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Rex Warrimou (Sabïo): The Ömie Creation Story


  • No.:RK1605
  • Medium:Natural Pigments on Barkcloth
  • Size:88 × 119 cm
  • Year:2017
  • Region:Papua-Neuguinea
  • Art Centre:Ömie Artists
  • Status:


At the beginning of time, Uhöeggö’e the lizard lived in a freshwater lake [2]. Uhöeggö’e shed its skin and became a human man and the world became dark. Uhöeggö’e saw the Sun, Moon and stars reflected in the water but they were not in the sky. Uhöeggö’e was unhappy living in darkness and thought to himself, “I want brightness!”. The water in the lake split down the centre. One half of the water remained as water and also became light. Then Uhöeggö’e said, “But I need darkness!”, and the other half of the water became darkness.

The waves of water from the creation of light and darkness created one land called Mt. Ömie. Mt. Ömie gave birth to the mountains A’oji [3], Madorajo’amoho [4], Uruj’e [5] and Guamo [6]. The land grew and spread out from the first mountain Ömie [7] like the roots and trunk of a tree, and the other mountains grew like branches. The many mountains were formed as one great mountain, Huvaimo [8]. Huvaimo stands strong, it is like a body and its many mountains are like limbs—a left and right arm. The left arm is short but the right arm is long and extends around and protects the sacred first mountain, Mt. Ömie, at its heart. Uhöeggö’e placed one leg on the side of the pool of water and saw that it was land.

Uhöeggö’e was at the lake [9] and created everything from its water—the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, wind, storms, stones, fire and fruits and vegetables for food. He saw the world he had created was very beautiful but that there was no one to look after it.

Uhöeggö’e watched as the water in the lake tried to create human beings. But the water was making many mistakes—the humans did not look like proper humans. Uhöeggö’e looked into the lake and saw himself reflected in its surface like a mirror and thought to himself, “I am going to create a man in my own image.” He drew his own image in the ground and with his hands he then helped the water mould the first man Mina [10] and said, “Now you will become a man.” Then he drew the first woman Suja [11] in the ground and with his hands he helped the water mould her and said, “Now you will become a woman.” Mina was fully formed however Suja lacked a vagina. While creating Mina and Suja, the water made many incorrect versions. [12] Uhöeggö’e disposed of the leftover waste of imprecise humans, dropping it at the head of the Guvunna River which flows down from Huvaimo.

The first mountain Ömie was sacred and had to be kept that way so Uhöeggö’e ordered Mina and Suja to go and live at Mt. Obo so they went. Everything that had been created in the world and everything that Mina and Suja needed was there. They lived together as husband and wife in their house at the top of Mt. Obo. They were both naked and Mina saw that he had a penis. He felt like having sex with Suja so he played with her thighs but she had no vagina so he decided he would create one. He went to Nia’i River [13] and picked up a sharp stone and then carried it home up the mountain.

Mina told his wife Suja to lie down and he made a small incision between her legs. Mina saw that the hole he created in Suja was bleeding so he told her to sit with her legs open by the fire to dry the blood. The heat dried the blood and created a scab. Suja also had some swelling so he collected medicinal tree leaves including ihan’e, manasuhan’e, rororohan’e and bush bamboo, omohan’e. He boiled the leaves in water and placed them over Suja’s wound to warm and heal it. The scab healed a little more so Mina removed it and wrapped it in manasuhan’e leaves. He hung the bundle of leaves with the scab inside it from the sago leaf roof above the fire. As the heat from the fire dried the scab, Suja’s hole healed completely and her vagina was formed. Mina then had sex with Suja and felt that it was pleasurable. Feeling happy and proud of himself, he raised his hand, hit his chest and said, “Kanori kinori! Nasi overoh awoho’é jev’e! / I made a woman’s vagina with my own hands and I am feeling good now!”

