The song Gumagabu is described at length by Malinowski in the following excerpt taken from Malinowski 1922:291-296 (Chapter 12, Mythology of the Kula, Argonauts of the Western Pacific).
This land must remain, for the present anyhow, veiled for ourselves, as it also is for the Trobriand natives. For these, indeed, the few attempts which they occasionally made to come into contact with these natives, and the few mishaps which brought them to their shores, were all far from encouraging in results, and only strengthened the traditional superstitious fear of them. Several generations ago, a canoe or two from Burakwa, in the island of Kayeula, made an exploring trip to the district of Gabu, lying in a wide bay under the North- West flank of Koyatabu. The natives of Gabu, receiving them at first with a show of interest, and pretending to enter into commercial relations, afterwards fell on them treacherously and slew the chief Toraya and all his companions. This story has become famous, and indeed one of the outstanding historical events of the Trobriands, because Tomakam, the slain chief’s younger brother, went to the Koya of Gabu, and killed the head man of one of the villages, avenging thus his brother’s death. He then composed a song and a dance which is performed to this day in Kiriwina, and has indeed one of the finest melodies in the islands.
This is the verbatim account of the story as it was told to me by To’uluwa himself, the chief of Omarakana, who at present ‘owns‘ this Gumagabu dance, his ancestors having acquired it from the descendants of Tomakam by a laga payment.* It is a commentary to the song, and begins only with the avenging expedition of Tomakam, which is also the theme of the song.
The Story of Gumagabu
“Tomakam got a new waga. He blew the conch shell and went to the Koya. He spoke to his mother” (that is, before leaving), “‘My mother, you remain, I shall sail. One conch shell you hear, it will be a conch shell of a necklace.’”(That is, it will be a sign that he has been successful in getting a good Kula necklace).” ‘The second conch shell will be the conch shell of the dead man; the sign that I have already carried out my revenge. I shall sail, I shall anchor, I shall sleep. The second day I shall sail, I shall anchor, I shall sleep. The third day I shall anchor in a village, having already arrived in the Mountain. The fourth day I shall give pari, the Kinana (the Southern foreigner) will come, I shall hit him. The fifth day I shall return. I shall sail fast, till night grows on the sea. The next day I shall anchor at Burakwa. You hear the conch shell, you sleep in the house, arise. One blow you hear of the shell—the blow of the bagi (necklace). Two blows you hear, the blow of the dead man! Then the men of Burakwa will say: ‘ Two conch shells, two necklaces,’ then, you come out of the house, you speak: ‘Men of Burakwa, from one side of the village and from the other ; indeed you mocked my son, Tomakam. Your speech was—go, carry out thy vendetta in Gabu. The first conch shell is that of the necklace, the second conch shell is that of the dead man. I have spoken!’“ (Here ends the speech of Tomakam to his mother.)
“He anchored in the village in the Koya. He told his younger brother: ‘Go, tell the Kinana men these words: Your friend has a sore leg, well, if we together go to the canoe he will give the pari! ‘The younger brother went and spoke those words to the head-man of the Kinana: ‘Some green coco-nuts, some betel-nut, some pig, bring this to us and we shall give you pari. Your arm-shells, your big stone blade, your boar’s tusk, your whale-bone spatula await you in the canoe. The message for you is that your friend has a sore leg and cannot walk.’ Says the Kinana man: ‘Well, let us go’”
“He caught a pig, he collected betel-nut, sugar cane, bananas, necklaces, betel-pod, he said:
‘Well, let us go (293) together to the canoe.’ Pu’u he gives the necklace; pu’u, the pig; then he gave the coco-nut, the betel-nut, the sugar cane, the bananas. Tomakam lay on one side; his leg he wrapped up in a white, soft pandanus mat. Before he had spoken to his younger brother”: (i.e., he gave him this instruction also, when he sent him to meet the people of Gabu): “‘You all come with the Kinana man. Do not remain in the village.’ Then” (after the first gifts were exchanged) “the Kinana man stood up in the canoe. His betel-pod fell down. Spoke Tomakam, addressing the Kinana man: ‘My friend, pick up the betel-pod. It fell and went down into the canoe.’ ‘The Kinana man bent down, he took the betel-pod. Tomakam saw that the Kinana bent down, he took an axe, and sitting he made a stroke at him. He cut off his neck. Then Tomakam took the head, threw the body into the sea. The head he stuck on a stick of his canoe. They sailed, they arrived in their village. He caught a pig, prepared a taro pudding, cut sugar cane, they had a big feast, he invented this song.”
Such was the story told me by the chief of Omarakana about the song and dance of Gumagabu, which at that time they were singing and performing in his village. I have adduced it in full, in an almost literal translation from the native text, in order to show it side by side with the song. The narrative thus reproduced shows characteristic gaps, and it does not cover even the incidents of the song.
