The Tale of Maukia Taranga and Urumangavaru


Once upon a time, in a place somewhere in the Pacific, there was a man named Maukia Taranga. He lived with his mother, only his mother. His father was eaten by the cannibal named Urumangavaru, which mean’s “Eight-growths-of-heads.”

Maukia Taranga was married to one of the most beautiful girls on the island. So, it happened that one day that the eight-headed cannibal Urumangavaru went into the village of Maukia Taranga and his wife, and he saw them. He decided to attack them one day. While he was still planning his attack on them, Maukia Taranga fell ill, and he died, and he left his wife and his mother behind.

When Urumangavaru the cannibal arrived at that village, Maukia Taranga was already dead. So the cannibal ate some of the villagers and chased the others off into the bush. And he decided to take Maukia Taranga’s wife for his own.

He lived, then, with Maukia Taranga’s wife and mother. Every time he went out to hunt for people, Maukia Taranga’s wife minded the house and baked some food for her new husband, the cannibal by the name of Urumangavaru. Every time Urumangavaru came back to his house, he would wash the blood off his hands and his mouth and his whole body as well, because he feared that otherwise his wife would be frightened of him and would run away. For a long time Urumangavaru lived together with Maukia Taranga’s wife.

But Maukia Taranga was not happy. Maukia Taranga had gone to another realm, the spiritual realm, and when he saw the cannibal with his wife, he was not very happy about that. So one night, while Urumangavaru was going out to hunt for people, Maukia Taranga came to Urumangavaru’s house and told his wife that if Urumangavaru should hunt someday for birds—because when Maukia Taranga was still alive, he and his wife always ate birds—if Urumangavaru should happen to see a white bird approaching, he should catch it and bring it back and give it to his wife as a pet. And after saying this, Maukia Taranga went away.

Urumangavaru went out each night to hunt for people. He come home by the beginning of each day. The morning after Maukia Taranga came to visit her, his wife told Urumangavaru to go hunt for birds, because she had a need for birds. Urumangavaru agreed. That same night, when it got dark, Urumangavaru took a net and went into the bush to hunt for birds. While he was hunting for birds, he saw one strange bird approaching him, and he caught it. So he decided not to kill it, because his wife had told him that if he caught a white bird, he must bring it home alive, so that she could keep it as her pet.

After catching the white bird, he decided to go back home. When he arrived, his wife was very happy to see that white bird. So he gave the bird to her, along with all the other birds, and he went out again to hunt for human beings.

In the morning when he came back home, he was very tired after a night of hunting. He asked his wife to and massage him, do kind things to him, while he slept. He asked his wife if she could search his head for lice, and she agreed. Urumangavaru went to sleep, and his wife searched his head for lice.

While Urumangavaru’s wife was searching his head for lice—well she…found that they were not real lice but worms, caterpillars, centipedes, and all sorts of filthy things. She was afraid, but she was also afraid of Urumangavaru, so she searched him for his lice, his caterpillars, worms, centipedes, some kinds of filthy reptiles too.

While she was searching for Urumangavaru’s so-called lice, her mother-in-law, Maukia Taranga’s mother, looked at the bird, and she found that the bird was very angry. It was shaking and looking directly at Urumangavaru and the couple. She asked her daughter-in-law to look at the bird. Maybe the bird needed something. But Urumangavaru told her that she should not worry, because it’s only a bird, it won’t do anything. So she continued looking for lice on the cannibal’s head.

As she kept looking for lice, her mother-in-law kept looking at the bird. She noticed that the bird was changing. She kept calling to her daughter-in-law to look at the bird, because maybe needed something. But Urumangavaru kept saying that it did not matter, because it was only a bird, and it could do no harm. But while Urumangavaru’s wife was still searching his head for lice, something happened.

At one moment, when Urumangavaru said once more that the bird would not do anything, the bird turned into a man. It took the form of a man, and it spoke. Maukia Taranga, when he was still living, had been a strong man, and now, when he turned into a man again after taking the form of a bird, he jumped on Urumangavaru, and the two fought. They pushed each other, and they wrestled, there in the house. While they were wrestling and pushing each other, Maukia Taranga told his wife to boil some water.

They were fighting. Maukia Taranga’s wife, who was taken for a wife by the cannibal Urumangavaru, boiled some water. The cannibal fought with an ax while Maukia Taranga fought with bare hands. They fought for a long time. Maukia Taranga wrested the ax from the cannibal’s arms. He chopped off one of the cannibal’s eight heads, and his wife immediately took the head and put it in the boiling water. As they fought, Maukia Taranga chopped off all Urumangavaru’s heads, until the cannibal fought with only one head. They fought for a long time. But at last Maukia Taranga chopped off the last of the cannibal’s head. And the cannibal fell down dead.

When he fell down, the ground shook as though a large tree had fallen to the ground. The earth shook, and people of the village, who had run off to hid in the bush, they the ground shake as the cannibal fell down dead.

Maukia Taranga’s wife was very happy to see her husband coming back to life. First he took the form of a bird to have access to her, and because he was so angry, so furious, at the cannibal, he turned into a human being, and attacked the cannibal.

Maukia Taranga lived together with his wife for many years. They lived together very happily. And people who had been chased into the bush by the cannibal came out of hiding. They appointed Maukia Taranga as their new chief. And Maukia Taranga and his wife lived happily thereafter.


(Told by Lazarus Keve Mapi. Originally told in English, the text has been slightly revised here by Joseph Grim Feinberg [Pu Parikitonga].)