The Bat Women of Koitabu

Here is the next legend in our series that comes to us from Papua New Guinea (PNG). It was taken from the book, Turtle and the Island. The story is about how the women of a village became infuriated with their husbands who had been greedy. The women then turned themselves into bats to teach the men a lesson that they would never forget.

I hope you enjoy this story on how the bat came to be in PNG…

The Bat Women of Koitabu

In the old days, the men of the tribal group of Koitabu were great hunters, and the women worked hard in the gardens. In the afternoons, when they returned from hunting and gardening, these people would make feasts, and in the evenings they would sit by the fire, chewing betel-nut, talking and telling stories. They were happy until a time came when the men of the tribe stopped bringing home meat. They had become lazy and greedy; they hunted only enough meat for themselves, and ate it as soon as they caught it.

The women, as usual, went on bringing their bags of produce from the gardens. They were puzzled and disappointed when the men returned empty-handed from the bush each day. The hunters no longer brought back meat and told the women they had not been able to catch anything. So the women and children ate only the vegetables and fruit from the gardens in the evening, and they grew thin and felt hungry. But the men were as strong and looked as well-nourished as ever.

Among the hunters was one young tribesman, Gaigo, who was newly married to a woman called Au. Gaigo loved Au, and he was worried to see her growing thin. When the hunters devoured their meat in the bush, he would hide a morsel in his hair and take it home to Au. He told her she must keep this a secret between them.

One day, the women had become suspicious of their husbands. “I do not think the men are telling the truth when they say they cannot find any meat, the chief’s wife declared. “Why should we toil in the gardens and bring home our food for such lazy, greedy men to share?” Then Au spoke up, “My husband is a good man; he brings me home pieces of meat. It is true that the men still find meat in the bush. They hunt only enough for themselves, and eat it before they come home.”

The other women muttered angrily when they heard this. “Why should we be cheated this way?”

“We will not go to the gardens today,” the chief’s wife said. “Instead, we will go into the bush and look for black feathers. We must all bring back as many feathers as we can find.” So the women did this.

That day, both the men and women returned home empty handed. The men complained bitterly when they saw there were no vegetables or fruit for them to eat. “You lazy women!” scolded the chief. “What have you been doing all day?”

The next day the women went to the banana garden, where the chief’s wife shoed them how to sew together all the black feathers they had collected. When they had finished doing this, each woman tied the sewn feathers to her arms. Then the chief’s wife stepped forward and said, “Tireless women of Koitabu! Our selfish husbands have deceived us for too long! Let us live our own lives, and leave them at home. Let the men look after our children in future! Come with me- we will go into the forest and find our men and bid them goodbye, and then we will fly away forever.”

There was a loud noise as all the women save one flapped their black wings, and then they took to the air in a huge flock. Only Au did not join the others; she stayed behind, faithful to the young husband who had proved his love for her.

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“The Bat Women of Koitabu,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017

The bat-women flew over the tree tops and found the men feasting on wild pigs. The women circled above them, and their husbands looked up fearfully. They were amazed when they recognized the strange creatures above them as their wives. “You! You have deceived us all these days!” the women cried. “We are leaving you forever. Go back to the village. The children are waiting for you!”

As they spoke, the women flitted from branch to branch of a tall tree. “In future you will never see us during the day, but you may see us after sunset when we fly about in the cool darkness.” These were the last words the women spoke to their husbands; rustling their black wings, they flew off and spread to different hiding places.

The men ran back to their homes and cried pitifully, mourning as though someone has died. And there they found Au, the only wife left in the village who was telling the children how their mothers had turned themselves into bats and flown away.

Ever since that time, bats have lived in dark, secret places. They come out when darkness falls- but you will never see them flying about during the day.

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About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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