...The myth of Malo-Bomai...
'Underlying Malo's Law and giving it a sacred endowment is the myth of Malo and Bomai (Malo's maternal uncle) and the narrative of their long sea journeys across the western and central islands to Mer in the east.
'The origins of Malo's Law within the sacred charter of the myth were not explained to the court by the expert witnesses. No doubt this contributed to Justice Moynihan's finding that the origins of Malo's law were 'diffuse and obscure'. Justice Moynihan was aware that the Malo myth "is a matter of enormous complexity and significance" for "understanding the culture of the [Meriam] people". He was sensitive to a quality of "deep mystery", and there is a note of humility in his admission that "my understanding of it is inadequate in the extreme".
The myth of the two culture heroes Malo-Bomai consists of two complementary narratives. In the first, Bomai, the more sacred of the two heroes, travels from Tuger, in West New Guinea, to Mer, transforming himself into the shapes of different sea creatures as he goes from island to island. He arrives at Teker on the southern side of Mer in the form of an octopus, and is recognised as a zogo or supernatural being by a woman who is fishing on the reef. The basket into which she and her husband place Bomai is stolen by her brothers-in-law from the village of Las. Eventually the people become friends and agree that Bomai should remain at Las.
'In the second narrative, Malo arrives with his four brothers, to find his maternal uncle, Bomai. Some of his party spear Malo in the back; they give the Murray Islanders the drums they brought with them and teach them new dances. As a creature which unites eight tentacles in one body, Malo (the name used publicly for the very sacred Bomai) carries a heavy load of symbolic meaning as a religious mediator, bringing together in one body the eight landowning clans or nosik of the Murray islands.
'Notwithstanding the destruction of the Malo-Bomai sacred order (or "cult") as an institution, Malo's Law continues to carry the force of a religious commandment. Meriam people who are especially well versed in matters of law and tradition say that Malo's laws are like those of the Christian religion, so in this respect their conversion to Christianity made no fundamental difference.'
Keywords: Malo's laws, Malo-Bomai, Meriam culture, Meriam history, Moynihan, Justice Martin, Murray Island, myths, No Ordinary Judgement, religion, sacred
Sharp, Nonie 1996, 'No Ordinary Judgment', Aboriginal Studies Press, pp 154-156.
Author: Kenna, Jonathan