How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam

Our next legend comes from the Solomon Islands. Although the story is a bit on the macabre side, it is a very unique tale from one of the most mysterious island nation in the world. The legend was found in the book, Tales from the South Seas.

How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam

The Masi were a tribe of people noted for their foolishness and ignorance. One day six Masi men who lived by the seashore found some bait used for catching porpoises, so they said to one another, “Come, let us launch our large canoe and see if we can catch a porpoise.” So they launched their canoe and took their places in it and began to paddle, saying to one another, “Paddle, swiftly, paddle swiftly.”

Then the first one who had taken his place in the canoe happened to look down into the water beneath him, and there he saw a sunbeam. “Friends,” said he, “down there is a mother-of-pearl crescent shaped ornament which we can get for ourselves. Don’t paddle hard.”

They all sat very still, and looking down into the water they saw the sunbeam. “Yes, yes, a mother-of-pearl ornament which we can certainly get,” they said.

Then the leader said to the rest, “I will dive down and bring it up to you.” So he jumped over, and the others all kept their paddles stiff so as to steady the canoe, but the leader could not reach the bottom where the sunbeam was. So the second man said, “Well, keep your paddles stiff, and I’ll try what I can do. Surely I can reach it.” But he could not, nor could any of them, though they all tried in turn.

So they said to one another, “Come along, comrades, let us paddle back to the shore.” Back they went and searched for stones with a hole through them, and tough creepers to tie to them. Then each taking a stone, they once more embarked in their canoe. They paddled out again to the deep water and there they saw the sunbeam, just the same as before. “There it is, comrades,” cried the leader, “steady the canoe, and I’ll go down.”

When the canoe was steady they tied a large stone to his foot while he said to them, “You wait about here a long time, for I shan’t come quickly to the surface again. No doubt I shall have some trouble with that bit of mother-of-pearl.” They let him down over the side, and down he went, deeper and deeper, but he never came up again.

They waited about, watching the bubbles, floating up to the surface in the spot where he dived, and said to one another, “He is sure to get it.”

After a time the second one said, “Well, he is such a long time I will dive down too and give him a hand.” So he too tied a stone to his foot and was let down over the side, while the others said, “The two of them are sure to get it.”

But when he, too, did not return, they all went down one after the and only the bubbles marked the place where the Masi had tried to dive for the Sunbeam.

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“How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

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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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