Traditional stories from Vanuatu




The legend of Kpwet the Trickster God



Let me introduce the legend of Kpwet (‘Qet’ in the original spelling). I recorded this story on June 22nd, 1998, in Mwesen (Mosina), a village located in the southeastern part of Vanua Lava I., in the Banks group of islands (satellite photo).

The narrator, then aged 66, is Chief Tevet (David) Mesigteltok.

This recording of Kpwet's legend is extremely precious for two reasons.


The language of Mwesen

First, this is the only recording that has ever been made in Mwesen, a highly endangered language which is now spoken by less than a dozen old people (see 'Mwesen' on my map). They live in scattered hamlets around the village of Mwesen. Linguistically as much as geographically, Mwesen is halfway between Vurës (the dominant language of Vanua Lava which has now taken over Mwesen for the younger generations) and Mota. Most of the last speakers of Mwesen can be seen on this photo, including Chief Tevet (second from right). Once these elders pass away, the language of Mwesen will have disappeared altogether from this planet. It will only survive, so to speak… in the present recording.


Kpwet, the Trickster God

The second reason why this recording is of value, is that it provides us with a pleasant version of an important story, the most famous legend of North Vanuatu. Between 1997 and 2005, I was personally able to record this story in as many as six different languages (Mwotlap; Mwesen; Vurës; Lemerig; Lakon; Lo-Toga), and the present version is one of the nicest and most detailed I have heard.

The main character, known here as ‘Kpwet’ – alias Qet – but whose name varies from one language to another (Kpwat alias QatWP, Kpwet, Ikpwet, Kpwo', Merawehih or Tagaro), is the principal cultural hero of the Banks archipelago. Although sometimes considered as the local god, he would rather be seen as a popular demigod, a bit like Odysseus, or perhaps like… Bugs Bunny. Some parts of his saga depict him as a Creator (see the Mwotlap-French version of this myth: How Night was created); but in the best known part of his story, the one that is proposed here, Kpwet clearly behaves like a ‘Trickster’WP kind of hero.

In this story, you will see how Kpwet has to cope with his eleven brothers, who appear to be even more mischievous than he is! And once he's given them a lesson, he then has to fight a dreadful Ogre called Wokpwastavav. Who will be the winner? You'll find out if you read the story!