Mina and Suja continued having sex but after a few months Suja menstruated for the first time. Mina instructed her to build a small hut [14] at the bottom of Mt. Obo to live for the duration of her menstruation. She collected firewood and gathered enough food to eat until her period finished. While Suja was in the hut, Mina called to her, “If your monthly period is finished cut the bark of the sihe tree and make a barkcloth skirt.” By the Uhojo River, she cut the inner bark of the sih’e tree and rinsed it in the water. She beat the barkcloth with a stone mallet [15], creating the first sihi’nioge (plain barkcloth). When she did not have her period she would wear this plain barkcloth. And when she had her period she would wear a grey-coloured barkcloth (sihoti’e nioge) dyed in the clay and mud. The Sun was going down so she returned to her husband at the top of Mt. Obo. When it got dark, they did not have sex and slept in separate beds. The next day when the Sun came up they worked together in the garden and did everything together.

Suja soon fell pregnant to Mina at Mt. Obo. When she was in labour, Mina instructed her to go to the menstruation hut to give birth. She gave birth there to a son named Bibido and stayed in the hut until the baby’s umbilical cord fell off. She washed Bibido in the river and then returned to her husband.

Baby Bibido was growing fast so Mina and Suja decided to move to the flat land beside Obo called Tohirumo. They wanted to collect gijemwé [16] fruits so they took Bibido to the bush with them. Suja chopped a branch of the gohatwé tree and hung her baby from it in a bilum (woven string-bag). Mina and Suja gathered the fruits on opposite sides of the large gijemwé tree. The roots of the tree were tall, protruding from the ground. Suja was closest to the tree where Bibido was hanging.

While they were collecting the fruits Bibido cried and cried because there was a Spirit-mother living in the sugsug plant. She lived there because it was a good place to hide herself amongst its large leaves. The Spirit-mother had her own Spirit-baby. She went to where Bibido was hanging from the tree and took him out of the bilum and put her own Spirit-baby inside the bilum.

The Spirit-baby had the same cry as Bibido. The baby was crying so much Mina thought that his son’s throat would break so he asked Suja to go and see why Bibido was crying. She went towards the bilum, took the Spirit-baby out without looking at it and began breast-feeding it. She felt the baby biting her breast and then saw it was the Spirit-baby. She called to Mina and said, “Mina, come and see! This baby is not our son Bibido!” They were very distressed so Mina took the Spirit-baby by the ankles and whipped the baby against the roots of the gijemwé tree. The Spirit-baby died and they left it by the roots of the gijemwé tree.

Mina and Suja went looking for their son Bibido. They looked everywhere but couldn’t find him. When Bibido was stolen by the Spirit-mother, he pulled a small hola’e tree from the ground and also got some bush-snail shells [17] so that he could carve a spear. The wood-shavings from the spear Bibido had carved were left on the ground. Mina and Suja saw the wood-shavings and could not believe that their baby could carve a spear. They thought that Bibido must have grown to a teenage boy. The Spirit-mother took Bibidio to Mehïno River beside Mt. Obo. Mina and Suja followed the Spirit-mother’s footprints to track their son. At Mehïno River, Bibido found a black palm and fashioned a second spear using the seedpods of the gijemwé tree to sharpen it. Whenever Bibido had a chance, out of sight of the Spirit-mother, he would make his spears.

The Spirit-mother took Bibido all the way to Mahula [18] and then into the lands of the neighbouring Samwejé tribe [19]. Mina and Suja followed the tracks only as far as Mahula where they left a message with the Spirit who lived there to tell the Samwejé people to inform Mina and Suja if their son Bibido is seen in Samwejé lands. Mina and Suja then returned to Mt. Obo.

When Mina and Suja were at Mt. Obo a message came from the Samwejé people to let them know that Bibido was living safely in their lands. Bibido was living in a giant marové fig tree at Umajeje village [20]. Using bo’e (bush rope) he made a net structure in the high branches of the tree. Many creatures would come to eat the figs so it was easy for Bibido to spear the animals for food. Bibido had a strong spear made from black palm that had a sharp point at both the top and bottom. One end would be used to spear birds and the animals in the tree branches and the other end would be used to spear the wild animals that came to eat the fallen fruit under the tree. In the high branches he would spear cuscus and tree-kangaroos. And if a bird flew to the tree he would use his spear to stab them upwards and say, “My name is Bibido! I am the one spearing you!” By saying this he would always successfully spear the bird he was aiming for. When Bibido saw pigs or cassowaries on the ground he would throw his spear down and say, “I am Bibido! I am the one spearing you!” and he never missed.

