Lizard and Crocodile

Have you ever wondered how crocodiles and dolphins came to be? Well in Papua New Guinea there’s a legend that will tell us, as well as it will tell us how the two became enemies. The legend can be found in the book, The Turtle and the Island.

Enjoy…

Lizard and Crocodile

Long ago along the great Sepik River Oxy, the lizard-man, lived at the mouth of the river. He was lonely, and so he made friends with Sombi, the long-nosed dolphin-man. They lived together in a house Oxy had built and spent their days happily. Sombi would go fishing in the river while Oxy hunted inland; they had plenty of food, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Then, one day, the two friends heard that a contest was to be held to choose the most handsome young man in the district. The winner would marry a beautiful young woman who belonged to the Bird-of-Paradise tribe. Both Oxy and Sombi wanted to enter the contest, but Oxy laughed and laughed at the long-nosed Sombi. “You would never win the contest!” he told him. “No one with such a long nose as yours would be chosen as the most handsome young man in the district!”

Sombi was hurt by his friend’s words and felt sad. However, he did not protest and agreed that Oxy should be the only one to enter the contest. But still those cruel words lay in his mind.

The day before the contest, Oxy asked Sombi to help him to decorate his body. “What shall we use?” Oxy asked. “We have no feathers, no paint, no oil to make my skin glisten and gleam.”

“We can use shells from the sea,” Sombi said. “I will gather lots of shells and stick them all over your body, and then you will look very handsome indeed.”

“A good idea!” Oxy agreed.

Sombi went down to the place where the river met the sea, and gathered a basketful of shells. But instead of choosing the most beautifully shaped and colored shells, he picked up the plainest and dullest he could find; for now his hurt and sadness had turned to bitterness and anger, and he was determined to pay back Oxy for his cruel words. Using a paste made from the thick black mud of the river bank, Sombi stuck those shells all over Oxy’s body.

Lizard and Crocodile (Papua New Guinea)

“Lizard and Crocodile,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2019.

“You look magnificent!” Sombi declared. As there was no pool of clear water anywhere near where Oxy might have seen his own reflection, the lizard-man did not realize that Sombi was deceiving him. For, in truth, he looked hideous, covered all over with knobby, misshapen shells in dull colors of brown and grey and muddy-green.

Straight away Oxy journeyed to the village of the Bird-of-Paradise tribe, and the next day he took his place among the other young men assembled for the contest. But the villagers were angry when they saw him; they thought he had come to mock them by making himself look as ugly as possible. “Go away!” they yelled, and threw sticks and stones at him, chasing him into the bush.

Oxy fled home, and when he got there, he attacked Sombi. “How dare you deceive me!” he cried. “You made me ugly instead of handsome! You- you long nosed one! You are no longer my friend!”

They fought long and hard, those two friend who had now become enemies; it was not long before Sombi felt his strength ebbing, and so he ran away to the sea, where he swam out across the water and turned into a dolphin. And forever that day he lived in the sea.

Then Oxy tried to remove the shells from his body, but he found they were stuck so fast to his skin that it was impossible to do so. So he hid himself in the muddy shallows of the Sepik River, for he was ashamed of his ugliness. And there he stayed forever and ever. He had turned into a crocodile, and to this day all crocodiles tend to hide whenever they see a man, or a group of people; and if people come to near, the crocodile will attack them.

Moreover, crocodiles and dolphins have remained enemies ever since that time, and stay out of each other’s way.

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