MYTHS AND LEGENDS
NEI TEARIA OF BANABA
In the beginning all was Black Darkness: no man lived; and Heaven stuck to the face of the Earth. But in the darkness Heaven began to move and Earth began to move; they rubbed one upon the other as the two hands of a man are rubbed together. And from the rubbing came Tabakea, the First of All; he dwelt on Banaba, the Navel of the World. As Heaven and Earth continued to rub together the brothers of Tabakea were born: first after Tabakea was Auriaria and after him Taburimai, and after him Tabuariki, and after him Riki; then also was born the woman Tituabine, their sister.
And Tabakea begot children on his sister Tituabine. Their names were Korereke and Karabinobino; Nakaa; and the girl Tewenei. And all the children of Tituabine lived on the overside of Heaven as it lay on the face of the Earth, together with Tabakea and his brothers.
And as yet it was dark; the darkness was called by a name: it was Te Bongiro (the black night). The Navel of Te Bongiro was Banaba, but it was not alone in the darkness, for a multitude of lands lay about it to North, and West, and East. These had sprung up with Banaba, when no man was, from the gloom of Heaven and Earth; therefore they are altogether known to us under the single name of Te Bongiro. Yet each land had also its own name, and on each land was born an ancestor.
The land to north and east was Nangiro; and the ancestors who lived there were Baimatoa and the woman Teueroa.
The land to south and west was Roro; and the ancestors there were the woman Beia, with Matiriki, Matinaba and the girl Nangitano.
The land to the east was Abariringa; the ancestors there were Tabakea and Auriaria, Bakoa and Katetara.
And to westward lay many and great lands. There were Matairango and Tanabai, Bantongo and Waituru, Makaiao and Kabintongo, and Te Biken Onioniki. And on those islands were the ancestors Tetoroa and Nautonga, Nantakataka and Buatua, Nan Ruru, Rangaba and Buaba.
Also to the westward lay the land Nabanaba, where lived the ancestor Tauaba, with Taubareroa and Nakekea, Nei Ranikai, and Bannano, and Buariki.
All those lands to north, west and east sprang together with Banaba from the darkness; they were the first of all lands, and the ancestors who lived on them were the first of all ancestors. And Heaven lay on the face of Earth; and as yet there was no light. Banaba and all the lands of Te Bongiro were on the overside of Heaven; they were part of the rock of Heaven itself, for they sprang from Heaven's body; and the ancestors who lived there were called the Dwellers in Heaven.
And Auriaria, the first brother of Tabakea, walked through the darkness of Te Bongiro; he was Lord of all lands, a mighty giant. And he saw that Heaven stuck fast to the Earth, so he asked Tabakea what he might do to separate them. Then Tabakea gave him a staff, with which to pierce the hard rock of Heaven, so that he might make a door to enter beneath it: the name of the staff was Te Rakau. And Auriaria made a doorway through the rock of Heaven; he entered beneath, he pushed upon Heaven from the underside and raised it a great height from Earth. Then he called Korereke the Stingray to slide sideways between Heaven and Earth, so that the places where they stuck together might be separated, and he told Riki the Eel to heave the skies yet higher on his snout.
So Heaven moved on high, and the lands of Te Bongiro, which had stood upon it, broke from its body and fell into the sea below. And as yet it was dark under Heaven and over Earth.
Then again Tabakea begot children, for he lay with Nei Unikai, the Thresher Shark, and with his sister Tituabine, and his children were Auriaria, Taburimai, Tabuariki, Nawai and Aorao, with a multitude of others. But his youngest son was no woman's child; he was conceived in a swelling on Tabake's forehead; his name was Nareau.
Tabakea stayed on Banaba with the children he had begotten; but his son Nareau went to the island of Beru, where he begot a daughter, whose name was Angini Maeao (Wind of the West).
And Auriaria, the brother of Tabakea, went south over the sea, for it was his work to make ready the lands of the South. As he walked on the southern waters, behold, this foot struck a rock, and there he stayed, for it was the chosen place.
