She told a story about a mother who did not pay enough attention to her children. The mother farmed everyday and like all the mothers in the village she took her child in a string bag which she hung from her head.
Sometimes she would keep it on her head whilst she worked – and other times when the sun was high she would hang it from a nearby tree. The women in the village always worked hard. The men would sit around playing cards, and chatting. Occasionally they would go for a hunt and bring back something- maybe a wild pig, a crocodile, or a bird.
They never killed a totem. That was bad luck! The women worked hard and the men went off to the city to work, and sometimes they came back, or they did not because snakes had eaten them.
This mother who hung her child nearby did something mothers are never meant to do- she left her baby hanging from the tree when she went home. She was worried about her man working in the city- and thinking about if he would be eaten by snakes.
She was not thinking about her baby as she walked home. She realised as she came into the village that although her head was heavy with thought it was not heavy with a baby. She had forgotten something. She rushed back to the field where she had been working. Her baby was gone.
All the way back to the village she cried and cried. Her man was not there to help her look for the child, but others helped. They searched the jungle, all the bubus and all the mothers. It was in vain the baby was gone.
The woman did not know what she would say to her man, she even thought it was better he would be eaten by snakes. She cried for many a year until the tears had all dried. Her husband had returned when word came to him of the disappearance of his child. Yet he could not calm the mother, and he took a second wife and left her to her hut and her dry tears.
That was a long time ago. The years passed and one day a young woman came to the village. She was unusual in speech and her green foresty dress. She seemed to come from the world of fairies and spirits. ‘Mother’ she said as she came across the woman who had lost her baby. ‘I have returned and I bring you a gift from the jungle spirits.’
The mother looked at the young woman ‘Do I know you? My child is long gone’
‘Look again mother’ said the young woman, and as she looked into her eyes the woman knew it was indeed her daughter. She took both her hands, looked in the lines of the palm. She looked up into her eyes. ‘My daughter’ and her tears became wet again and they embraced.
She told her mother of the jungle spirits and how they had taught her all about the plants of the jungle and they had sent her home now to teach it to her and to all those women who could now become healers and feed their families even better with their knowledge.
‘You were meant to leave me that day, the jungle spirits were mad with the men for sitting playing cards and getting eaten by snakes in the jungle. They decided they would take me and teach me so here I am.’
The mother sighed, glad to have her daughter home. She cooked her daughter all she had in her hut. The daughter smiled and said ‘Now let us go look at what riches there are in the jungle Mum.’ And off they went leaving all the men to play cards.
My mother had returning children, but not were all so prodigal. Her boys got eaten by the snakes of addiction. She grieves for them even now. Her dry tears do not comfort her.
She forgets about the other baby she raised- the girl who would never wear a grass skirt, and learn language- and left her to go to uni. Will she ever return? So she sends her two grass skirts from her aunties and offerings, in the hope she will find all the bounty of the jungle.
(c) June Perkins