03 April 2011

The Octopus and the Mouse

One day a very long time ago, a small, clever mouse was out on a fishing boat in the middle of the sea. It was a very small boat and a very small mouse, so when the boat tipped in a wave, the mouse found himself tossed out into the wide blue ocean, swimming for his life. The fishermen had gone far, far out on this trip, hunting for the fish that swam only in the deep dark parts of the water, and there was no land in sight.

The waves tossed the little mouse back and forth, and the mouse started to become very worried. He looked down at his swimming feet, and saw all the creatures swimming comfortably under the water. "If only I could swim like them!" the mouse thought to himself. 

He was a very clever mouse, but finally, it seemed as if all his crafty ways had deserted him, stranded now in the middle of the wide blue ocean. But the mouse didn't give up hope. Deep below him, he saw an octopus swimming in the dark depths. "Octopus!" he called, "Help me! I'm about to drown, and need to get to land!" 

The octopus surfaced and looked at the little wet mouse. "Why should I help you?" the octopus said. "The nearest island is a long way away, and I will be very tired taking you there," he complained, gesturing in the direction of the island. The clever mouse had an idea. "If you take me to land," the mouse said, "I will pay you handsomely for your troubles. I have many good things on the island there, if you will just take me. You won't regret it."

The octopus, wondering what treasures the mouse had hidden on land, agreed to take him, and told the mouse to hop up onto his head. The mouse was very tired, and gratefully climbed up on to the octopus's head as the octopus started swimming toward shore.

Now the island was a very long way away, and the mouse had had quite a fright. They went up and down waves, passed by sail fish and sea snakes, and skirted around large beds of seaweed until the sun was low in the sky. Finally, the mouse could see the shallow ocean bottom and the little puffy sea cucumbers that lived there, near the shore. They had come to his island! 

The octopus swam right up to the island, and the little mouse hopped off of his head and onto the warm sand. Saved, at last! The mouse looked back at the octopus from the safety of shore and laughed. "Thank you!" he said. 

"Where's my payment?" the octopus demanded. "Why, I've already left my payment for you," the mouse replied, "just look on your head!" 

The octopus reached up and felt three little mouse pellets left there, and the mouse ran away into the trees, laughing.

And that is why fishermen always use a mouse to catch the octopus from the deep blue ocean, because ever since, the octopus has been trying to catch the mouse that so insulted him.

- A Tongan story


  1. Just came across this blog while looking for Tongan names.

    This story was one of my personal favorites as a child - my father would tell me this as a bedtime story.

    It's funny how things are lost in translation. The rhyme at the end in Tongan is hilarious. Our variation on this story had a crab a kingfisher also.

    Great blog btw - I look forward to reading more entries.

  2. My father told me the same story when I was a little boy growing up in Ha'apai. However, a few more funny twists to the story do not appear on this version but nevertheless; the story still makes me laugh.

    The art of "Maka Feke" in Ha'apai is a fascinating one. A "maka" made of a special stone with two nicely cut out pieces from the "pule" wrappled on top of the maka with "kafa" and a long tail made from "aka'i niu" with three or four strips of coconut leaves complete the "maka". The whole maka resembles that of a mouse. During the maka feke, the maka is dropped down to about half a metre into the water while tied to a string. The octopus hunter continually lift and drop the maka while in the water. Any octopus within the vicinity of the hunter's canoe will definitely see the maka. Instinctively, it will attack the maka in the hope of catching the mouse. Unfortunately for the octopus, it's fate is always sealed with the hunter's club(usually a piece of wood, or sometimes a blunt knive) before realising that the mouse is only a fake one.


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