Category Archive 'Makin Island'

07 Oct 2021

The Story of Three Boulders

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Hakai Magazine:

The first time James Terry heard the legend of Makin Island’s three boulders was in 2012. Romano Reo, a retired chief surveyor from the Kiribati Lands and Survey Department, emailed him and relayed the story of a fabled king who once lived on an island that is now part of the Republic of Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean. In the story, people on the nearby Makin Island brought the king a gift of fruit. But the fruit was rotten, and the king, enraged by the affront, sent three giant waves to punish the Makin Islanders. Each wave carried a huge rock toward the shore. As the deluge crashed down, the terrified islanders begged for forgiveness. The king relented, stopping the third wave just in time.

The story grabbed Terry because, as a geoscientist at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, he had a thing about offshore boulders. He wondered if the story was, in fact, more than a story. It was possible that the tale about the angry king, passed down by the island’s Indigenous Micronesians, might be a geomyth—a legend that encodes true information about an area’s geological past.

And so, in June 2018, Terry and fellow researchers went to Makin Island to find out. They introduced themselves to the locals, making a traditional offering of tobacco to their ancestors. With their guidance, the researchers were led to Makin’s southern shores. There, standing proudly and almost entirely out of the water during low tide, were two massive rocks.

“They’re just sitting all alone, these isolated, huge boulders,” says Terry. Each of the rocks has a name. Arranged in a line, roughly east to west, are Tokia, a boulder 22 meters in circumference, and Rebua, slightly smaller at 18.5 meters. The third stone, Kamatoa, is the largest. Roughly 39 meters in circumference—broader than a school bus is long—Kamatoa is always underwater. It is the king’s mercy.

While on the trip, they unexpectedly met Tobeia Kabobouea, a man in his 60s who holds the position of the Wiin te Maneaba, or traditional storyteller. The man is a “living archive,” as Terry and his colleagues write in a recent paper. Noticing the scientists’ interest in the stones, Kabobouea offered to recite a story.

He proceeded to narrate a different tale from the one Terry had heard years earlier by email. The Wiin te Maneaba told the story of a Makin Island man who was cheated by his community. His neighbors on a nearby island had an ability to summon and hunt dolphins, but gave the Makin Island man only the internal organs—never the tastier meat. Out of anger, the man called three waves, each carrying a huge stone, and sent them hurtling toward the villagers. Eventually, he felt remorse and halted the final and most destructive wave.

That’s two distinct—yet strikingly similar—accounts of gigantic waves bearing Tokia, Rebua, and Kamatoa to their present resting places. Read the rest of this entry »

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