An old Samwejé woman and her daughter Uroro were living at Umajeje village. The villagers advised Uroro’s mother that Uroro was pubescent and the right age to go into the guai [21], an underground hole where she would live until sexual maturation and undergo her tattoo initiation rite (ujawé [22]) before marriage. Uroro’s mother agreed and it was her responsibility to provide food for Uroro while she lived in the guai but the old woman struggled because she did not have a husband to help her hunt. The old Samweje mother followed the scent of rotting meat and came to Bibido’s marové tree. When she came to his tree she found pigs, cassowary [23] and many other foods. Bibido helped the old woman provide food for her daughter Uroro while she lived in the guai.

After Uroro underwent her tattooing intiation in the guai, the village prepared a big ceremonial feast [24] to celebrate her coming of age. An invitation was sent to Mina and Suja at Mt. Obo to attend Uroro’s ceremonial initiation feast. So Mina and Suja travelled to Umajeje village. When they arrived, Uroro came out from the guai and there was a spectacular feast for her. Bibido also attended and Mina and Suja were very happy to see their son again for the first time since they were separated. The old Samwejé mother expressed to Mina and Suja that she wished for her daughter Uroro to marry their son Bibido, and they agreed. The day after the feast, Bibido and Uroro were married.

Mina, Suja, Bibido and Uroro were returning to Mt. Obo. They were travelling across flat land in a line with Mina at the front, then Bibido, Uroro and then Suja at the very back. They came to the small creek, Suwaro [25] and as they were all crossing, Bibido and Uroro just disappeared. Suja thought that Bibido was with Mina. Mina turned and saw Bibido was missing and asked Suja where he was. They were shocked that Bibido and Uroro had disappeared and went looking for them. They looked everywhere but could not find them so they returned home to Mt. Obo.

A few days later Mina and Suja awoke to birds singing and they decided to go hunting for food at Mt. Ömie with their two dogs. They came to a clearing in the forest on Mt. Ömie where there were no sticks or rocks on the ground. There were no birds calling and it was very peaceful. Mina told Suja this was a nice, clean place so they should have sex. Suja said that the place was sacred so they should not have sex there. Mina accused Suja of cheating on him with another man and that she had been hiding the affair from him. Mina thought that was the real reason why she didn’t want to have sex with him. Mina said, “I want to have sex with you now!” Suja saw that Mina’s penis was erect so she told him he could do what he wanted to her.

As Mina and Suja were having sex in the sacred place, dark clouds began to cover Mt. Ömie and rain started pouring. Suja told Mina that she had warned him not to have sex with here there and said, “Look, now we are in trouble!” Then a rainbow emerged and a little bit of sun came out and the sky had a red haze. The dark cloud completely covered Mt. Ömie and the mountain began to grow higher and higher inside the cloud. Mt. Ömie became so high and the valleys became so deep that there was no way for Mina and Suja to escape. They were stuck on top of Mt. Ömie and the dark cloud disappeared.

Mina and Suja looked for a path to descend the mountain but could not find one. So Mina used the gyohe vine and wove a very strong bilum. He put one of the dogs inside it, protecting its entire body, and then lowered the dog down from Mt. Ömie. The dog landed on the side of Mt. Oroto’om, then bounced back and fell on top of Mt. Muné’aynu. Mt. Muné’aynu was slippery so the dog slid inside the cave Savodobehi [26] beside the waterfall at River Ïdo at the bottom of Mt. Ömie and disappeared. Mina and Suja watched as the dog bounced from Mt. Oroto’om to Mt. Muné’aynu and slid into Savodobehi cave. They made another strong bilum and lowered the second dog down the mountain but the exact same thing happened. Then Mina put Suja in a strong bilum and lowered her down but she also bounced from Oroto’om to Muné’aynu and slid into Savodobehi cave. Finally, Mina wove a strong bilum for himself and rolled down Mt. Omie. Half way down he shouted, “Wirro wirro”, which is the name of a red bird. Then he too bounced from Oroto’om to Muné’aynu and slid into Savodobehi cave. Mina, Suja and their two dogs stayed there, living in Savodobehi cave [27].

