to invoke its pair:

Malole la so

That is good

Pak Pono has yet another variation on this recognisable formula:

Malole basa sila

All this is good

Ma mandak basa sila.

And all this is proper.

In Zet’s recitation, this formula does not occur at all. The absence of this formula and other similar formulae, however, does not mean that Zet’s recitation is completely without such standard formulaic phrasing. Zet, for example, utilises a common time-marking formula as follows:

86.

De faik esa mate’ena

But on one particular day

87.

Ma ledo dua ma nuni

And at a certain time

Some variation of this formula is used by several of the poets in their compositions.

In Meno’s composition, this phrase occurs as:

Faik esa manunin

On one certain day

Ma ledok esa mateben

And at one particular time

In Mikael Pellondou’s composition, he uses

De faik esa manunin

At a certain day

Do ledok esa mate’ena

Or at a particular time

Pak Pono begins his 2008 recitation with this formula:

Faik esa manunin

On one particular day

Do ledok esa mate’e-na

Or one certain time

Although Zet’s composition has none of the familiar directives to the shells that punctuate the other versions of the Suti Solo do Bina Bane composition, he does, however, utilise the dyadic phrasing associated with the directive that returns the shells to the sea. Old Meno’s directive is illustrative of how this extended formula is phrased with its metaphoric reference to two kinds of light wood like balsaboa wood and piko wood—that float on the sea’s surface. Meno’s directive is as follows:

Fo ela fa oek ana mai

So that when the current’s water arrives

Ma ela epo oek ana mai

And when the eddy’s water arrives

Na bonu boa fo mu

That bobbing like boa wood, you may go

Ma ele piko fo mu,

And drifting like piko wood, you may go,

Leo sain dale mu

To the sea, you may go

Ma leo liun dale mu.

And to the ocean, you may go.

Zet uses similar phrasing to describe both the arrival of the shells and their return to the sea, thus shaping a recurrent refrain in his composition. At the beginning of his composition, Suti Solo do Bina Bane describe their condition as follows:

27.

‘Besak ia au bonu boa nai li poik

‘Now I bob like boa wood on top of the waves

28.

Ma au ele piko nai tasi bafak,

And I drift like piko wood on the sea’s surface,

29.

Au ele piko o nasakeduk

I drift like piko wood, sobbing

30.

Ma au bonu boa o namatanik’

And I bob like boa wood, crying’

Much the same phrasing is used again 10 lines later:

40.

‘De au ele piko mai meti-ia

‘I have drifted like piko wood to this tidal site

41.

Ma au bonu boa mai namo ia.

And I have bobbed like boa wood to this harbour.

42.

Sueka maeik lai se

Who will have pity on me

43.

Madalek lai se’

And who will have sympathy with me’

And again this phrasing is used towards the end of the composition as the shells are returned to the sea:

121.

Ana ele piko de neni leo liun

That he may drift like piko wood to the ocean

122.

Ma ana bonu boa de neni leo sain.

And bob like boa wood to the sea.

123.

De ana fali leo liun

So that he may return to the ocean

124.

Ma ana fali leo sain.’

And that he may return to the sea.’

In the context of this composition, a more curious formula that Zet uses twice in his recitation is the invocation of sprouting rice and millet. The first use of this formula is combined with another formula that portrays the condition of being in an unfortunate or uncomfortable position—that is, literally being at ‘twos and threes’:

35.

Au mole duanga

My welfare is in twos

36.

Ta tona kale hade

Does not sprout like proper rice

37.

Ma au soda telunga

And my wellbeing is in threes

38.

Ta le’a bu’u bete.

Does not grow like good millet.

The same formula is used again to confirm that, on their return to the sea, the shells do indeed prosper.3

125.

Boe ma besaka ana le’a bu’u bete

Now he sprouts like good millet

126.

Ma ana tona kale hade.

And grows like proper rice.3

It is not the case that Zet is less formulaic in his composition than the other poets, but rather that he is, as he has always tried to be, idiosyncratic. Although he adheres to the formal canons of dyadic composition, he does not use the formulae that are expected in such compositions nor does he follow the narrative schema of those compositions. From a Rotenese—or more specifically, a Termanu—perspective, he has never had ancestral training in these matters. He is what he is: a fluent outsider.


1 Ndaonese are settled in virtually every domain on the island of Rote. In some domains, Ndaonese are assimilated to a specific clan; in other domains, as in Termanu, individual Ndaonese settlers are incorporated in various clans. In Zet Apulugi’s case, he retains his Ndaonese name: Apulugi. This suggests that his family is in an early stage of the process of assimilation to being considered fully ‘Rotenese’.

2 I have described this ceremony and the preparations leading to its performance in Fox (1989).

3 Literally, this expression refers to the fact the grains on a millet stalk stretch straight upward while the panicles of a rice stalk droop with grain.


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