The Rat and the Squid

Because ICAS is currently doing a project in Tuvalu, I thought it would be appropriate to share a legend from the tiny atoll. I hope you enjoy this tale about land and sea animals not getting along so well.

The Rat and the Squid

Once there was a man whose name was Manumanu, and he built a fine big canoe. When it was finished he asked the frigate bird, “Will you come on a journey with me?”

The frigate bird said, “I will come. And so will all the bird.”

“And what will you do if my canoe sinks?” asked Manumanu

And all the birds replied, “We will fly.”

Then he turned to all the land creatures and said to the crab, “Crab, will you common this journey with me?”

“I will come,” said the crab. “And all the other creatures will come too.”

“And what will you do if my canoe sinks?” asked Manumanu. Most of the creatures replied that they would crawl along the bottom of the ocean, but the rat had a different answer.

“I will swim,” the rat said.

“Very well. Let us go now,” said Manumanu. They all embarked in the canoe and set sail. After a time the canoe sank, and the birds of the air flew away. The creatures of the land crawled away along the bottom of the ocean. But the rat swam. He swam on and on until he could hardly swim any more. When a squid came close to him, he jumped on its head. This frightened the squid and he was about to shake the rat off, but the rat begged the squid to carry him to a place where his grandfather and grandmother would be waiting. 

The rat by this time was very hungry, so he ate hair off the squid’s head.

“What are you doing rat?” said the squid.

“Oh, nothing,” said the rat. “Swim on a little further. I can see the shore and we are nearly there.”

So the squid swam on and when they were quite near land the rat jumped ashore and said, “Goodbye squid, now you may go back to the sea.” When the squid had gone a little way, the rat called out, “Hey squid! Feel your head. It is bald!”


“The Rat and the Squid,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017

The squid felt his head and found that there was no hair, so he was very angry and swam back quickly to punish the rat. By this time the rat had run away inland, so the squid went back to the sea and waited. He watched each day for the rat to return.

By and by the rat came down to the shore again, and looking about for food he went into a crab hole. The squid thrust one of his tentacles into the hole to catch him, but the rat was too quick for him, and turned and bit off the tentacle. The squid put out another tentacle and this time it went right into the rat’s ear and killed him.

And because of the trick that the rat played on the squid long ago, the squid taught his children and grandchildren to chase all rats. That is why the people in many places use a bait that is shaped like a rat when they want to catch squids. It is made from the backs of two brown cowrie shells bored and tied together with sinnet, with a small shell for the head and a wooden tail.

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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