Notes for the Ömie Creation Story:

[1] © Rex Warrimou (Sabïo); orally translated by Raphael Bujava and Didymus Bojugo; transcribed by Brennan King at Savodobehi & Port Moresby, 2009-2015.

[2] This freshwater lake is at the site of Mt. Ömie but, at this stage of Creation, Mt. Ömie had not yet formed.

[3] A’oji means ‘with people’.

[4] Madorajo’amoho means ‘true home’. Mt. Madorajo’amoho is the volcanic peak of Huvaimo.

[5] Uruj’e means ‘harvest’.

[6] Guamo means ‘hole’.

[7] Mt. Ömie is also known as Mt. Guvago. The origin of the word ‘Ömie’ comes from the Ömie words ‘ömeh’ and ömi’eh, which mean ‘create’. That is why the mountain is called Ömie because it was the first mountain created.

[8] Huvaimo means ‘creating’. Huvaimo is the original Ömie name for the greater volcano, Mt. Lamington.

[9] This lake is on the land that is now Mt. Ömie.

[10] The name Mina means ‘I am the meat of the animals’, from mi (animal), and na (me). Mina was the first great hunter and man who sacrificed the first animal for its meat at Mt. Obo. He did not use the meat to eat but used it like wood to sustain fire.

[11] The name Suja means ‘I don’t know’. Suja, being the first woman, was very confused as she did not know how to do anything in her strange new world.

[12] The following information is not described in the Creation story, however, it is relevant to mention here. The sea was formed when the Ömies’ neighbouring tribe, the Orokaivans, came to Mt. Ömie and broke the lake and the water was dragged down to create rivers and flowed out to become the sea.

[13] The Nia’i River flows down from Mt. Obo.

[14] The Ömie menstruation hut is called an ivi’ino’ovétové and also, jé’o jarwé. The hut is a simple construction made from tree branch forks supporting roof beams, covered in bush banana leaves.

[15] In Ömie language, this stone mallet is called a kivaroi.

[16] Gijemwé is the same fruit that Ömie men and women use to make rattles and anklet rattles. Also known as the sujobibajo tree.

[17] In Ömie language, these bush snail shells are called vaigu dere.

[18] Mahula is a place closest to Anahobehi village at Gora in Ömie territory.

[19] Samwejé lands are a part of Managalasi territory.

[20] Umajeje village is in Samwejé lands in Managalasi territory.

[21] The guai was a deep, rectangular dugout hole in the ground where young adult boys and girls would live until sexual maturation. The holes were covered with split black palm roofs and covered with dirt so no one would know the young adults were in there. There were small doors where parents could pass their children food so they would grow well. Inside, the hole was separated into individual living compartments with enough room for the young adults to still be able walk around. Boys and girls were forbidden from touching each other while in the guai, otherwise their bodies would not grow and they would become thin.

[22] When boys and girls who lived inside the guai reached sexual maturity and became men and women, elders would go inside the guai to tattoo them for their ujawé initiation. Men’s bodies would be tattooed with: vinohu’e (design of the bellybutton); taigu taigu’e; mododai diburi’e; sabu deje/sabu ahe (spots of the wood-boring grub); obohutaigue; and odunaigö’e (jungle vine). Women’s faces would be tattooed with: jo’o sor’e (uncurling fern fronds); and taigu taigu’e.

[23] Dwarf Cassowary (Casuarius bennetti)

[24] In Ömie language, this ceremonial feast is called the ujavu soroi.

[25] Suwaro Creek is in Ömie territory.

[26] Savodobehi’ translates as ‘The place of entrance to the hole’. The Ömie word for ‘hole’ is ‘savojé’. The village name ‘Savodobehi’ originates from the name of this cave.

[27] The snake Utibuno, with its burning tail, spread fire underneath Huvaimo by burrowing and creating tunnels. Utibuno lives beside Savodobehi cave at Mt. Ömie.

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