I don’t remember when the Japanese came to Wotúru. My grandfather told me that I asked if they were bleeding, because their uniforms had little patches of red on the throat and hats. “Covers” they call them, I guess. That’s what the American soldiers call them.
So the Japanese were only here for two days. They never left the beach. I guess they decided Wotúru wasn’t important enough to stay. Or the Americans and Australians were beating on them somewhere else. Anyway, I don’t remember them, although I saw them when they were here. I was little, six or seven I guess.
I do remember when the Americans came.
They were here only two days too, my mother said, because there was nowhere to build an airstrip. There wasn’t even one dock here, at that time there isn’t. So they left, wanting a few of them. Before they steam off they left some fellows from the Corps of Engineers here, the siói we called them because of how the initials sounded in Wotúruan. C, O, E. We didn’t speak good English back then, wanting some of the older ones which learned from the missionaries before I was born, and never spoke Japanese.
Those army fellows soon got what my grandmother called the oyóye, the idle fever, because they had nothing to do and they wanted to do something. Men will get like that, she said, even American men she guessed. So at that time, this is near the end of the War, which we don’t know that because at that time we don’t know much about what is going on outside of Wotúru. At that time, the sare yui is old and the wood is bare and cracking, and we’re getting rained on here and there inside. So, one new one needed to get built.
The siói really took to our sare. They said the way we lived all together was like Iroquois in their long houses, but I didn’t find out what they meant by that until years later when I go off to school in Melbourne. At that time I am thinking they mean one family they know back in America. Because, the Wotúru were the only people still living in sare yui, but over Wotupae they say they did live in sare yui back during the Tara time. That means back when Tara, which is Venus I guess, was brighter than the Sun. “Morning times” we call it, long ago.
But by that time when the army fellows are here during the War, the Wotupae live in little sheds they call kao, about the size of one house today, because it’s hard to get warohi trees over Wotupae. Which, none grew there. And we always thought of Wotupae as cousins. In fact that’s how we call them, mostly, because they also talk Wotúruan, wanting they hush the S like how you say “sh” in English.
I didn’t know the siói meant Iroquois who stopped living like that a long time ago, I guess. All of their names sounded strange to us, so Iroquois and their long houses just sounded like they meant another family back home, like how the Wotupae think of us and our sare yui.
I remember one fellow named Joey. His whole name was Sergeant Joseph Basentini I guess, from the records. I read them when the papers did the story on us. That was in the Nixon days, I guess. But all that was too much to say so we heard the other fellows call him Joey and we called him Kiói. We thought he was in charge because he talked to us more, so we learned from him everything they wanted, like food after theirs ran out.
They also wanted to help us rebuild the sare. No, they wanted to build it, but wanted us to tell them where to put it. They came in and looked it over, laying about with tools and measuring equipment. I remember it made the tosuya very unhappy, “clay-faced” we called it. It was off-limits to measure the sare yui with anything but cords, I guess.
The siói were always making the tosuya angry, but Joey was a nice fellow to ask us where we wanted them to get the warohi trees for the new sare yui. And, where they were allowed to build it that wasn’t off-limits.
I remember Joey asked my father how to cut the points at the top of the uprights. Tutia we called them. They fit into the beams of the ceiling, the tui, you see. Like a T shape, tutia wa tui they say back in those days.
Joey showed him a flat-head screwdriver and a bolt with a flat groove that was closed on the ends, and asked if it was like that. I remember my father was very impressed the siói were able to figure it out, even though you couldn’t see the yutu tutia from the ground. Which, they were stuck inside the tui grooves, like a hand in a pocket. Or, my father had another way of saying it, which I cannot say since I became a Christian.
So, the men and the soldiers were happy together, talking about how to build the sare yui. That didn’t last long, I guess. The siói started laying about the trees with chainsaws. It was very loud, I remember thinking it was like a rifle going off but it never stopped. One of the siói told my grandfather it sounded only like bees to them, but Wotúru bees were small and very quiet. I think that was Lieutenant Sam Barkey who said that, but we called him Sawio.
When they had cut a few uprights, the craftsmen, like my grandfather and father, told them the cuts were too flat and regular. This was because of the chainsaws, which cut straight through. The sare yui has to breathe, and sharp lines wedge too tight. Even Joey got mad because the yutu looked just like the screwdriver he showed my father, but my father told him it was too flat.
They also cut the bark off one tutia, which is off-limits. The bark was meant to come off by itself over time, and used for things because it had waya that way. My grandmother’s uncle was a tosuya when they had made the old sare yui, so she knew about these things, especially the waya in things.
It was all wrong the way the siói were doing it. So they took axes to the yutu joints, my father and his father and some of the other men, to make them rough with waves like during yarutoi weather, sharp on top but small. The siói got plenty mad about that. They were yelling and shoving around like the spring birds atop Wotupae.