He raised in that place a great and mountainous island, and he called it Tamoa te Ingoa (Samoa the Namesake), because it was named in memory of one of the clan places on the eastern shore of Banaba.
When that was done he took a shellfish called Katati (Razor Clam) and plucked its body from the shell and flung it to the East. Behold, it stayed in the eastern sky and was the Sun! Then he took a Nimatanin (mollusc: Nerita plicata) and threw it to the west. Behold, it became the Moon! After that it was light under Heaven and over Earth. And he planted his staff Te Rakau on Samoa: it became The Tree of Samoa.
So the Tree stood for a long time, throwing out a number of great branches. But one day Auriaria came and began to cut off its branches one by one. He whittled down the cut branches and threw them over the sea. The first branch peopled Nonouti; the second Nikunau; the third Abemama; the fourth Tabiteuea; and the fifth branch he threw away before he had whittled it down; it fell into the sea and, breaking into pieces, it peopled all the eight islands. And the branch at the Tree's Summit peopled the land of Beberiki, which is now called Butaritari.
Then only the trunk and roots were left. The trunk lay slanting over the sea to the North and West, towards Te Bongiro; it peopled the line of islands that stretches to the westward of Banaba, and the tip of the trunk lay by Tabeuna and Bu-Kiroro.
The roots followed the trunk; they floated north from Samoa and stayed at the island of Tarawa. All useful things were hidden in the roots, and men and things grew from them. The Tree of Tarawa grew a stem and a new Tree grew on Tarawa: a Tree that had no branches until it reached Heaven. And the Tree of Tarawa was our ancestor, for its summit bore a child to Ngaina Buaka (Stormy Dawn), and Obaia was the name of the child. So he lived on the Tree, and he had wings like a bird.
One day Taukarawa, who lived in Heaven, broke the Tree of Tarawa, and Obaia flew away. He flew to the land of Onouna in the West, and there he married the girl Nei Anti, who bore him two daughters - Nei Kirirere and Nei Kirimoi. After a long time he desired to return to Tarawa, so he took his younger daughter on his back and flew eastward with her; but when he came to Tarawa, the wind beat him back. So he returned to Onouna to fetch a clam shell as a weight for his head and shoulders; but again the wind beat him back to sea; and he turned southward to Tabiteuea, where he landed, and he put his daughter Kirimoi on Tabiteuea.
There came a day of public gathering on the island, and that night Nei Kirimoi lay with all the men in the maneaba. Behold, she was great with child and bore a son, who was called Kourabi and became a great chief on Tabiteuea.
When Auriaria had cut off all the branches of the Samoan Tree he left that place and went northward to the island of Beru. At the northern end of the island lived Nareau's child, the girl Nei Angini Maeao. He lay with her and had two children: the first-born was called Te Antimaomata (the spirit-man), the second Na Boborau (the voyager). Then he said to his wife, Nei Angini Maeao: "Let us go to Banaba, my home". They got a canoe and called it Taberani Kaini Butini Beru (The Summit of the Tree, the Swift One of Beru): and they all set sail for Banaba.
And when they arrived at Banaba, Auriaria's son Te Antimaomata had many children named Te Bun Anti (The Breed of Spirits), some of whom had mastery over the rain and others over the sunshine. And they were always quarrelling among themselves; and so it came about that the seasons of drought and the seasons of rain on Banaba were from the beginning uncertain - and so it is to the present day. And from the Breed of Spirits sprang the Breed of Men and the Breed of Birds who live in the Kanawa tree (Cordia subcordata); and the descendants of these are the families who sit in the maneaba under the rafter called Aurakeia.
Note: This is the most important, and probably the oldest Banaban or Gilbertese Oral Tradition in existence today, mainly because it seems to date from a time before the Melanesian settlers had got their god Nareau established as the creator of the Universe.
In this tradition it is Tabakea who is 'the First of All', not Nareau the Wise, and Auriaria who organised the separation of Heaven and Earth, created the Sun and Moon, raised Samoa and peopled the Gilberts.
In addition we are given the best account of the lands around Banaba and their creators, which were known as Te Bongiro, or Te Bongiroro, with Banaba itself the Navel of the Universe.