In the Womb of the Rainbow Serpent


Long ago the old people used to tell the story of an orphan boy who was always crying and was eaten by the Rainbow Serpent. Once when he was walking around an old lady asked him, 'Why are you crying?' The orphan said, 'They refuse to give me any manburrangkali lily roots.' 'Is that so?' replied the old lady.

Then that old lady went and got a different kind of lily root for him. The orphan was still lying down crying when she brought him back a bag full of yaldanj lily roots.

She placed the lily roots on the ground while she went and got some firewood. She returned and lit the fire and cooked them all. The old woman said, 'Come and eat these yaldanj lily roots.' The orphan stood there and said, 'I don't want those lily roots, I don't like them.'

So he kept crying - he was walking around crying, so another man got up and went to get some bush honey. When he returned he showed the boy and said, 'Come and eat some honey.'

The orphan stood there and said, 'I don't want any honey, I don't like it.' 'Is that so?' said the man. 'Okay, you just cry, and leave my honey alone.'

So he just kept crying. Another lady then got up and said, 'Let me go and get some long yams for him, otherwise he will always be crying.' Then she went and got some long yams for him, filled her dilly bag, returned, put them on the ground, went for firewood, lit the fire, and roasted the yams.

When they were cooked she said, 'Come and eat some long yams.' The orphan said, 'I don't want those long yams.' 'Is that so?' said the old woman.

The people said to him, 'Okay, you just cry, because you didn't want the long yams, the honey, the yaldanj lily roots, because you are always thinking of the taste of those sweet manburrangkali lily roots, because you have an insatiable desire.'

Now there were lots of old people sitting there, and they said to him, 'Why can't you stop crying? Will you always be crying then? Soon the Rainbow Serpent will eat us.' They told him this but he did not stop crying - he was always crying. He cried and cried.

Now there was a Rainbow Serpent at Miya, to the north. The Rainbow Serpent lifted up her head, looked around, listened very carefully, and heard him crying at Mayawunj in the south. That Rainbow Serpent said, 'I will go south to that place and eat them.'

Then the Rainbow Serpent started, she went underground and kept going, she was getting closer to them. When she came to them, she came out of the ground in the south, lifted her head and saw them. She said, 'Ah, this is the place where that orphan is crying - this is where they are camping.'

Then she appeared near them. The people had been looking to the north and had seen something like a fire or a light shining on them and they cried out in fear.

Then they told the men, 'Quick, spear it! Do you want it to eat us?' They kept trying to spear it, but they always missed it, so they said, 'That's it, bad luck. It's no good, the Rainbow Serpent will just have to eat us.'

In fear they tried to run away. The Rainbow Serpent was watching them and hooked her tail around them all, the orphan with them. That Rainbow Serpent ate the orphan first, biting his head and swallowing it. Then she ate the others. This made the Rainbow Serpent from Miya full.

That is what happened at Mayawunj in the south - she went under the ground and was lying there with the people and the insatiable child within her belly, sleeping in the south ready to reawaken.

~Gunwinggu Oenpelli

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