By Yamin Kogoya
Once upon a time, there was a village called Nivareth with land so fertile, those who placed their hands in the soil and wished for fruits and vegetables would find an abundance of them growing. Mountains surrounded the charming village, and when it rained, rubies fell from the sky. Small creeks running down from the hills were filled with nuggets of gold. Colourful and exotic animals roamed the village along with the people.
All kinds of people from faraway lands ventured to this village to enrich themselves with its beauty and fruitfulness. One such group of people who dwelled here was the Wagiyo people from Chigoveth. The Wagiyo people possessed dark magic, which stirred great awe and fascination amongst the natives of the village.
The native people of Nivareth were known as ‘Inaworak’, meaning ‘custodians of the land’ in the local tongue.
In the great village of Nivareth lived a woman by the name of Etirenia. Etirenia married her husband Olarered Gornick when she was only fourteen. They had been married for twenty years but Etirenia had been unable to give her husband a child. Olarered blamed Etirenia and her barren womb, and revealed his anger and frustration through physical abuse and violence most nights.
Olarered was a drunk who was rarely home. He went wherever he wished, without his wife’s permission or knowledge. Most of his days were spent drinking brewed alcohol with his friends.
Etirenia was a strong and brave women who persevered despite all that she had endured. Her happiness came from her garden, where she tended to tropical fruits and vegetables that grew abundantly in Nivareth’s rich and fertile soil.
Each and every morning, Etirenia would arise bright and early to venture to the local village markets to sell her bountiful produce.
One afternoon, while Etirenia was selling her harvest at the market, Jerendabard Kounias from the Wagiyo people stopped by her stall to buy some of her green vegetables.
Etirenia was too ashamed to look people in the eye because of the dark bruises and swelling of her face from her husband’s nightly abuse. But Jerendabard had noticed the marks on her face as she was counting the coins he had handed to her.
“What happened to your face?” he asked Etirenia.
She did not respond, and stared at her feet to hide her shame.
When Jerendabard went home, he could not sleep that night for what he had seen haunted him. And so he resolved to visit Etirenia’s stall each and every day to speak with her and find out what had happened.
But Etirenia stayed away from the village markets for a few days. She was afraid of Jerendabard and his questions. Jerendabard kept up his ritual of visiting the markets, but each day Etirenia’s stall was empty, and she did not show.
Jerendabard was now deeply worried about Etirenia. Even though the Wagiyo people and the Inaworak people did not have a good relationship with one another, he felt deeply saddened by this woman’s plight.
After five days of visiting the markets, Jerendabard finally spotted Etirenia at her stall. He quickly approached her with a warm smile, and asked where she had been. With a soft voice, she replied, “I have been in my garden.” Jerendabard told her that he had been coming to the markets each day, hoping to see her again.
“I was worried about you,” he said. Etirenia was surprised by the warmth in his words and did not know how to respond. Her husband never seemed to care about her welfare the way that this Wagiyo man did.
To break the silence, Jerendabard offered to buy more of her green vegetables. As he was handing her the coins, he spoke once more, ”I noticed the bruises on your face. What happened to you?” Etirenia once again became very nervous and shy. She slowly lifted her face, looking him in the eyes for the first time. The purple and blue bruising swelled from her left eye, across her cheek, and down to her mouth.
“I will not leave until you tell me what happened,” Jerendabard remarked, soft but stern.
“My husband beats me,” Etirenia quivered, returning her gaze to her feet. The swell of building tears burned against the fresh cuts on her face.
“You can come to my house and tell me more if you are afraid to talk here,” he replied. Etirenia nodded silently, but she was still very afraid.
The next day, Jerendabard took Etirenia to his house after she had finished selling all her produce at the market. When they arrived, the Kounias family were expecting her. They shared a meal with her, and treated her with all of the kindness that she deserved. They asked Etirenia to share the story of her life, and how she came to have such ugly marks upon her beautiful face.
Etirenia still felt afraid, but she decided to share her story with the kind family, who were horrified and saddened to hear of her poor treatment and tragedy. They asked her to stay with them for a few days, but Etirenia declined. She knew her husband would become even more enraged and abusive if she was not home each night to cook his dinners.
Before she left, Etirenia asked if she could stow some of her market earnings at their house. The Kounias family said that she certainly could, but they wanted to know why this was necessary. Etirenia explained that she had nowhere safe to hide her money, and her husband would steal it to buy more alcohol.
