I am writing and illustrating a new children’s picture book so I will be posting sporadically on this blog and responding when I can. I wish you all a great New Year and thank you very much for your support and your friendships.
THE night was still and dark. Dogs did not bark. The wind blew gently.
Children and babies had stopped crying and laid their heads to rest. Even the night birds were silent around the coastal Morobe village.
Below the whistle of the gentle breeze, Kalem heard a song. It was soft, beautiful and so sad it almost made her cry. It sounded very familiar.
Lying still on her woven pandanus mat that grandma made for her, she searched through her memories – where has she heard this song? Her grandma had passed away last year. She missed her. After tossing and turning for what seemed like forever, Kalem knew she had to find out.
She picked up her mother’s torch. Beside the torch was a piece of hard shell, a turtle shell she found on the beach. She kept it for good luck. Suddenly she remembered – the song! It was the song of the turtles. Their nesting time happens near Kalem’s birthday, but they have not come to her village for a long time.
Tonight, something was wrong. Grandma said only the mother turtle sang the turtle song. No one in the village knew that song except her grandmother, mother and now her. Grandma sung and taught the song to Kalem while they were fishing. “Who is singing it now?” Kalem wondered.
Afraid but excited, Kalem headed to the beach. As she walked, she remembered Grandma’s words: “Our people are connected to the ocean, we fish to survive but we must respect the lives in the ocean. We must never kill for nothing.”
Not many people can connect to the animals and fish, but grandma said their family had a special gift because their ancestors came from the sea and are tied to the ways of the sea. Kalem walked quickly along the beach as she listened for the song.
“If you ever hear the song Kalem, you know, Mother Turtle needs you”, her grandmother told her. When Kalem was born in the turtle season, grandma told her mother – “this girl would one day meet Mother Turtle”.
Kalem followed the song out of her village and along the shores, further and further away from her house. Her heart beat faster when she arrived at the river where the villagers washed. Where the river met the sea, villagers set fishing nets along the shoreline. Kalem heard a loud splash. She slowly stepped forward, flashing the torch.
Tied to a large driftwood stump on the beach was a long, green fishing net. On the calm water surface, a big red buoy floated just offshore, and at the end of the net.
Something had been caught in the net. The thing splashed again. It rippled and frothed the seawater in a circle. It was large, dark and nearby the shore. It did not look like any fish or crocodile Kalem knew.
When she flashed the torch at the dark shape, she was shocked to find a very large sea turtle tangled in the net. It was so large, Kalem was sure it must have been the mother of all turtles. Kalem flashed the torch on the water.
She could see smaller turtles floating about, their heads bobbing in the water. The turtles circled the net. They were all making strange noises like they were crying too. The mother turtle was bigger than Kalem’s ten-year-old body, but Kalem had to try save to her.
Even with no strength left, the mother turtle kept singing her song. Weakly, her tired flippers hit the net and her voice faded to almost a whisper. Kalem’s tears flowed down as she waded through the water quickly and tried to set the turtle free. After struggling with the net and the weight of the turtle, Kalem ran back to the village and woke her mother.
“Help, wake up!” Kalem cried. “It’s Mother Turtle – we must help her”.
Kalem’s mother was confused. Often she thought her daughter was a daydreamer. After Kalem calmed herself and explained, she grabbed her mother’s arm and led her back to the beach. They took a knife and cut the net to set the mother turtle free. The large turtle swam up to Kalem and her mother. She bumped them with her nose before she and the other turtles disappeared into the deep, dark waters.
Kalem remembered grandma telling her about the life of the mother turtle. Grandma said it took many years before the turtle was ready to make babies. Every two or three years, the mother turtle leads her group to her own nesting beach, where she was born. Sometimes she travelled long distances to get there. Usually she would lay over a hundred eggs, but only a few survived.
Other animals, people and large fish eat the eggs and baby turtles. Kalem’s people loved eating turtle eggs and meat. Their village was once a nesting ground for turtles. Lately, less and less turtles have come to lay eggs. Standing silently in the dark with her mother, Kalem thought of how scared the turtles were tonight.
“They might never return…we must teach our people to protect the turtles”, she whispered to her mother.
“I am so proud of you Kalem. The turtles will head to a safe place to lay their eggs. Maybe this was not the right place for them, but they will find a perfect home some day”.
Her mother held Kalem close as they headed back to the village.
My entry into the The Crocodile Prize, Papua New Guinea’s National Literature Awards, won the children’s category. “The Song of the Turtle” is a fiction based on events that happened when I was growing up in Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. I will post the story here, tomorrow.
I had watched turtle eggs being found and gathered on our beach and watched sea turtles captured and eaten. Today, the large sea turtles do not lay on our beach anymore.
Across the Huon Gulf on coastline Labu, turtles are being protected and a certain coastline has been declared as a protected habitat. The locals are part of the turtle protection programme. I am glad this has happened. Read More on the Labu Turtle project here.
I hoped that “The Song of the Turtle” will teach Papua New Guinea children about how important it is to care for wild-life and wild-life habitat in our country. PNG is lucky to have so many beautiful species and with effects of climate change and human development, numbers of species and wildlife habitat is becoming fewer and soon, some will disappear forever.
There were over 800 entries in the Crocodile Prize this year. 160 entries including The Song of the Turtle has been published in the 2015 Crocodile Prize Anthology. It is on sale on Amazon.
WRITERS from seven provinces feature in the nine prizes awarded in this year’s Crocodile Prize – Papua New Guinea’s national literary awards.
And one of the winners, 20-year old medical student Hazel Kutkue, not only won the Martens’ Award for Young Writers but the national short story prize – a prodigious achievement at such an early age and against some very stiff competition.
The Ok Tedi Mining Award for Book of the Year saw Baka Bina’s Man of Calibre triumph in a strong field of 10 contenders while the inaugural SP Brewery Award for Illustration went to another Eastern Highlander, Emmanuel Landu, brother of two-time Crocodile Prize winner, poet Lapieh Landu.
Other provinces represented in the prize winners are Enga, Simbu, Milne Bay, Morobe, Madang and the National Capital District.
The other winners include Philip Kaupa Gena (poetry), Busa Wenogo (essay), Joycelin Leahy (writing for children), Ronnie Dotaona (heritage) and Daniel Kumbon (tourism, arts & culture).
The writers’ ages range from 20 to 56, averaging 36, and their professions include economist, teacher, court officer, journalist, artist and student.