The Lobster and the Flounder

Our last legend of the year comes from Kapingamarangi, which is the southernmost atoll in the Eastern Caroline Islands of Micronesia. The atoll consists of thirty-three flat islets forming a semicircle on an egg-shaped reef surrounding a central lagoon.

According to local legend, the present Polynesian population is descended from Ellice Islands castaways of some 600-700 years ago. Once settled, this population was extremely isolated, the only contacts being with castaways from the Gilbert Islands, the Mortlocks, the Marshall Islands, and Woleai.

The first European ship entered the lagoon and established direct contact with the islanders in 1877. Thereafter, ships from Rabaul visited the atoll periodically, trading Western goods for copra.

Enjoy this story from a very unique part of the world…

The Lobster and the Flounder

A lobster and a flounder lived in the same lagoon. At that time, the flounder was just a common-looking fish. One day the lobster said to the flounder, “Let’s play hide-and-seek. I know good places to hide in.”

“Very well,” said the flounder, “you hide. Call out when you are ready, and I’ll look for you.”

The lobster hid behind a rock and shouted, “Kamiro!” The flounder found him right away and laughed. “Why do you laugh?” asked the lobster.

“I’m laughing at you,” replied the flounder. “You hide yourself, but you forget that your long antennas are sticking out. I can see them easily.”

“So that’s why you’re laughing,” said the lobster. “Well, suppose you go and hide, now.”

The flounder swam away, and he played a trick on the lobster. He went to the middle of the lagoon, stirring up mud as he went. It clouded the water, so that the lobster couldn’t see what the flounder was doing. The flounder pretended to hide in the center of the lagoon, but he came back in a roundabout way to the place where the lobster was waiting. Then he called out softly, “Kamiro!”

The lobster had seen the flounder swim toward the center of the lagoon, so he went there. He hunted for him in the cloudy water. “I can’t found you!” he shouted. “Call out again.”

The Lobster and the Flounder (Kapingamarangi)

“The Lobster and the Flounder,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, Copyright 2018.

The flounder called, “Kamiro!” That time, the lobster listened, and he found where the sound came from. He went back to the old place, and there was the flounder laughing at him.

The lobster was angry. “I went where I thought you were,” he said. “Why did you fool me?”

“So that you wouldn’t find me,” said the flounder

“You don’t play fair!” cried the lobster angrily. Then he went to the flounder and trampled upon him until the poor fish was quite flat. “Now I’m leaving you!” he shouted. “And I won’t play that game again!”

“Come back here!” cried the flounder. “You’ve hurt me and changed me completely. Make me the same as I was before.

The lobster returned. “What are you yelling about?’ he asked.

“Why, you’ve spoiled my shape!” said the flounder. “Do you think you’re playing fair? I have to swim flat now with one eye to the ground, and the dirt gets in it. You’ll have to do something about it!”

“Very well,” said the lobster who was still angry.

He looked at the eyes of the flounder. He saw that one of them was now on the underside. “I’ll put it on top where it will be out of the mud,” he said.

And so he did. He dug it out and put it on the same side as the other eye. “I won’t give you back your shape,” he said. “I’ve made you flat, so that people will step on you.”

“Why, you wicked thing!” exclaimed the flounder. “You’ve made me flat. And now you’re leaving me that way, are you? Well, I’ll swim close to the bottom and stir up dirt, and people won’t see me. As for you ha, ha! You still have those long antennas. People will always see you and catch you!”

And so it has been ever since. The flounder is flat with both eyes on one side of his body. As for the lobster, he is easily seen and caught. No matter where he hides, his long antennas stick out and show his hiding place. 

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