Adapted English translation for Herbert Lemouth
Story Title: "Ekkobkob, ekkobkob, ekkobkob kijjen Jaakunne" – A Traditional Tale
interviewd by Newton Lajuan, June 23rd, 2008, 9am-3pm
Adapted English Translation by Andrea & Terry Hazzard
A Traditional Tale: The Witches of Ailuk
HL: My name is Herbert. Lemouth is my last name. My father's name is Bale Lemouth; [he is] one of the traditional leaders [alab] of the Batkin [land]. My mother's name is Newaj, and she's from Ailuk Atoll. She's from the lineage [jowi] of Jiidrikdrik.
Interviewer Thank you. Please continue on with the story you have prepared for the day.
HL: Yes, I am very happy to tell you this story according to what I know from growing up with my grandparents 50 or so years ago. And so, this story is a story from one of few atolls that I am from, the atoll of Ailuk, in the town of Bukon Ruo, located on the island called Kabin. Some 60 years ago, there was an old man named Jaakunne. According to our customs and traditions back in those days, there was a special time for all to gather in the town of Ailuk, Ailuk [which was the headquarters of all of Ailuk] to celebrate, as they say in those days, "Kurijmoj" [Christmas]. And because this old man grew up on a small island [with a limited number of people], particularly on the island of Kabin, he was the only one who didn't go to the gathering in the town of Ailuk, Ailuk, to celebrate Kurijmoj and other important events, according to their customs and traditions in those days.
This old man lived and worked on the island of Kabin, which was located in Ailuk Atoll, the farthest western island in Ailuk. And this old man had a lot of animals to raise and care for. Back in those days, having too many animals required a person [to be available] to care and attend to his animals. Someone had to stay home at all times to keep an eye on the animals. At this [particular] time after the people went [to the gathering], the old man was the only one in all of Kabin. He lived and worked in the town of Lim En; that is what they called it, and it's in the middle of Kabin. And because this old man had so many kinds of animals to attend to [he had pigs, chickens, etc.], he had three separate places to fence and feed them. One of the places was in Lim En, a plantation in Kabin. Another [was] in Larubbar; [it was] also a plantation in Kabin, [and it] faced the lagoon. The third was in Nalab Lik; [it was] also a plantation, which was pretty far from Lim En. One day, when [the man] had finished feeding the pigs at sunset, he took his fishing pole and went alongside the shore in Larubbar, a well known fishing spot in Ailuk Atoll for catching the famous jo [goatfish].
Interviewer So [the old man is] going to kadrejo [fish for the goatfish]?
HL: Yes, but in those days, they say it's not a good idea to be alone on an island, especially in Kabin. According to stories, [there are] two women . . . I'll explain more in detail [by continuing our story].
When [the sun] was about three to four fathoms [Note: This means the sun is about 18 - 24 feet above the horizon; usually in reference to the sunset], the old man dug three sand crab holes to catch sand crabs for bait then took them to the pounding area -- a place we called Nin Karuk - to pound them.
Later when the sun was about two fathoms [Note: 12 feet between the sun and water], he started luring in the goatfish using his bait. And while he was luring them in, he saw the shore was littered with goatfish. [As I mentioned before] in those days, in Ailuk Atoll, especially at Kabin, in the town of Larubbar, this particular location was a famous place for goatfish in those days. Because the fishing spot where he was fishing was very popular, he didn't have to go [into the water] too far.
Right after he baited his hook and threw it, the line was pulled right away. And so, he started counting [the fish he reeled in], one, two - and they were huge ones - three, four, and [he] caught the fifth one, before his hook got stuck in the corals. According to the myths or legends of this particular region of the island, you must not look back to shore if your fishing hook is stuck in the corals. You must put down your fishing pole, leave the area at once, and not look back. But maybe at that time, the old man probably forgot about the legend of this particular area. And so, when his fishing hook was caught in the corals, he looked back and saw two women standing there; they were reburo
[Note: This Marshallese word is not explained here, but rather later in the interview. It might be helpful for the reader to understand that reburo in this context translates to ‘a spirit/demon that has one body and two heads'.] These mysterious women were chanting these words "Ekkobkob, ekkobkob, ekkobkob kijjen Jaakunne."
[Note: The interviewee takes a moment to explain that the old man was also his traditional leader in those days.] When the old man looked back and saw the women, he panicked, quickly dropped his fishing pole, and took off running towards a house at Lim En, where he climbed up, covered up, and hid himself. While covering himself and hiding away, he heard the voice again, "Ekkobkob, ekkobkob, ekkobkob kijjen Jaakunne." He took another mat and [tried] to cover himself [better], so he wouldn't hear the voice. [But] he [still] heard the sound of the chanting coming closer to the house, so he took off and ran again.
The island south of the Kabin is Ene Jabrok – and the time [of day] was now closer to 6 pm, [just] before dark. The old man [ran towards the water] and swam southward, and before reaching the beach off of Ene Jabrok [another island to the south of Kabin], he heard the voice again, chanting the same chant he heard before, "Ekkobkob, ekkobkob, ekkobkob kijjen Jaakunne." **[See note below] He kept on swimming southward and before reaching the beach off of Ejlaad [another island further to the south], he heard yet again the voice chanting the same chant before "Ekkobkob, ekkobkob, ekkobkob kijjen Jaakunne."
He kept on swimming until he reached the island of Eneen Emmaan. An elderly couple - not too old but maybe in their late 60s or 70s - were on the island; [they] were warming themselves by a fire. Jaakunne had swum all the way to the island's shore where the two were -- by this time now, it was totally dark. And, the words he spoke to the elderly people were "Oh, save me because I am dying!" And so the old lady said to her husband "Ah, do you hear that voice coming from yonder?" The old man said "Let's listen again!" The voice came again "Oh, save me because I am dying!" The old man prepared a torch, went to the beach and found Jaakunne lying on the beach. He yelled back to the old woman to come see, because it was Jaakunne [and they both knew him]. They took him back to their house and asked him questions as to [how he came to be there]. "What happened?" they asked him.
He said he was being haunted by spirits/demons at Kabin, where he had been goat-fishing. [He explained] that when his fishing line was stuck, he looked back and saw the two women. [The reader should note that it is understood that after explaining his story, Jaakunne died. The interviewee adds that this particular story is from Kabin, which is at the far end of the town called Larubbar.]
Early in the morning on the following day, the canoes were coming from the north from Ailuk, where there had been a big meeting, which was held according to their customs. The old man went to the beach and called out to the people that they had found Jaakunne dead.
HL [continues]: Okay, that is the end of the story. Thank you for giving me this time to tell my story.
Interviewer Now when you said the two women were reburo, what did you mean by that?
HL: Oh, they were a one-body figure. These were spirits/demons according to the story told by the people of this island. These two women were like beasts. In those days, this story was real and was also told to me by my grandfather. The man in this story was a real person; he was one of the traditional leaders at that time at Kabin. It is known that in these places, there were stories of spiritual beings, and you know there are places in the Marshall Islands that are [known for their spirits/demons.
Interviewer And so this man, just because of what happened to him, he died?"
[Note: From this point on, the interviewee recaps what he said earlier in the story, starting from ** to remind the interviewer about what was said while wrapping up his story.]