This is an NFSA Digital Learning resource. See all Digital Learning websites.
Mabo home
The Malo-Bomai myth
Sam Passi, in Nonie Sharp's book Stars of Tagai:

The myth of Malo-Bomai consists of two associated narratives. The first tells of the coming of Bomai, Malo's maternal uncle; the second is about Malo's arrival at Mer, looking for his uncle. There are many versions of the myth now in written form. Of critical importance for the Meriam people is that Bomai, the very secret and sacred name for the god of the Meriam, came first; Malo, the lesser god came after.

THE MALO - BOMAI MYTH

Bomai came from Tuger in west New Guinea. He transformed himself into a whale and swam down until he reached Boigu Island in the far west of Torres Strait and got stranded there. 'It's a zogo, the supernatural', the Islanders said because it whistled. So they built a fence round it and went to fetch the drums and other things for feasting and dancing, but Bomai broke the fence, dived into the deep sea and changed into a canoe, arriving at Dauan Island in the form of a huge turtle, here again being recognised as a zogo. Sailing on in the form of a canoe Bomai arrived at Mabuiag in the shape of a dugong. In turn he called at Badu, Moa, Nagir and Muralag where he met his three brothers; together they sailed eastwards passing through islands like Waraber and Paremar and Warrior. One brother's canoe drifted to Yam Island, another brother sailed to Aurid and the third stayed at Masig (Yorke Island). Finally, Bomai arrived at Mer becoming stranded at Begegiz where the people said: 'Keriba agud ged seker em', 'This is our god our protector'. Bomai moved from place to place and changing from shape to shape of different sea creatures in the deep water he arrived at Teker on the south side of Mer in the form of an octopus where he met Kabur, a woman who was line-fishing from the reef at a place called Taparau, and had connection with her. Recognising it as a zogo she put it in a basket and gave the octopus to her husband Dog. They hung the basket in the house where that night they saw its two eyes shining like stars. The basket with Bomai was stolen by Dog's two brothers-in-law from Las. Then the people of Las invited Dog and they all sat and smoked zeub, the pipe of peace, so becoming friends again. And Dog and his wife said, 'All right, you keep Bomai here'. So they left the zogo there with the people of Las and the trees everywhere became painted with red ochre.

The second narrative tells of the coming of Malo from New Guinea.

Malo, a man with a shark's head, came with four brothers to find his uncle, Bomai, increasing his canoe-party in the central islands. Bab nade? Where is Bab [father]? Some of Malo's party speared him in the back and gave the drums they brought to the local people saying: 'These are the dances you are going to perform'. Then Malo was brought and added on to the original god, Bomai.

Bomai combined into one the power of the manifold qualities of creatures and creations that go with the sea, from the 'other side' beyond Boigu travelling from west to east. In embodying protean metamorphoses, Bomai is the pinnacle of sacred power known as zogo, the ultimate power of a sea people. Zeub, the pipe of peace, was passed round the circle at Las in the presence of the god Bomai, so prefiguring a way of living together. Zogo or sacred dances and chants were performed by the people at Las through the power of Bomai. They came to be known as the sacred dances of Malo because Bomai was so sacred that no ordinary mortal might call that name. Meriam people today compare the sacredness of Bomai's name with the Old Testament rule: 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they god in vain.' In pre-Christian Mer if you said the secret name 'you wouldn't see the sun go down'. They didn't tell all this to the expedition from Cambridge: Bomai was kept secret and the question where Bomai "was pointing" remained unanswered.

The journeys of the Meriam sea gods marked out a pathway northwest across the Torres Strait which the Meriam could follow and make and remake cone shell friends in the 'enemy territory' of the other side in the world of the setting sun. The northwest became too the direction of the isle of the rebirth of the dead, giving the promise of resurrection.

The Meriam ancestors observed the movement of the sun: from east to west, rising and setting and re-emerging. In ancient times, they believed the sun went down to a site beneath the island on the western side of Mer. This was also the place where the spirits of the dead rested on their way to Boigu, the isle of the dead. In the sacred dances which Malo brought in his mythical journey from the northwest, the movements of the dancers are anti-clockwise, from east to west, like the movement of the setting sun.
Keywords: Las, Malo dance, Malo's laws, Malo-Bomai, Meriam culture, Meriam history, Papua New Guinea, sacred, Stars of Tagai, Torres Strait

Sharp, Nonie 1993, 'Stars of Tagai', Aboriginal Studies Press, p.29.
Source: Sam Passi