Hitimai had just given birth to her first child, a daughter, Tuipaha, named for her great grandmother, and all the women gathered closely around her as the golden dusk clouded over in a wildly dark cover, blanketing the whole island in a silent cradle of uneasy comfort.
Tuipaha made her first mewling sound as a living acknowledgement of her journey’s end, and as she suckled at her mother’s breast all her aunties, and girl cousins offered her their first welcome to life.
Each woman and girl came forward and presented her with a gift, an ocean treasure harvested from the last sacred sojourn, and Tuipaha was greatly blessed with each gifting, blessed not only in being surrounded by so much warmth and loving connection to her family, but by the sudden change in the rhythm and sound of the ocean’s pitch.
Customarily, it was the women who heard it first. They listened in a flowing together of consciousness as if they had but one mind. The melding happened at the instant they noticed the first subtle difference in the wave tempo.
The one-mind of the women surged now, urged on by an awareness of altered weight, a subtle change in the density of the water as it crashed onto the rising sandbar, and each woman knew the call, deep in her belly, and in her being. Hitimai gathered her basket and wrapped a lopa-lopa around her daughter and tied it tightly to her body as she strode down onto the beach.
Glittering ripples of tangerine radiance blessed the water with a last, lingering warmth that melted into the purple weight of night.
The children’s eyes fell closed, fast and heavily into their full-belly slumbers as the women gathered their baskets and waited until the men finished spreading the last of their nets over the long, low walls of the common hut.
At the very first glance of the women standing along the beach, each woman silent, in company with her own basket, patiently proud in the new moon light, the men also knew. The men saw the call.
The conch blowers began, long and softly, up and along the wide, curving silver ribbon of beach that lay before the village, until the signal brought every man into the collected vigil, the gathering of male instinct, forming the sharing-shield of their own language, the protective one-heart of the men. It pounded in their blood, quickening in the pace and rhythm of duty and strength. To care, and to hold the loving space for the duration of the call, especially for the young ones, was their most sacred promise to the women.
The women’s familiar eyes were gone, their soft and tender faces now seemed suddenly empty and terrifying, wild as the waves, unpredictable as every wind or wonder of the great mystery, deeply disturbing to each and every husband as the long line of their wives strode powerfully into the roaring black sea.
The call had come and now the monstrous waves towered and burst forth, erupting in explosions of churning foam, pounding down and back and out, rolling and swallowing the land, smashing down again and rolling forwards with a thunderous drumming upon the earth that hammered and crashed and sizzled along the line of the break, hissing it’s hoarded waters into wavelets, spreading it’s gargantuan force out wide in relentless gorgings of the land’s edge, a mountainous army of waters rushing in a tempest of tidal motion.
The call had come.
The very last of the women to leave was an ancient grandmother, slow and luscious with the velvet of age and speckled years, the heavy olden heaved her basket up onto her breasts and grunted, low and heavy at the sea. She reached into her basket and then her fist hurled a cloud of ash at the ocean. She stamped, lightly and quickly on the sand and her round soft body curved and swaggered it’s hips at the water.
“Kuh-kape, kape, k’shipu, ti ane, no ane wak a pia ngahhh”
Stamping again and chanting again, the olden made the mark, the land line mark, the last point of agreement where the waters would stop and retreat back into the sea, away from the village. The village was the place of her people, her family, her great grandchildren, now warm and deep-sleeping in their clustered huts, but the ocean was the home of her power.
As she finished her chant, the men turned away. This was the last part of the call that they were permitted to observe. To stay would break the ptomena, the sacred law, and to do so would cause the rushing waters to submerge the entire village and claim the lives of everyone.
Grandmother finished marking the sand, throwing the shells of her sacred workings into the darkness, as she disappeared into the waves.
The roaring immediately ceased, and the wind calmed and blew itself out to the horizon, leaving the men to sit and watch the sky and the silhouettes of the palms against the white moonlit sand of the village in the sudden quiet aftermath. The strange sense of loneliness and the tension of their vigil caused an uneasy presence to roam their one-heart until the first bloom of light cast her rose into the dawning of a clear and perfect shore, an azure island of tranquillity, a perfect paradise.
Every man’s heart quickened in hope upon each wide and rolling wave for the return…