In the Onge tribe of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there is a very prevalent folktale that has been passed down from one generation to another. The story goes like this…

In the days of yore, on a bright sunny day, the village kids were playing on the beach. They were building sand castles, playing in water, collecting shells, making tiaras out of seaweed, and engaging in all kinds of playful activities on the beach. All of a sudden, the shoreline began to recede. In their own childlike innocence, the children rejoiced at the newly surfaced part of the beach that they could now play on. The kids ran toward the alien part of the beach and whooped it up there. They were on cloud nine after discovering the otherwise submerged shells and snails.

However, young Ono was quite skeptical about the bizarre manner in which the shoreline had receded. He happened to recall his grandfather’s words. Ono’s grandfather had once told him that if he ever sees the beach shoreline recede, he must immediately flee toward high ground as it was indicative of an incoming tsunami.

Ono realized that a tsunami was just around the corner. He needed to take his friends and village folks to high ground. He repeatedly warned his friends that they needed to get away from the beach and go up the tall cliff near their village. However, his friends just would not listen.

Left with no option, Ono gathered a bunch of dry leaves of the coconut trees around him and made a torch. He then lit up the torch and warned his friends that he would set the trees on the cliff alight. The children panicked and hurriedly followed Ono, who had dashed off to set fire to the trees on the cliff. Seeing the terror-stricken kids running behind Ono, the adults also followed suit.

Once they had made it to the edge of the cliff, Ono paused and looked behind to see the gasping children and villagers. The angry village folks began scolding Ono for his actions. They asked him how he could even think of setting the trees alight, for they were like parents to the village inhabitants. Even so, Ono knew that there was no point explaining his actions as nobody was going to trust him anyway. He was snapped out of his thoughts by one of the elders, who suddenly started exclaiming while looking at the beach. All the villagers turned their attention to the beach, only to find huge ocean waves wolfing down anything that came in its way. The entire village was devastated in a trice.

That is when everyone understood why Ono had done what he had. Everyone was all praise for his wit and alertness.

DID YOU KNOW?

This folk tale proved worth its weight in gold when the Onge tribe successfully evaded the wrath of the devastating tsunami in 2004. The knowledge imparted by the varying versions of this story enabled the tribesman to identify the warning signs of the natural disaster and make it to the high ground in time.

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Ananya Susarla, Folk Tale writer at Ameya
Ananya

Ananya loves to both read and reinterpret folk tales from different parts of the country. Shoot her an email at ananyasusarla2915@gmail.com if you would like to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from TheStoryCircus.