Trobriand Myths and Tales

Dokinikani: Cannibal Tales of the Wild Western Pacific

By Father Bernard Baldwin



By Linus Silipolakapulapola Digm'Rina
            Father Barnard Baldwin has returned to the Boyowa [Bweyowa] people something I much envy. I wish I was doing the gifting. As he correctly deciphered, Bweyowa people enjoy, are excited by, and learn immensely from the morals of tales and legends, kukwanebu. The lessons remain with them throughout their lifetime; it can be likened to present classroom/Sunday school lessons, TV shows and drama.
            Laughs emanating from an evening fireplace amidst a chilly bwalimila or, a serene yavata breeze or, a gathering under a house or community hall (kubudoga), were common sights. Passersby effortlessly get attracted to such kinds of gathering and dare join in. Depending on the competency of the performer it can be vulgar, offensive, naughty, boorish, and yet sad, exciting and inspiring.
            There few story tellers and/or song performers like the late Sebwagau, whose renown had crossed many local oceans in Massim, both as a gifted singer famed for his wide repertoire or, in Bweyowa parlance, simwa khalu bwayawa, and a performer of many a kukwanebu. Baldwin is right in that Bweyowa people and children in particular empathically love kukwanebu. It could be about the wickedness of Dokhonikani, yoyowa and bwagau (witchcraft & sorcery), kheuna (snakes), tokwai and doli (wood sprites), and dakuna (animated rocks) -- the anti-thesis of Bweyowa morality and social etiquette.
Alternately it could be on the generosity and wisdom of tokwai, flora (borogu, kwebila, sulumweya, etc.) and fauna (madolu, tomadawa, kwau, miritabu, muluveka/buribwari, gegira, sakhau, khabwaku, khelavasiya, etc.) The entire Bweyowa cosmos is collapsed and encapsulated into a tangible world where both the social and the physical environment become a reality, intertwined as one. Plants, animals and human beings could communicate intelligibly, emotionally and speak a single language meaningfully – a shared culture.
            This was the Bweyowa cosmological view perhaps until more influential waves of migration leaped off their crafts onto the Bweyowa beaches. Most notably were capitalist traders (Auerbachs, Brudos, Hancocks, Butlers, Lamily’s to name a few), Christians (Wesleyan Methodists/Uniteds, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, a variety of Christian Revival sects), and of late, the onset of globalization juggernaut.
            Themes of kukwanebu vary, and originality of lyrics is, as a rule forever subject to the mercy and competency of the performer. Baldwin came to realize and polemically used it to have a swipe at Malinowski and anthropology generally. He, too, as part of the subjective audience and chronicler of what unfolded before him was consumed by the kukwanebu atmosphere. Baldwin’s documentation of kukwanebu tapestry covered the tales and history of Dokhonikani (the giant ogre), originator of Bweyowa cultural heritage (Tudava and Gulagula), wood sprites (Tokwai and Doli), sorcery and witchcraft
(Bwagau and yoyowa), political alliances, morals, etiquette and sexuality (dala, kumila and kula), and the animated world of Bweyowa flora and fauna (borogu, sigwa, subwaeki, dukuboi, muluvekha, tubumyou, etc.). This goes down as a major contribution toward the conservation of Bweyowa cultural heritage.
            Kukwanebu is very rarely performed these days, interest and excitement has waned except on an occasional request by an outsider like an ethnographer or a rare tourist. Performers too, have become few and far, fading into insignificance and for most it is reduced to a paid service task. Worse is that the alternatives to kukwanebu these days are few and often appearing in the form of a pathetic modern-day school assignment for children, rare school reading books of stories from anywhere but Bweyowa, Sunday school biblical kukwanebu, or meaningless high tech TV shows for urban-based Bweyowa descendants. For this, Baldwin has done a great service to Bweyowa cultural heritage as an imprint for the curious descendants into generations to come. It has the potential still to revive and relive through drama some of these kukwanebu tales and even get embellished by the capability this era of high technology on simulation.
            Khamatokisi, Bernard Baldwin…

Linus S. Digim’Rina
University of Papua New Guinea
September, 2011


Dokinikani: Cannibal Tales of the Wild Western Pacific

     A Translation of Two Hundred Pages of Vernacular Text

Incorporated in a Concurrent Introduction and Commentary

By Father Bernard Baldwin

Introduction from the Preface
         What is this book about? Why was it written? The book itself must answer that; I have searched in vain for anything reasonably similar. But I can think of a lot of people to whom it would be a source book and a guide to answer many questions: to students of Austronesian subjects a tradition of folk ways with a consciously historic perspective for Melanesian, Indonesian and Polynesian comparison, to folklorists a living expression of a tribal faith with roots going back into ancient Indonesia and Asia, to students of Cargo Cult a messianic founder whose mission traditionally was curtailed and as a prophecy expressly awaits fulfilment, to students of Malinowski this is documentary, supplementary, easier reading, to Papuan students a real translation of their own classics into reasonable English, to tourists to the Trobriands a memento, an authentic description of the self expression of a people of a long surviving culture, to missionaries a truly fascinating collection of messianic motifs and fertility rites with a distinctly liturgical style, to students of comparative religion a study of a rarer belief in a non-Stygian, golden afterlife, to students of Song and Dance Harvest Festivals and tribal mystery celebrations, etc., the place and function of Boyowan WOSI, to philologists a field for a study of an unabraded, unscrambled, functional system of noun classes like those of the Bantu; also a fully notional, verbal classificatory system by auxiliaries like those in the Sunda Straits and Philippine tongues and vestigially all over the Pacific, to linguists a translation of two hundred pages of an available vernacular text of a could-be prototype of a number of north-eastern Indonesian languages, to learners of the language of the Trobrianders a stepping stone to a full and not a half way understanding of Boyowan.
South Australia
April 1971
B. Baldwin M S C

Download the PDF of Cannibal Tales


Trobriand Folklore Index
Collected by Jerry W. Leach on the Trobriand Islands 1970-71

        This catalog of sound recordings made of indigenous folktelling includes six tales translated to English.

Download the PDF of Leach's Folklore Index