Jerendabard could not let Etirenia leave, knowing the life that was waiting for her back home. Since he could not offer her safety, he instead offered her knowledge.
“I want to help you find out why you cannot have children,” he told her.
Etirenia became overwhelmed with emotion. Giving her husband a child would make him so happy that he would surely stop his ill treatment of her.
She smiled to herself the whole way home. She had not felt this pure happiness since the day she was married.
When she arrived home, her husband was sitting under a tree out the front of their house. He was drunk and reeked of alcohol. Etirenia embraced her husband and said to him, “oh Olarered, why must you do this every night. Come inside and I will cook something special for you.” Olarered was too drunk to notice the change in his wife’s demeanour. He did not beat her this night.
Etirenia arose bright and early, completing her morning ritual of tending to her garden, harvesting the ripe fruit and vegetables, and heading to the market. On her way home, she made a detour to stop by the Kounias family home to stow away her earnings.
This went on for a few weeks before her husband noticed. One morning, Olarered came home from a night of drinking with his friends. This time, however, he did not drink as much as usual since he wanted to be aware of what his wife was up to.
When he came home, he hid behind a tree and waited for his wife to wake. When she did, he followed her to the garden and to the market, making sure to stay out of sight. He watched and waited patiently, but did not see anything unusual happen at the market.
Once the market was closing for the day, and just as he was beginning to question himself, he noticed that Etirenia was not heading in the direction of their home. He followed her from a distance, and observed her anxiously looking around to make sure she was not being followed.
As Etirenia approached the unfamiliar house, Olarered saw a Wagiyo man emerge from the home to greet his wife. After a short exchange, Olarered saw his wife hand something to the man. A young girl ran around the side of the house to greet Etirenia.
“Daddy, daddy! Etirenia is here!” the young girl said, delighted. Etirenia seemed very happy to see the child, handing her a ripe piece of fruit from her basket.
Etirenia said her goodbyes and began her journey home, with her husband following closely behind.
“Ha!” Olarered thought to himself. “Now I know exactly what you’re up to, my dear wife, and why you have been so happy lately.”
Olarered decided to not confront his wife yet. Over the next few weeks, he would follow her to and from the market.
As Jerendabard and Etirenia’s relationship developed, the Kounias family sought a solution for Etirenia’s childless woes. Jerendabard took her to see a local shaman of the Wagiyo people, whom Jerendabard knew well.
After months of seeing his wife being happy with another man, especially a Wagiyo man, Olarered felt his anger growing. He felt betrayed by his wife. He kept up his drinking habit, but did not beat his wife as regularly, for he felt too sad for himself.
Olarered needed to escape his situation. He decided to hike to the mountains to be by himself. He ventured up the mountain with a clear mind, uninhibited by alcohol. He walked deep into the forest to hunt and to reflect on Etirenia’s strange behaviour. He grew exhausted from the hunting and introspection, and soon fell asleep for the night in a small cave lit by a campfire that he had made.
A vision came to Olarered that night. A giant tree covered the entire village of Nivareth. As he stood in front of the great tree, a thunderous noise enveloped him. Amidst the noise, he felt a gentle whisper of warm breath on his ears that said, “Olarered… you must look over there.” But the thunderous boom of the noise caused Olarered to fall to the ground, unconscious.
When he came to, he felt another whisper cross his ears, “Olarered… you must get up. You must look.” As he opened his eyes, he saw a colourful butterfly with fluttering wings. It fluttered closer to him, urging him to obey its command. “Olarered… you must look over there now.”
Olarered felt encouraged to comply, filled with new strength and sight in this bizarre new dimension he found himself in. As he looked over to the great tree, it transformed into an ancient door, adorned with intricate jewels, made of such purity and perfection.
The voice, now clearer to him than just a whisper, said, “Olarered, look beyond the door and tell me what you see.”
Olarered looked on in bewilderment as the ancient door opened, revealing the brightest, most pure light he had ever seen. He shielded his eyes, and when he looked once more, he saw a paradise. Sparkling rivers of sapphire rolled over lush hills of green. Olarered felt the warmth of the sun embrace him – the dirt on his hands and face washed away in the sun’s rays, and his body, fatigued from years of alcohol abuse now felt strong and alive. As he looked upon the picturesque landscape, he did not see any people inhabiting this perfect world.
“I cannot see anyone there. Where are all the people?” He questioned.
The voice boomed loudly, “Olarered, look beyond the hills and the rivers. Now tell me, what do you see?”
