Volume 59 1950 > Volume 59, No. 3 > Riddles (kam'aninga) from the Gilbert Islands, by H. G. A. Hughes, p 241-244
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AS elsewhere in Oceania, the asking of riddles is a popular means of entertainment in the islands of the Gilbert group. Riddles have a part in the games played by children, while they also frequently serve as the Gilbertese equivalent of the child's ‘bed-time story’. Adults, too, find pleasure in congregating in the m'aneaba before retiring for the night and asking or puzzling over a new riddle, which may have been throught out while its author tended his land or fished the lagoon. Such new riddles will be disseminated quite rapidly, even to the outlying islands. Traditional riddles, and those which are familiar to everyone, maintain a seemingly undying popularity and many adults have a great store of them in their memories.

The examples which follow are typical of the present-day Gilbertese riddle. It will be seen that they are, in the main, of modern creation. The orthography devised for Gilbertese by the Rev. Hiram Bingham has been used in the texts. This has the virtue of indicating significant vowel length (by means of a macron placed above the vowel), and of making a distinction, by the use of an apostrophe, between the varieties of m and of b differentiated in speech by the Gilbertese themselves.

Thanks are due to Ten Tabunawati of Berū, who kindly supplied me with the texts of the riddles now printed here, and with other specimens of modern Gilbertese oral literature; and to Tem Bauro Ratieta, who has helped me to acquire a knowledge and appreciation of the culture of his people.

1. Q. Temanna te aomata ae am'ām'arake mai taubukin atūna ao e bēbeka mai āni b'angena.

A. Te bēkā (Te tuairoa).

Q. A man who eats through the top of his head and empties his bowels from underneath his chin.

A. A pandanus-fruit grater.

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2. Q. Teoina te kai ae tengaun ma uāi m'āngana ao tenibubua ao onongaun ma nimabā ao te kām'akoro bāna.

A. Te ririki.

Q. A tree with twelve branches and three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter leaves.

A. A year.

3. Q. Temanna te unim'āne ae e a ia atūna ao ngkana e kato kāki b'arana, ao e mrara iana.

A. Te kautuai. (Te koiriki.)

Q. An old man whose head has turned gray; when his hat is put on, his grey hair falls out.

A. A coconut grater.

4. Q. Iai te abam'akoro ae uarēreke. Iai autina aika a bati ao ti ua-aeka autina ba teaekana e bēniaki n te māwāwa ao are teaekana e bēniaki n te uraura.

A. Te b'āb'aiā. (Te mwemweara.)

Q. There is a small island. It has many houses and there are only two kinds of them. One sort is painted green, while the other is painted red.

A. A papaya tree.

5. Q. Tewāna te kaibuke ae te tīma, e buti i aoni marawa ae mainaina, ae rorō, ae uraura, ae māwāwa, ae bābōbō.

A. Te aian. (Te āuri.)

Q. A steamship which sails along on a white sea, on a black sea, on a red sea, on a green sea and on a yellow sea.

A. A flat-iron.

6. Q. Temanna te aomata ae a bati kabaean nūkana ao ngkana ko taraia n te bong, e uraura atūna.

A. Te rin ni kibē.

Q. A man who has many belts around his waist; when you look at him at night, his head is red.

A. A fishing torch.

7. Q. Temanna te aomata ae ai bon te ngangarengare naba n tāi nako.

A. Te nao i aon te maran.

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Q. A man who just keeps on laughing all the time.

A. The surf on the outer reef.

8. Q. Temanna te aomata ae rang ni būabeka ae aki konā ni ngae n am'arake ma e bon rangi n rawa ni kabuki ke ni mōi be [= ba e] riki iai aorakina ao e na mate iai.

A. Te ai.

Q. A man who eats heavily and who can never get enough to eat; he refuses vehemently to drink while eating, or even to drink at all, because that would make him ill and he would die as a result.

A. A fire.

9. Q. Teuana te auti ae tamāroa, ao m'aitini kāina bon onongaun. A boni bane ni wene ni matū kāin te auti aei, ao ngkana e nangi nako temanna man te auti aei, ao e otinako n orea atūna ma rarikin te auti, ni kabō ma raona ake i nanon te auti ao ni kabō naba ma te auti, e tia n rebwe atūna ma te auti, ao e taetae ni kabō ni kāngai—Tii . . . ao e a nako naba n aki manga oki.

A. Te b'aoki ni mātiati.

Q. A beautiful house and the number of people in it is sixty. The people in this house all lie sleeping; when anyone is going to leave, he gets up and goes out and strikes his head against the side of the house, in order to say goodbye to his friends inside and also to the house itself. When his head has been knocked against the house, he then says goodbye in this way—Tsee. . . and goes away, never to return.

A. A match-box.

10. Q. Iai te auti teuana ae tei n te Bōre Meāng n te tabo ae kamariri, ao a bane ni wene kāina aika tebubua i nanona aika tān akawa, a bane ni wene ni kauanging ba a mariri n te aiti ma te tinō, ao a tī wenewene n aia auti ni kakāntaninga aia tai n nako n akawa.

A. Te b'aoki ni matau.

Q. There is a house that stands at the North Pole, which is a cold place, and its people, who are fisherman and number one hundred, all lie down inside it. They all lie huddled up together, for they feel cold due to the - 244 ice and snow. They just lie in their house waiting for their time to go fishing.

A. A box of fish-hooks.

11. Q. Temanna te aomata ae e wēwene n tangaina i aon te kunikai ae māwāwa ao e m'anūnū, ao ngkana e kan nakonako, e boni wawātangaina naba ao e tī tangira te moko n nakonakona ae bati ba kautani matana.

A. Te kaibuke ae te tīma.

Q. A man who lies, face upwards, upon a green, undulated cloth. When he wants to walk about he just keeps on looking upwards; he only likes a smoke when he walks about to freshen himself up.

A. A steamship.

12. Q. Temanna te aomata ae ngkana e am'arake ao ā bon taratarāki naba kanoani birotona mai tinanikuni kunna, a aki konā n raba kanana ake e a tia n ong.

A. Te b'ātoro.

Q. A man whose stomach contents can be seen from the outside of his skin, when he eats. The food which he has swallowed cannot be concealed.

A. A bottle.

  • Riddle 1: Bēkā and tuairoa are alternative answers. Bēkā is the term used in the southernmost islands for the pandanus-fruit grater made of shell or iron and mounted on two wooden uprights fixed in the ground. In the northern islands tuairoa is the term used.
  • Riddle 3: Here again, kautuai and koiriki are alternatives. Kautuai is the northern word, and koiriki the southern. The coconut grater is similar to the bēkā, but with a rougher grating-edge.
  • Riddle 4: B'āb'aiā as the name for the papaya is most usual in the northern Gilberts. Elsewhere, mwemweara is commonly used.
  • Riddle 5: Aian and āuri are in use in the north and in the south respectively.
  • Riddle 6: Te rin is a torch made of dry coconut leaves. Kibē designates a method of fishing practised at night in shallow water, using scoop-nets and lighted torches.