Poolah's lesson
It was almost the day of the annual kayak race on the tiny island of Viati. Everyone was involved, from the most ancient village elder down to the island’s youngest newborn, just two days old but already swaddled to its mother’s back in bright tribal colours.
Poolah of the Timor tribe had a quest. He intended to win. His manhood ceremony would be held at the end of the next moon cycle and his standing within the village hierarchy was dependant upon this race. Poolah was building a new boat, and it would be like nothing the islanders had ever seen before. But Poolah was cheating. He was using cedar wood stolen from the neighbouring Danog tribe. The Danogs maintained only an uneasy truce with the Timor and were fierce rivals in the boat race. In the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, Poolah had stealthily trespassed into the hallowed woods on the far side of the island and had chopped down a sacred cedar tree.
He had confided his secret to only one other person, his childhood friend Peenah. Peenah was very disappointed in Poolah and had said so many times, but Poolah would not be deterred from his quest.
Peenah, however was not the only person who knew of Poolah’s deceit. Almost from the very start Poolah had been spied on from deep within the undergrowth by Konig, the old Danog chieftain. As he watched Poolah’s illicit boat begin to take shape, Konig avowed that Poolah must pay a price for his devious trickery.
Unaware of Konig’s anger, Poolah spent several sun cycles working hard on the building of his new kayak. He chiselled, trimmed, planed, stitched, glued and painted until at last, after a final varnish with sweet smelling pine tar, the craft was finished. He knew that a boat made from cedar would be lighter and faster than all the others, which were built from sturdy oak and would be cumbersome in the rough, cold waters around Viati.
The villagers were astounded when, on the day of the race, Poolah produced his beautiful boat. Collectively, apart from old Konig who hung back and said nothing, they admired its curves and lines, and gasped at the excellent craftsmanship, unaware that under the fine paintwork lay a guilty secret.
The islanders from both tribes gathered at the shore, but just before the crafts were launched into the water, Konig approached Poolah and handed him a small terracotta pot. “Poolah” he said “to acknowledge the beauty of this boat and the skill of its builder, and to show there should be no animosity between our two proud tribes, I have this gift for you. In the dead of night, when you are exhausted and cold then use my gift to help you” .
Amid much excitement, the race began. Almost immediately, the curved hull of the cedar wood craft slipped into an easy lead, Poolah’s muscles flexing as his oars cut sleekly through the choppy water. Throughout the day and into nightfall the island menfolk raced against each other in a gruelling test of endurance and stamina. By moonhigh it was bitterly cold and Poolah felt wretched with fatigue. It was then he remembered old Konig’s words “in the dead of night when you are exhausted and cold use my gift to help you”. He picked up the terracotta pot from the bottom of the boat and curiously lifted the lid. Inside were precious magnesia and aluminium flakes, renowned for their ability to hold and give warmth, and a small tinder box, which Poolah quickly used to provide a spark.
Unfortunately the tinder box provided two sparks, one of which embedded itself into the fine cedar wood hull. This at first began to smoke, then to glow, until suddenly it caught alight. Too late Poolah realised his plight as his finely crafted masterpiece started to burn and sink, leaving Poolah with no choice but to jump into the icy depths of the murky sea.
Just as Poolah feared the freezing water would take his life he heard a familiar voice calling his name “Poolah, Poolah, I am coming for you” and over the crest of the next wave appeared Peenah, rowing frantically towards him.
“Peenah, my good friend, thank you” gasped Poolah as he was seized by Peenah’s strong arms “ You have saved my life and I have been such a fool!”
“It is not wise to cheat” Peenah replied as he hauled Poolah into his boat “for you are only cheating yourself. If you wish to become a man then you must live your life with honour. You cannot cheat in order to win and still call yourself a man. You have learnt a valuable lesson today Poolah.
You cannot have your kayak and heat it!”

Sue Butler

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