With a glum look on his face, the young Aboriginal hunter, Manimanuk, looked out over the plains from the rocky outcrop where he was standing. Angry words had been spoken earlier that morning in the camp of his people. To Manimanuk it seemed as if there were two camps. One, led by one of the elders, was determined to move on to better hunting grounds before the dry season came. The other camp felt it was better to wait until one of the mothers fully recovered after breaking her leg while foraging for yams.
The arguing had gotten to such a degree that it shocked Manimanuk, whose name meant magpie goose. Granted, he himself had experienced anger before, even rage, but only when he felt injustice had been done. The manner in which his people, his family and friends had behaved towards each other was uncalled for. On the other hand, he understood where the anger came from. Like always it had a deeper meaning, and in this case, it was the fear of scarcity that incited the people to speak so harshly.
Still, it felt strange to Manimanuk, because from what the elders had told him in their stories, no one in the tribe had gone hungry for many generations. Just when this occurred to him, he was startled from his thoughts by the sound of honking geese that flew overhead. He looked up to admire the magnificent black and white birds flying in their typical V-formation. He loved observing the different species of animals and their distinctive behaviour which taught him lessons vital to survival. The way that the geese took it in turns to take the lead filled him with awe.
Suddenly, a woman’s voice called out to him by name. He turned around expecting to see one of the women from his tribe, but was puzzled when he saw no one. Then the voice called out again:
“Cooee!” meaning: Come over here.
Manimanuk looked down to where the voice sounded to see three magpie geese wading in the shallow water of the flood-ridden grassland.
“I see you’ve found us, Manimanuk,” one of the geese seemed to say to him.
Manimanuk rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Did he really hear a goose speak to him and use his name?
“Yes, you heard correctly,” the goose said as if she knew what Manimanuk was thinking. “It was I who spoke just then. Won’t you come down and join us?”
“Who, me?” Manimanuk replied, still amazed by the fact that a goose was inviting him to a conversation.
Somehow Manimanuk sensed that this was happening for a reason. So, he waited no longer and made his way across the rocks to where the geese stood.
“Good morning,” he said on arrival. “You know my name. What is yours?” he asked inquisitively.
The goose smiled at him, lovingly.
“My name is Jedda, which means femininity and power.”
The way in which Jedda spoke to Manimanuk filled him with a sense of melancholy. His heart began to ache in a way he had only experienced when he was still very young.
“I know you can feel it, Manimanuk.”
As he heard Jedda speaking, it dawned on Manimanuk that something in the goose felt familiar.
“I am your mother,” Jedda explained.
This information confused Manimanuk. First there was the unrest in the camp, then a speaking goose and now this goose claimed to be his mother. It was all a bit rich. Jedda understood. She sensed what he was feeling and beckoned to the other two geese to come closer.
“She is, you know,” one of them spoke while the other, a gander, nodded as if he wished to emphasize what his female companions were saying.
Manimanuk looked at the two other geese and began to feel reassured. He had heard the stories of the spirits of the deceased returning to the physical world as animals. So, now he was ready to believe that Jedda was his mother incarnate.
“Mother,” he began to speak as tears of love welled up in his eyes. “I have missed you. Why did you leave me?”
“My son, I am sorry to have hurt you so. I did not want to go, yet I was too weak to carry on after giving birth to your youngest sibling.”
“I understand,” Manimanuk said, wiping his nose.
As he spoke, Jedda waddled over to him and gently placed the tip of her wing on the small of his back, as if to console him. Manimanuk responded in kind, cupping her head in his other hand and tenderly kissing her.
“I am glad you have returned,” he said, flashing his teeth in a wide grin.
“So am I, my son. Now, let me take the opportunity of telling you something very important.”
Manimanuk pricked up his ears, eager to learn.
“You noticed the other geese flying away, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did,” Manimanuk said, nodding. “It felt as if they abandoned you.”
“I can imagine, but that’s not what they did. We geese believe in the power of collaboration. Everything we do, we do together and for the sake of the individual.”
The latter made Manimanuk frown. He had always been taught the exact opposite. You were supposed to do things so that the collective would benefit.
“In a way, you are right,” Jedda continued, reading his thoughts. “Both principles are equally important and the individual should work for the common good, that is true. However, what is the common good’s worth if the individual does not benefit?”
That was a good question, Manimanuk thought as he pondered on what Jedda had just said.
“I’ll give you another one,” Jedda said. “What was the reason that we stayed behind?”
Manimanuk grinned. He had not seen that one coming. Before answering, he took a closer look at the other two geese and noticed how the gander’s wing hung slightly.
“Oh, I get it,” he replied, “your companion’s injured, and so youse two remained to take care of him until he recovers.”
“Exactly, son. You’re a fast learner. Our principle is: All for One. We apply it to every aspect in our lives, whether we are on the ground or in the air.”
The word ‘air’ caught Manimanuk’s attention.
“That is why we fly in V-formation and take turns at the lead. It enables us to conserve energy. Also, we fly slightly higher than the goose in front of us, so we can still look ahead and focus on our destination.”
“You’re very adaptable. I reckon we could learn a thing or two from you.”
“Yes, I believe you could. Probably the most important thing you can learn is that each and every one of us has something special. By developing this special gift further, we contribute to our individual well-being and therefore to the well-being of the whole.”
Manimanuk took his time to contemplate on what he had just learned. He began to realize the correlation between the geese taking care of each other and the situation he and his tribe found themselves in. Maybe, if he were to tell his people about the geese’s principle of ‘All for One’, they could agree on a course of action that everyone would benefit from. A warm feeling took hold of his heart and brought fresh tears to his eyes.
“Thank you, mother, for helping me even when you are not here as a human being.”
“You are welcome, dear Manimanuk,” Jedda replied with love in her voice. “Now you know what to do, don’t you.”
“Yes, I do,” Manimanuk agreed with a sense of determination.
“There is one last thing, Manimanuk. I want you to understand that, in a way, we are all leaders. We always lead our own lives in order to fulfil our individual destinies. But, from time to time, we take turns at leading the group to fulfil our mutual destiny.”
“I understand, mother,” Manimanuk smiled. “Now is the time for me to lead my people.”
“Yes, it is, and I have faith in that you will do well. Although I will be here only during the Wet, I am always in your heart.”
“I know, I can feel it,” Manimanuk said, placing his hand on his heart. “And I will always be in yours.”
He then got on his haunches and embraced his mother. The other geese looked on joyfully as mother and son held each other for a while. Then Manimanuk got back on his feet and walked back in the direction of the camp, stopping only once to wave farewell to his mother and the other geese.
Midnight Oil – One Country
‘Nadab Lookout’ by pen-ash on Pixabay
‘Magpie Goose’ by Pat Josse on Pixabay
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