Our next legend comes from the Chuuk State (also known as Truk) of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The many islands within this huge atoll are crowned with natural beauty. The outer barrier reef is punctuated with idyllic sand spits dotted with coconut palms. Chuuk is the most populous state of the FSM with about 50,000 inhabitants. With its shallow, beautiful lagoon, it is a major shipwreck site from WWII, and is one of the world’s best shipwreck diving destination.
This legend is taken from the book Legends of Micronesia. It is story that is comparable to the “Tortoise and Hare,” but in the style of the Pacific Islands. Enjoy!
The Crab and the Needlefish
One day the needlefish saw a tiny sand crab crawling along the beach. The needlefish made fun of the crab. “How slow and clumsy you are!” he said. “Watch me. See how fast I move through the water.” He swam and dived and turned about with great speed.
The little crab watched the needlefish for a while, and then he said, “You’re fast, needlefish, and I’m very slow, that’s true. But just the same, I feel sure that I can beat you, if we have a race along the shore.”
“Foolish talk!” cried the needlefish. “How could you beat me in a race? I go like lightning, and you crawl so slowly.”
The little crab said, “Let’s have a race tomorrow morning. We’ll start here, beside this rock. I’ll race you to the big maras tree that stands at the edge of the water, far down on the beach. You can swim in the water, and I’ll crawl along on land.”
The needlefish laughed and laughed, but he agreed to race with the little crab. “You’re so tiny,” he said. “How shall I know where you are?” The needlefish swam away, still laughing.
Now the sand crab was small, but he was clever. He crawled along the beach all night long, telling his crab friends about the race. “The needlefish boasts too much. I want to teach him a lesson,” he said. He asked his friends to sit at different places near the water. They would be a few yards apart from each other, all the way between the rock and the maras tree. “Tomorrow the needlefish will call me,” he said, “to find out where I am. Each time he calls, one of you must answer for me. The needlefish will think that it is I who am ahead of him all the way.” The crab’s friends thought it was a wonderful idea. They agreed to do what he asked.
“The Crab and the Needlefish,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.
Next morning, the little crab and the needlefish met at the rock and began the race. The needlefish swam like lightning, but the little sand crab sat still. “It’s my turn to laugh,” he said, and so he laughed.
Before long the needlefish called out from the water, “Crab, crab, where are you?”
On the shore, a small voice answered. “Here I am, just ahead of you!”
The needlefish was so surprised that he nearly jumped out of the water. He swam faster than ever. After a while, he called out again, “Crab, crab, where are you?”
Again a crab voice replied, “Here I am, just ahead of you!”
That time, the needlefish nearly broke himself in two, trying to swim still faster in the water. He kept on calling out, “Crab, crab, where are you?” And always there was a little voice saying, “Here I am, just ahead of you!”
The needlefish was nearly out of his mind with anger. He raced so fast that the water whirled around him. When he reached the maras tree, there sat a little crab with a shell on his back. He was not at all tired.
“Well, needlefish, are you here at last?” said the crab.
The needlefish nearly burst with anger. He sprang out of the water with such force that his long needle stuck in the maras tree. There he hung for a long time. At last, he got the needle out again and dropped back into the water.
He swam away, feeling foolish. He tried to forget about the race, but he couldn’t, for some of the bitter juice of the maras tree was in his mouth. It stayed there, to teach him not to boast too much.
Ever since that day, the flesh of the needlefish has had a bitter taste.