Queen Defender of the faith: Thukeri

Sunday, January 6, 2008


This is a story about two men who lived on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. They belonged to the Ngarrindjerri people.
The two men set off in their bark canoe to go fishing on the lake. They travelled along on the calm, cool waters until they came to their favourite fishing place, called Loveday Bay, where they always caught the best and most delicious bream fish. In their language, this fish is called Thukeri.

They found a good sheltered spot among some high reeds. They had made their own fishing lines, called nungi, from cords they had made from the reeds. They used very sharp bird bones for hooks.

They knew the women were collecting vegetable plants to eat with the fish.

As the day went on the two men sat there catching more and more fat, juicy Thukeri. They were having such a wonderful day catching so many fish and wanted to keep catching more and more, but the canoe was almost full and looked like it would sink.

As they paddled in closer to shore, they could see a stranger in the distance. He seemed to be walking straight towards them. The two men looked at each other; what if this stranger wanted some of their beautiful, juicy Thukeri?

They were greedy and decided not to share with the stranger. They decided to keep all the fat, lovely Silver Bream for themselves and quickly covered the fish up with their woven mats so that the stranger would not see them. When the stranger came up to the two men he said, 'Hello, brothers. I haven't eaten anything at all today. Could you spare me a couple of fish?'

The two men looked at each other and at the mats hiding the Thukeri. They turned to the stranger and one of them said, 'I'm sorry, friend, but we caught only a few fish today and we have to take them home for our wives and children and the old people, because they are depending on us. So, you see, we can't give you any.'

The stranger stood there for a long while and then started to walk away. He stopped, turned around and stared at them. 'You lied,' he said. 'I know that you have plenty of fish in your canoe. Because you are so greedy, you will never be able to enjoy those Thukeri ever again.'

The two men stood there, puzzled, as the stranger walked away into the sunset. They shrugged their shoulders, then quickly took off the mats and began to gut the fish. But as they did this, they found that these beautiful silver Thukeri were so full of sharp, thin bones that they couldn't eat them.

'What are we going to do? We can't take these home to our families, they'll choke on them.' So the two men had to return home in shame with only the bony fish. When they got home, they told their families what had happened. The old people told them that the stranger was really the Great Spirit called Ngurunderi. Now all the Ngarrindjeri people would be punished for ever, because the two men were so greedy.

And so today, whenever people catch a bony bream, they are reminded of long ago, when Ngurunderi taught them a lesson.


Min-na-wee (Why the crocodile rolls)

As the last rays of the beautiful red-pink sun set on the small camp and the sweeping coastal plain, all the little girls played, enjoying themselves.

All the young boys were with their fathers, learning the ways of manhood. The mothers were preparing for the evening meal. There was fresh fish cooking on the coals, with freshly-caught mud crabs and mussels.

Everyone in the group was contented, the season had been good for them. Plenty of fresh food. Everyone except little Min-na-wee was happy.

Min-na-wee was different. From a little girl, Min-na-wee liked to cause trouble amongst the other little girls. Min-na-wee's face was so hard and scaly-looking, it mostly revealed her hatred.

The old people knew of Min-na-wee's efforts to start trouble, which led to fights. Not only among the little girls, but also their mothers.

The old people warned Min-na-wee's mother that if she did not stop Min-na-wee making humbug, then something terrible would happen to her.

Years passed and Min-na-wee grew into a young woman, but she still liked to cause trouble. One day all the young women, including Min-na-wee, had to prepare to be selected as brides. Min-na-wee stood in a line with all the other girls. The old people pointed out which men were to marry which women. By the end of the ceremony, Min-na-wee was left standing alone. She had not been chosen to become a wife.

Min-na-wee's hatred grew stronger and stronger. She caused more and more trouble in the camp. Fights were breaking out every day amongst the tribe. Min-na-wee sat back in her little humpy and watched. She was pleased with herself.

The Elders of the tribe agreed that Min-na-wee must be punished for what she had done.

Min-na-wee had little knowledge of the tribe's decision. As she approached the women to cause another fight, she was grabbed by the men and rolled around and around in the dirt.

She managed to escape and run in to the edge of the sea where she called on the evil spirits to change her into a vicious animal so she could stage a revenge attack on her tribe. Min-na-wee was changed into a large crocodile and slid into the muddy waters, awaiting her prey.

The tribespeople thought no more of Min-na-wee and carried out their daily events. As they wandered along the banks, hunting for mud crabs, Min-na-wee lay waiting. One of the men who had taken part in Min-na-wee's punishment jumped into the water. Min-na-wee crept up behind and grabbed him. She told him she would roll him around and around, as he had done to her. Over and over, she continued to roll him in the water, until she was satisfied he was punished enough.

To this day, Min-na-wee's spirit still remains with the crocodiles and that is why every time that a crocodile catches its prey, it always will roll around and around in the water.

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