As a storyteller my mind often grasps upon small ideas and builds worlds around them, weaving tales out of whatever twigs and straw might be laying around. This is especially applicable when it comes to raising my son, as his little mind is like a sponge and it is my job to ensure that his inner world is richly populated with history, song, color, and story. When he was first born I would often speak to him, as most parents do, in baby-talk, with a variety of nonsense words. One that I used more often than most was ‘aki-pati’, and he responded to it with smiles and grabbing my finger most of the time. One day my lady asked me what it meant, and challenged me to tell the story behind the word. What you see below is a rough draft of the story that fell from the tip of my tongue, one day to be polished and added to a growing stack of stories I will be telling him when he is older to help shape him as a compassionate and courageous human being.
“AKI-PATI AND THE SHARK GOD”
Aki-Pati was a young man who lived on a remote island in the center of a vast ocean. The waters around the island had been over-fished by the villagers of his small community, and a giant shark begun terrorizing the villagers and driving away all the rest of the sea life. The people were not only starving, but trapped on the island, for when they tried to flee in their boats the shark would attack. Aki-Pati was a brave young boy, and had looked into the shark’s eyes during one of the attacks, barely surviving as the great beast shattered their oars and nearly sank the boat. He began to have dreams about a deep wind that blew from the ocean up to the top of the mountain, pushing him along as it drove him from the coast inland. Eventually he’d had enough and one night followed the wind in his waking life through a dangerous climb to the top of the mountain. When he reached the peak the wind told him about the shark god Kaiku, and that the god was blinded by rage at the villagers for taking so much from the ocean without regard, and so was punishing them for their disrespect. The deep wind told Aki-Pati that he could calm Kaiku’s rage by making him swallow a lava rock taken from the ancient volcano on mountaintop. The boy was afraid, yet knew that if he did nothing the village would remained trapped and starve, so he did as the wind instructed. Aki-Pati descended the mountain and went alone into the ocean, his path lit by the full moon in a cloudless sky. He made the difficult swim through the surf with a lava rock in his hand and a sharp knife in the other. He cut himself three times across his chest and the swirling blood offering brought Kaiku up from the depths, his teeth glinting in the moonlight as he came. Aki-Pati dove down to meet the god and when Kaiku opened his great maw Aki-Pati plunged his hand into the shark’s mouth, making it swallow the stone. Aki-Pati’s arm was taken as the shark closed its jaws and disappeared into the dark depths. The boy struggled to remain awake as he swam to shore, and as he did the deep wind called out to the villagers to rescue him and bring bindings for his wounds. When the sun rose Kaiku’s rage had ceased, his deadly fin no longer seen lurking in the crashing waves of the surf. The fish began to return to the waters, and the great shark allowed the people harvest them once again. Aki-Pati had risked his life and sacrificed his arm to save the villagers, ease the god’s rage, and restore balance to the sea. Long after Aki-Pati had lived his life and passed on to the next world, young boys and girls who were ready to make the transition into adulthood had to wait in silence by the sea until they heard the elders beat the drums, and then would climb the mountain. Once they reached the peak the elders would tattoo a ring of shark tooth marks around their left arm, just above the elbow, to remind them the cost of taking too much from the world, and to listen when the deep wind blows.