As he searched the landscape, a woman emerged from a garden of exotic flowers. She was holding her child close to her breast. She was surrounded by all kinds of creatures, who seemed to be walking beside her, escorting her to the ancient door.
As the beautiful woman neared Olarered, he finally realised: it was his wife. The excitement overcame him as he tried to run through the doors to be with her.
And then he awoke from his vision.
Olarered rushed home as fast as his feet would carry him, to tell his wife about his perfect vision. When he arrived home, his wife had just returned from tending to her garden. Olarered wanted to immediately tell his wife of his vision, but once he saw the dark bruises on her beautiful face, he became too ashamed to speak. In this moment, he finally had clarity of how badly he had treated the woman that he loved.
Etirenia noticed a change in her husband. She asked, “are you all right, dear?”
Olarered assured her that he was better than ever before. “Can we talk tonight?” he asked his wife.
Etirenia nodded – of course she could not say no to her husband. But she truly did notice a change in his demeanour. His words felt warm and genuine; he did not smell of alcohol and seemed to have a clear mind. But at the back of her mind, she remembered the mistreatment she had endured for many years by his hand.
Etirenia showered and headed to the market, dismissing this morning’s conversation and instead thinking about how well things were going with the shaman.
In the afternoon, she visited Jerendabard as usual to hand in her money. On the way to his house, a feeling of nervousness washed over her as she remembered the talk with her husband that would be happening tonight. Jerendabard noticed a slight change in Etirenia. She seemed anxious about something.
“My husband wishes to speak with me tonight, but I cannot fathom why,” she told him.
“I’m sure everything will be fine,” he offered. “But if not, you can always find safety with my family,” Jerendabard said with endearment.
Etirenia arrived home to find her husband sitting at the kitchen table. He seemed to be alert, and she could not smell any alcohol whatsoever. She cooked them a delicious meal which they shared together, exchanging niceties about their day. This was something that the two of them had not done together for more than ten years of marriage.
Olarered was preparing himself to share his vision with his wife when she suddenly spoke.
“I need to tell you what has been happening with me,” Etirenia said.
And so she shared her story about the kindness of the Kounias family and her visits to the shaman.
Olarered listened attentively, and could not believe his ears when his wife talked about the shaman and her hope of one day bearing a child. His vision flooded back to him, and he once again felt the love and warmth of the sun on his skin as he saw his wife holding their child in the land of paradise.
Olarered shared his excitement with his wife, and for the first time in a very long time, they laughed and cried together with their newfound hope and happiness.
The next day, Olarered offered to tend to the market stall while Etirenia visited Jerendabard.
Etirenia shared the excitement of last night’s revelations with Jerendabard and his family, who were beyond happy to hear the good news and invited Olarered to their house for the evening.
During a hearty meal, Olarered and Etirenia told the Kounias family that they wanted to use the savings from the market to pay the shaman for his services, whatever the cost. They were willing to sacrifice anything to complete their family.
And so the next day, Jerendabard took Etirenia and her husband to see the shaman. Olarered asked the shaman why his wife could not provide him with a child. The shaman responded, “Olarered, the issue is not with your wife. Her womb is as fertile as the lands of Nivareth. The problem lies with you. You have poisoned your body with alcohol.”
Olarered wept when he heard the shaman’s words. All this time, he had been punishing his wife when the fault was his own.
The shaman brewed an herbal concoction to remedy Olarered’s condition. When he sipped the drink, it felt like the warmth of the sun from the paradise land beyond the ancient door in his vision. His body felt strong as years of alcoholism were washed away.
Etirenia asked the shaman, “What about me? What do I need to do?” But the shaman told her that she need not do anything, for the guardian of Nivareth was pleased with Etirenia’s pure heart.
“As a reward, you will be blessed with a healthy baby who will grow to be a great hunter and warrior of the village, bringing hope to all people of Nivareth,” the shaman said. The Kounias family invited Etirenia and her husband to their home for a celebration.
After nine months, the baby was born. He was precisely what Olarered had seen in his vision in the forest that fateful night. Their child grew strong, just as the shaman foresaw. He became a great warrior who led the village because of his strength of mind and body, and kindness and purity of heart. He restored order based on justice and compassion. He outlawed all toxic foods and drinks. He united the Wagiyo and Inaworak people of Nivareth to live in peace and harmony. The Boy’s name was NAGAWAN.
Let us dedicate this short story to all Mama-Mama Papua in the land of Papua