Traditional stories from Melanesia



Selected stories from the oral literature
My encounter with Maten Womal, the last storyteller in the Olrat language.

Exploring the islands of Melanesia allowed me not only to learn new languages, but also to discover a whole new world of mythology and literature, through the many stories of the oral tradition: myths, legends, folktales and other narratives.

These rich narratives form a subset of my fieldwork archives, most of which are accessible online. Indeed, during my years of fieldwork 1997–2011, I collected the following resources:

    1069 fieldwork recordings (≈104 h), in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands

      1034 recordings archived online, accessible through the CoCoON repository and its Pangloss Collection

        389 narratives transcribed in my text corpora (the basis for my linguistic analyses), in 21 different languages

          111 narratives transcribed and presented online
          – usually with a full translation, in Eng. and/or French.



The present page proposes a selection of 84 such stories. These texts stand out for various reasons – whether due to their subject, their structure, the light they shed upon past or present societies, or due to the talented style of the storyteller. Not only can you listen to the original sound, but also read a transcript of the text in the original language [see the list of these languages]. As much as possible, texts come with a translation, either in French or in English.

To read a text, click on its title.
The table below shows what features come with the text:
French audio – French transcript of the text in the vernacular–
French French translation – English English translation.

Stories from Vanuatu

Araki The rat, the hawk and the octopus Lele Moli  
Araki A myth of origin: the island of Araki Lele Moli  
Araki Hunting for coconut crab Ropo  
Araki How the village of Sope was exorcised Sohe Moli  
Dorig Wrisris, the Guardian of the Underworld – §1§2§3 Charles Maklen  
Dorig The woman who became volcano John Collection  
Dorig The mysterious pixies John Star
Dorig The barracuda boy Selwyn Wesur
Dorig The tragic revenge of the two sisters Charles Maklen  
Hiw The mat from the Other World Jimmy Tiwyoy  
Hiw About the grade system on Hiw, and about sorcery Jimmy Tiwyoy  
Koro The battle between Gods and Men Banabas Womal
Koro The boy who became a Flying fish Derik Bogo  
Koro In love with an Eel Man Banabas Womal  
Lakon Wuwut the orphan Klera Romalev
Lakon Kpwat and his brothers Moses Steven Weting  
Lakon On the significance of Hawks Nelson Vagēl
Lakon The origin of Gaua's great lake Nikson Wevales  
Lakon The origin of dances magh and leng Nikson Wevales
Mwerlap On the people of Gaua Rokatson  
Mwesen Kpwet, the trickster god Tevēt Mesigteltōk
Mwotlap The two enemies and the origin of mosquitoes Charley Wesley  
Mwotlap The origin of kava Edga Howard  
Mwotlap The dancing dead Hansel  
Mwotlap Romanmangan, the fairy from the Other world Jenifa to Toglag
Mwotlap The Cordyline man Masiro Numleas
Mwotlap The three wives of the gecko Moses Meywēlgen
Mwotlap The unyielding woman and the murdered prince Railey  
Mwotlap How Ikpwet brought back the Night Taitus Lōlō  
Olrat John Young, one who went to Queensland Maten Womal
Olrat The curse of the Eel Maten Womal
Olrat The boy who bullied the Ogress Maten Womal  
Vera'a Stuck in the cave Fredrik Qarngi  
Volow The Chief and the Orphan Wanhan  


Stories from the Solomon Islands


Lovono The shipwreck of Lapérouse §1§2 Rubenson Lono  
Tanema The heron Emele Mamuli  
Tanema The shipwreck of Lapérouse Emele Mamuli  
Teanu Dragging the canoe to the sea Mofet Bwana    
Teanu Lapérouse's treasure chest Teliki Thomas  
Teanu The message left by Lapérouse Teliki Thomas  
Teanu The origin of the kauri tree Teliki James Pae  
Teanu Mwasu and the forbidden woman Teliki James Pae  
Teanu The island of Dancing Spirits Teliki James Pae  
Tikopia The shipwreck of Lapérouse Kaspa Niu Maketi  


Raw stories, not yet translated

Some stories have no translation yet, and are only provided with a transcript: these may be of interest to members of the speaker communities, as well as linguists or other curious readers.

Dorig The Heron and the Demon Charles Maklen    
Hiw The two yams Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw Spirits and demons Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw The origin of newēt music Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw Mer̄ëmpē, the river eel Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw Mer̄avtit and his brothers Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw About ancient altars (ne tuye) Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw Toyöë and Wor̄tötë Jimmy Tiwyoy    
Hiw The Lyretail grouper Sedrak Liqëlë    
Hiw Meravtit’s journey Sedrak Liqëlë    
Lakon The Bird on the Great Lake Wini Rovalēs    
Lehali The mother resurrected Stanley Lengson    
Lemerig The rock that floated to the Torres Islands Wolta Robin    
Lemerig Kpwet and his brothers against the Ogre Wolta Robin    
Lo-Toga The origin of yams Aisak Rongroriw    
Lo-Toga Merawehih creates Night and Day Aisak Rongroriw    
Lo-Toga Merawehih and his brothers against the Ogre Aisak Rongroriw    
Lo-Toga Merawehih and his brothers in the oven Aisak Rongroriw    
Lo-Toga Merawehih and the coconut crab Aisak Rongroriw    
Lo-Toga The Ogress who killed her own children Ben Rana    
Lo-Toga A demon Ben Rana    
Lo-Toga Qaheteveri the Cannibal Elton Gëgeliqe    
Lo-Toga The story of Rëlol beach Livai Metrië    
Lo-Toga Merawehih frees his mother Peretin Wokmagene    
Lo-Toga The octopus Pita Woteqō    
Löyöp The giant swine of the Reef Islands Fred William Qasvarong    
Löyöp The two ogres Al and Oydin Fred William Qasvarong    
Mota Two sisters-in-law Ro Pansi Salevaglea    
Mwesen Selected stories of Kpwet Tevēt Mesigteltōk    
Mwesen Varvang against the Giant Tevēt Mesigteltōk    
Mwotlap The revenge of Kpwētlas Charley Wesley    
Mwotlap The wild boy (recorded by †B. Vienne) Jif Mika (1978)    
Mwotlap The great dance of the fish Morris Emboi    
Mwotlap Two brothers: one selfish, one generous Moses Meywēlgen    
Mwotlap Ikpwet and his brothers against the Ogre Taitus Lōlō    
Mwotlap Venventey and the mystery island Wit Samson    
Mwotlap The fisher from the hill Woklo    
Vera'a How Sēwēes'i'i songs came to be Eli Field    
Vurës The dancing dead Alban Mofet    

All these stories were first transcribed by hand in the field, with the help of native speakers of the languages; later on, I would type these notes and add them to my digital text corpus (in Toolbox). This work of transcription and translation is still in progress. Later again, the workflow included a stage of time-aligning text and sound, sentence by sentence, aimed at a web publication on the Pangloss interface. (Among the 80+ texts listed above, about 50 were time-aligned in 2013, thanks to the support of the LabEx EFL "Empirical Foundations of Linguistics".)

I intend to keep enriching these corpora in the future, by adding in more stories or more translations. The present selection, however, already gives a fair idea of the diversity of narratives that can be heard in the field, on an evening of storytelling.