Thursday’s Tale: How Pulap Acquired the Art of Navigation

Coconut trees, Yap, Micronesia 2005. Photo by Suzanne Monday. Today’s story comes from Micronesia, a series of islands in the western Pacific. We learn how a brave girl learned the art of navigation, an essential for the islanders, and taught it to her people.

The tale starts with a bird, a huge kulung, a golden plover that is a legaselep, a man-eating spirit. He goes from town to town, island to island, killing all the peope, until he tries to reach Pulap and can’t get there because Pälülop, a great sea god, has hidden the island from him. Pälülop tells his daughter to make some food for the legaselep, take the food to the end of the island, and give it to the bird when he arrives. Then, he allows to the bird to see the island.

When the legaselep comes to the island, he sees the food, but he also sees the girl. At first he says he will not be satisfied with the food, but she convinces him to try it, and since it’s magical, as he eats the food is replenished and he can have all he wants. “”I am very satisfied with this food and I thank you very much. But I will teach you something. I will teach you the art of navigation.” He started teaching the girl how to be a navigator.”

After the girl learns how to navigate, she asks the legaselep how she can see the islands and he tells her to climb a certain coconut tree, and as she climbs it it keeps growing taller, allowling her to see all the islands and the directions between them. The bird says that now that she knows all he can teach her, he must leave. The girl tells him to wait, that she will collect some food for him. She fills baskets and baskeds with food and hangs them on the bird, and the bird flies off. Unfortunately for him, but happily for all the people, the baskets are heavy and he tires before reaching his destination, falls into the water, and drowns.

“That is why the people of Pulap are the lords of navigation.”

She’s an amazing girl, isn’t she? I think she’s human, a daughter of the god like all the islanders. She’s daring enough to feed the man-eating bird, smart enough to understand the art of navigation, to read the wind and wave patterns. And then she’s clever enough to remove the threat to her people. Brave and intelligent, she’s a perfect heroine. And then she returns home and teaches navigation to her people, allowing them to be masters of the art, a necessity in an area with more water than land.

I read this in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan. According to the notes, it was collected by William A. Lessa and shared in More Tales from Ulithi Atoll, A Content Analysis, Folklore and Mythology Studies: 32.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

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