The Momina Story of the Fall and the Loss of Eternal LIfe

by Les Henson

In the beginning of time a “man who shed his skin” took his sister and came down to earth. He gave her to a “man of the earth” that she might become his wife. Having given her to the “man of the earth,” he said to the people, “Build a house in preparation for the feast of snakes and lizards.” He then returned to his abode in the sky.

In the beginning of time a “man who shed his skin” took his sister and came down to earth. He gave her to a “man of the earth” that she might become his wife. Having given her to the “man of the earth,” he said to the people, “Build a house in preparation for the feast of snakes and lizards.”1 He then returned to his abode in the sky.

Then, the “man of the earth” began to build the first house for the feast of snakes and lizards. All the people of the longhouse helped him build the house and cut the firewood for the feast. When everything was ready, he and his wife, along with the leaders of his longhouse community, sent two young boys with a message up the trail (ladder) to the sky to tell the “man who shed his skin” that the feast had been prepared and that everything was ready.

When the “man who shed his skin” and other members of his community heard the news that the feast was prepared, they came down to earth and sang, “Woo, woo, woo,” and danced2 at the base of the earth’s tree, and the earth’s tree was very good. The “man who shed his skin” said to the people of the earth, “Oh, you are only good [without sin].” Then, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions continued to sing and dance as they entered the house of the feast of snakes and lizards. (Note: this was the halfway house, the first of the two houses associated with the feast.).

Having entered the house, they danced some more before climbing up to the sleeping platform where they ate staple food, such as sago and bananas.

The next day, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions went back up to their home in the sky. As he was leaving he said to his sister (the “man of the earth’s” wife), “Don’t have intercourse with your husband. If you have intercourse together you will become like maggots, eaten by them and you will all die.” Having said that, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions climbed back up to the sky, leaving the people of the earth.

The “man of the earth” and his longhouse companions continued with building the second house of the feast of snakes and lizards until it was finished. Then, they beat sago until it was all ready, after which they worked gathering other staple foods until it was all gathered in one place. The people of the earth said, “Ya, we can now get the sago grubs.” So they continued to collect sago grubs until they were all collected. When everything was finished the wife said to her husband, “Will you have intercourse with me?” Her husband replied, “But your brother, when he was down here, said that if we had intercourse together we would not shed our skins.” The wife replied angrily, “You must!” So they proceeded to have intercourse together and then they slept.

The next day, the “man of the earth” said to the people of his longhouse, “Ya, you can go and call the ‘man who shed his skin’ and his companions.” They climbed up the trail to the sky to tell the “man who shed his skin” and his companions that the feast was ready. They slept that night at the place of the people who shed their skin in the sky. The next morning they all came down together singing, “Woo, woo, woo.”

On arrival, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions danced at the base of the earth’s tree. But they did not see the woman they had given in marriage to the “man of the earth.” Therefore, the “man who shed his skin” said to the “man of the earth,” “You and your wife have had intercourse.” Having said that, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions danced around the earth’s tree. A large buttress root of the earth’s tree split apart and fell to the ground. As a result, only the people who shed their skin sang and entered the house of the feast of snakes and lizards. When they had finished dancing, they climbed up to the sleeping platforms and sat down. They were given food by the people of the earth. After eating the food, they slept.

The next day, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions climbed back up to the sky; however, before they departed, the “man who shed his skin” said to the “man of the earth,” “Oh, because you have done that which was forbidden, the maggots will eat you and your companions. You will not receive new skins [eternal life]; you will get sick and die.”
Having said that, the “man who shed his skin” and his companions climbed back up to the sky (implication being that they would never return). That having taken place, the earth’s people did not receive new skins, but they got sick and died.3

Endnotes
1. The feast of snakes and lizards (koobo feast) was traditionally celebrated about every three or four years in different locations, coinciding with the cycle of epidemics. Before the feast could be initiated, the people of the longhouse holding the feast needed to kill people from another longhouse before building the two ceremonial feast houses.

2. This singing and dancing traditionally marked the commencement of the feast of snakes and lizards when all the people from neighboring longhouses arrived at the feast.

3. This is a new and revised translation by me of the “Momina Myth of the Fall and the Loss of Eternal Life.” See Keikwa Woin and Kotakenee Woin. 1987. “Myth of the Loss of Eternal Life.” Oral recording on cassette tape. Transcribed and translated by Les Henson.

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Les Henson spent nineteen years church planting in West Papua with World Team. He is currently senior lecturer in intercultural and mission studies at Tabor College in Melbourne, Australia.

Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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