Oban's Myths & Legends
How Tortoise Lost His Tail and Teeth
Australian Aborginal Dreamtime Legend
retold by Oban
When someone dies, people thought their spirit went from our world into the land of souls where they found eternal life. They thought there was a bridge over the river of death, stretching between the two worlds. But no one really knew what happened.
A long time ago, a man who had died, woke up and was glad to be alive again. He had quite a story to tell.
“I walked a long way,” he said, “until I came to a wide, rushing river. I knew I had to cross it, but the banks were steep and the water was very deep. Then further down I saw a narrow bridge and a large mound on the other side.”
“I stepped onto the bridge and it moved. It was alive. The mound was a gigantic tortoise, and the bridge was its long tail. I ran forward, trying to cross as fast as I could, but the tortoise lifted its head and looked at me. It had red gleaming eyes and rows of sharp teeth. It moved its shell and lifted its tail, and I fell into the water.”
“The water sucked me under. It was like a dark tunnel, with sharp rocks that cut and bruised me. But then I came to the surface again and saw people on the banks of the river on our side, hunting and gathering wood. I thought I knew some of them – friends who’d died earlier. Maybe they were resting on their way to the land of souls. Or they couldn’t get across either.“
“The river swept me on again, out to sea. The waves were huge but the salt water healed my wounds and the tide carried me to land. I woke up on a beach, sheltered by cliffs. I found drinking water and food and I rested. When I was stronger I climbed up and used the sun to guide me home.”
The people listening to his story were amazed and worried. “What can we do?” one of them asked. “How can we reach the land of souls when its time for us to die, if that monster tortoise stops us?”
Someone suggested they should ask the medicine man, who lived near their village. He thought about the problem. “A brave man, who has strength and power from our great spirits, must cut off the tortoise’s tail.”
Everyone looked at him, relieved that he was the talked to the great spirits and not them. “All right,” he said. “I will send my spirit to the river and find the tortoise. When I fall asleep, to let my spirit wander, put my axe in my hand so I’m ready to fight.”