The following is a free translation of the song, which, in its original native text, is very condensed and impressionistic. A word or two indicates rather than describes whole scenes and incidents, and the traditional commentary, handed on in a native community side by side with the song, is necessary for a full understanding.
The Gumagabu Song
The stranger of Gumagabu sits on the top of the mountain.
‘Go on top of the mountain, the towering mountain. . .’
— They cry for Toraya…–
The stranger of Gumagabu sits on the slope of the mountain.
–The fringe of small clouds lifts above Boyowa;
The mother cries for Toraya –
(294) ‘I shall take my revenge.’
The mother cries for Toraya.
Our mother, Dibwaruna, dreams on the mat.
She dreams about the killing.
‘Revenge the wailing;
Anchor; hit the Gabu strangers!’
–The stranger comes out;
The chief gives him the pari;
‘I shall give you the doga;
Bring me things from the mountain to the canoe!’
We exchange our vaygu’a;
The rumour of my arrival spreads through the Koya
We talk and talk.
He bends and is killed.
His companions run away;
His body is thrown into the sea;
The companions of the Kinana run away,
We sail home.
Next day, the sea foams up,
The chief’s canoe stops on the reef;
The storm approaches;
The chief is afraid of drowning.
The conch shell is blown:
It sounds in the mountain.
They all weep on the reef.
They paddle in the chief’s canoe;
They circle round the point of Bewara.
‘I have hung my basket.
I have met him.’
So cries the chief,
So cries repeatedly the chief.
Women in festive decoration
Walk on the beach.
Nawaruva puts on her turtle rings;
She puts on her luluga’u skirt.
In the village of my fathers, in Burakwa.,
There is plenty of food;
Plenty is brought in for distribution.
The character of this song is extremely elliptic, one might even say futuristic, since several scenes are crowded simultaneously into the picture. In the first strophe we see the Kinana, by which word all the tribesmen from the d’Entrecasteaux Archipelago are designated in Boyowa, on the top of his Mountain in Gabu. Immediately afterwards, we are informed of the intentions of Tomakam to ascend the mountain, while the women cry for Toraya, for the slain chief—probably his kinswomen and widows. The next picture again spans over the wide seas, and on the one shore we see the Gabuan sitting on the slopes of his hill and far away on the other, under the fringe of small clouds lifting above Boyowa, the mother cries for her son, the murdered chief. Tomakam takes a resolve, ‘I shall take my revenge,’ hearing her cry.
In the second strophe, the mother dreams about the expedition; the words about revenge to be taken on the Gabu men and the directions to anchor and hit him are probably taken from her dream. Then suddenly we are transported right across to the mountain, the expedition having arrived there already. The strangers, the Kinana are coming down to the canoe, and we assist at the words spoken between them and the people of Buakwa.
Then in the third strophe, we arrive at the culminating scene of the drama; even here, however, the hero, who is also his own bard, could not help introducing a few boastful words about his renown resounding in the Koya. In a few words the tragedy is described: the Kinana bends down, is killed, and his body is thrown into the water. About his head we hear nothing in this verse.
In the next one, a storm overtakes the returning party. Signals of distress are re-echoed by the mountain, and like Homeric heroes, our party are not ashamed to weep in fear and anguish. Somehow they escape, however, and in the next verse, they are already near their village and Tomakam, their leader, bursts into a paean of triumph. It is not quite clear what the allusion to the basket means, whether he keeps there his Kula trophies or the slain enemy’s head; this latter, in contradiction to what we heard in the prose story of its being impaled. The song ends with a description of a feast. The woman mentioned there is Tomakam’s daughter, who puts on festive attire in order to welcome her father.
Comparing now the song with the story, we see that they do not quite tally. In the story, there is the dramatic interest of the mother’s intervention. We gather from it that Tomakam, goaded by the aspersions of his fellow-villagers, wishes to make his return as effective as possible. He arranges the signals of the two conch shell blasts with his mother, and asks her to harangue the people at the moment of his return. All this finds no expression in the song. The ruse of the chief’s sore leg is also omitted from there, which, however, does not mean that the hero was ashamed of it. On the other hand, the storm described in the song is omitted from the story, and there is a discrepancy about the head of the Gabu man, and we do not know whether it really is conveyed in a basket as the song has it or impaled, as the story relates!
I have adduced in detail the story and the song, because they are a good illustration of the native’s attitude towards the dangers, and towards the heroic romance of the Koya. They are also interesting as documents, showing which salient points would strike the natives’ imagination in such a dramatic occurrence. Both in the story and in the song, we find emphasised the motives of social duty, of satisfied self-regard and ambition; again, the dangers on the reef, the subterfuge in killing, finally the festivities on return home. Much that would interest us in the whole story is omitted, as anyone can see for himself.
Bronislaw Malinowski, 1922