Chapter 2: A Murder

Suonu and Yəhələgɨr grew up on Yomunihi ridge. Suonu was not married. Yəhələgɨr had married a Boduitem woman by the name of Swagien.1 Boduitem were an Arapesh nation of people then living at Boduit creek. This was near Litali, a former location of Wautogig village.2

According to the custom of the people at the time, young men did not live with their parents. Instead, they slept in a separate building called a sowoh, a young men’s house. The house was an open space platform built about four feet above the ground. At night, the mountains are very cool. To keep warm as they slept, fires were lit below the house and the young men spread themselves on the platform above the fire.3

One night, Yəhələgɨr overheard his brother Suonu and other boys talk covetously about Yəhələgɨr’s wife Swagien. Yəhələgɨr heard Suonu say he desired his wife in marriage. Yəhələgɨr became very angry and planned to kill his brother.4

Yəhələgɨr picked up his stone axe and sharpened it on a stone grinder with water until the blade could clear shave his own head. One day, at dark, Yəhələgɨr briefed his wife on what he planned to do. He instructed her to collect up everything the two of them could carry and be ready to flee once he completed his mission. She was to hide at the outskirts of the village until her husband came to meet her, and together they would flee from Yomunihi.

On that fatal night, as the darkness fell and the night wore on, the boys’ songs and laughter could be clearly heard from the sowoh. As laughter grew louder and more boisterous, Yəhələgɨr’s blood boiled more furiously. He tested the sharpness of the stone axe against his right thumb. The axe was ready. He was ready. His wife was hiding, waiting and ready to flee.

When the night matured, the noise died away and eventually stopped. There was complete silence. Midnight mist covered the house, with the warmth of the fire and the smoke coming out of the crevices in the walls of the sago leaf and sago frond house. Death hovered in the air.

Everyone except Yəhələgɨr and Swagien was fast asleep. Yəhələgɨr walked out of his house, stone axe tightly tucked in the belt of his malo, his tapa cloth public covering, as he walked towards the sowoh, where his brother lay asleep with other young men, receiving warmth from the fire beneath him.

Yəhələgɨr entered the house and picked up a piece of glowing firewood. He shook it in the darkness. The sparks flew down and touched one of the men, who moved a little and went back to sleep. Soon, Yəhələgɨr identified his brother Suonu. He transferred the fire stick to his left hand and shifted the stone axe from his loin cloth belt with his right arm. He struck his brother on the neck, severing the neck from the body.

YYəhələgɨr ran to the edge of the village, collected his wife and their belongings, and fled. Suonu bled to death on the sowoh. The blood from his neck flowed down through the floorboards of the platform and drenched the smouldering fire. Suonu’s mates felt cold in the early hours of the morning and went under the house to rearrange the firewood. They discovered the fire had been extinguished. They thought it had rained and the roof had leaked. This theory was eliminated when a firestick was waved in the darkness and it was found that Suonu had been killed.5

TThere is a dispute between Wautogigs and Kotais as to whether or not Suonu actually died. Most Wautogig people believe that Suonu died. But the Kotais have recently argued that Suonu was wounded only, and that he never died from the wound. My father and I believe Suonu died from the wounds.6

Yəhələgɨr and his wife Swagien walked along the Yomunihi village to Mɨrɨm, past the more recent site of Wautogig village called Litali, past Wɔrewabʉr and up to Dagububu, a region east of Kotai.7 This region was already under the influence of two other nations, one Sausa- or Boikin-speaking, and the other Buki-speaking.8 These were the Boduitem and the Beiduokɨm or Peiruom nations.9 Both nations are now extinct. Swagien, the wife of Yəhələgɨr, was a Boduitem woman.


1 Another version has it that Suonu was indeed married and that he and his wife were the ancestors of the Yomunihim. Listen.

2 Discussion of the term Litali. Listen.

3 The sowoh house type is no longer used. Listen.

4 Another version of the story says that Suonu suspected Yəhələgɨr of committing adultery with his wife and that Yəhələgɨr ran away because he feared that Suonu would harm him. Listen.

5 Another statement that Yəhələgɨr ran away because he feared that his elder brother Suonu was going to kill him. Listen.

6 Jacob Sonin says that he never heard the old people say that. He believes Yəhələgɨr ran away without his wife and hid in a bamboo stand at Dagububu. Listen. He notes a contradiction in this account. If Yəhələgɨr had killed Suonu he could not have produced the Yomunihim who were at Kotai. They just fought and then Yəhələgɨr left. He took Swagien as his wife later at Boduitem. Tony Nindim is present and agrees. Listen.

7 Jacob Sonin and Tony Nindim explain the location of Mɨrɨm. Listen. Sonin wants to make sure it is clear that the first place Yəhələgɨr went to was Dagububu. Listen.

8 Sausa is a reference to Boikin speakers. Listen.

9 Peiruom is the Boikin name for Beiduokɨm. Listen.

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