My mother told me: “Parefau, quick! Go steal an egg!” And I thought she was serious, I guess. It’s funny now to remember.
So, they stopped work and sent Joey to ask why they were so much trouble-making. Meaning the craftsmen and the tosuya. And, the tosuya tried to explain to Joey about the waya, and how each upright was one of the twelve spirits which stood around Ao Yui in the heavens. So our sare yui on Wotúru and the sare rayi in Heaven are like a face in the water. That’s how the tosuya said it.
When the siói found out that the sare yui was what they called a temple, there was some discussion whether it was off-limits to work on it at all, meaning under American law. Before that time, they think it’s just a house, you see, like the kao on Wotupae but bigger.
Sawio refused to do any more work, because he was a Christian. Wanting we’re all Christian now, and the siói were all Christian too except Lieutenant Mocatta and he didn’t mind to keep working. But Sawio was from a church which could do no work for heathen gods, so he says at the time, and he doesn’t believe that Ao Yui is God even though Joey shows him that’s how it’s translated in my grandmother’s old missionary Bible.
The rest of the siói just seemed sad that we were “reduced” to sheltering in the old temple. That was one of my first English words. I remember it because it made my father’s cheeks very angry, like stone. I repeated the word quietly with my lips closed, so he couldn’t see or hear it in mouth.
They thought we lived in regular houses, like over Wotupae, but our old houses all fell apart so we moved into the sare yui. This made the men very angry, because what it meant was they were too lazy and stupid to build new kao. At that time, I repent of it, we turn our eyes quite down over Wotupae because they live in kao and not in sare yui. I don’t think like this any more, God forgive me, we are all His children, but at that time this is a great slander to Wotúruans to say we cannot even build one kao.
Some of the men began beating sticks whenever the siói came around. Then Sawio and some of the other siói started off practicing with their guns in a field near the sare yui, shooting at coconuts they had scratched faces onto. The Lieutenant told them to stop, but they wouldn’t.
I remember being afraid, everyone was so angry and it got as loud as the chainsaws. Then the tosuya told the siói that the whole of Wotúru was off-limits to them now, and they had to leave.
This almost made a fight, and the siói holed up in their “half-bucket” house, as my grandfather called it. I don’t remember the real name the army used. They had guns and we didn’t, except for a few old rifles we used for boars. They also had no food left and were living on Wotúru food for weeks, so we expected they wouldn’t stay holed up in there for long.
There was a discussion among the tosuya and a vote, and they elected one of the older boats we bartered from some Australians a few years back. And it was decided that the siói would take this boat and leave or we would drive them out. There was some talk about burning down the half-bucket but that was explained by the older women as off-limits.
Then it was that it rained for two days. We were sure the siói would sneak themselves out for food during that storm. I am not certain what happened, but when the rains went away, the War had ended and the American Navy had showed up with one destroyer to collect the siói. Wanting only Joey and Lieutenant Mocatta were left, and that started up a big search of the whole island.
The Marines who came down from the destroyer to do that, the big search, were tired and hoping to get home soon. Mostly they stayed around the sare yui and talked to the older girls. And they told us they had killed two cities of Japanese with just one bomb, or big villages as they told us. Which we later found out wasn’t quite true, the just one bomb, and at the time it seems like one riri story even for Americans.
Finally, they found Sawio‘s gun in the wild areas, and all the shells were fired. Joey, Lieutenant Mocatta, and the men agreed that he was probably killed by a boar, and that’s what they told the Marines and the captain on the destroyer. None of the other siói left a single trace.
Joey and Lieutenant Mocatta signed a piece of paper with the men, who mainly just wrote down an X like the yeoman showed them. It said what they agreed must have happened about the boar and Sawio, and that the others had left during the rain and never came back. They all signed it. Right after that, the tosuya pulled back the off-limits on the siói.
But, Lieutenant Mocatta just got us some better rifles from the ship, and told us we had to work with the Australians from then on. Which is just what happened, I guess.
When they were putting the last bits and pieces of equipment on one boat from the destroyer, Joey asked my grandfather about why we were living in the sare yui. Which, at that time, he says “temple” and we figure out that Americans were like Wotupae and did not live in their churches. Nobody really could answer, not even the tosuya, which I think because they didn’t want to say anything bad about Wotupae. Even at that time, bad words about cousins were off-limits to foreigners.
But, my grandmother answered him and she said the Wotúruans always lived in our temples because all of Creation belongs to Ao Yui. You cannot really live outside of waya anyway, so you might as well live in a temple that reminded you all the time that you and everything else belonged to God.
And, I remember, they took everything away on the ship, wanting the half-bucket. Which we let the people from the sare yui on the windward side of Wotúru use to store their boats, until the Australians came to start building the new town up.