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The Oxford Companion to World Mythology

David Leeming


The Wemale people of Ceram in Indonesia tell an animistic origin myth of resurrection in which the first animals and plants are the result of the sacrifice of the maiden Hainuwele. The myth's archetypal relatives are myths such as those of Corn Mother in Native North America and elsewhere.

Among the first nine families of the West Ceram people, who originally emerged from bananas in the Molucca Islands in what is now Indonesia, there was a hunter called Ameta, whose dog one night was attracted by the scent of a wild pig. The pig escaped into a pond but drowned. Ameta dragged it out of the pond and was surprised to find a coconut impaled on its tusk. Ameta was sure this coconut must be a great treasure because there were as yet no coconut palms on earth. He wrapped the coconut like a baby in a cloth, decorated it with a snake figure, and took it home. He planted it according to instructions received in a dream, and in three days a coconut palm tree had grown to full height. In three more days it blossomed, and Ameta climbed it to retrieve some of the fruit. He cut his finger while collecting the fruit, and a baby girl emerged from the mixture of blood and sap. The dream messenger instructed Ameta to wrap the girl in the snake-decorated cloth and to bring her home. This he did, and he was amazed when, in a very few days, the girl, whom he named Hainuwele (“Coconut Branch”), was fully grown and defecating valuable things like bells and dishes.

Soon it was time for the first nine families to perform what is called the Maro dance at a place called the Nine Dance Grounds. As always, the women sat in the center of the grounds handing out betel nut to the men, who danced around them in a spiral. Hainuwele sat in the very center. On the first night she, too, handed out betel, but on the second night she gave the dancers coral, on the third fine pottery, and on each successive night something still more valuable.

The people became jealous of Hainuwele's wealth and decided to kill her. Before the ninth night's dance, they prepared a deep hole at the center of the ceremonial grounds, and during the dance they edged Hainuwele into the hole and covered her with earth.

Ameta soon missed his “daughter,” and discovered through his magical skills that she had been murdered during the Maro dance. He immediately took nine pieces of palm leaf to the dance grounds and stuck them into the earth, the ninth one at the very center of the grounds. When he pulled out that piece of palm he found bits of Hainuwele's flesh and hair attached to it. He dug up the body, dismembered it, and buried the pieces, all but the arms, in various places in the dance grounds. Within minutes there grew the plants that are to this day the staples of the Ceramese diet.

Then the goddess Mulua Satene, angry at the murder of Hainuwele, an aspect of herself, struck several of the first people with an arm of the dead maiden, and these people become the first animals.