Alanna Gisonodo shares a story told to her by Joshua Eberdong, a sea turtle expert from Ollei, a small village located in the northern end of Ngarchelong state of Palau.
The legend goes that a woman who lived in a small village near Ollei gave birth to a hawksbill sea turtle and a megapode. Every day, while the woman was away from the house tending to her taro patch duties, the turtle would dig holes and the bird would dig large mounds in the yard and every day, the woman would return from a hard day’s work to find a giant mess awaiting her. One day, the turtle and megapode overheard their mother complaining about all the extra work they caused her, and so decided to find their own place in the world. Early the next morning they went down to the beach and as they sat there, the megapode wondered how they would travel out to the sea. The turtle said to his sibling ‘don’t worry, hop on my back and I will do the swimming.’ So they traveled south where they found an island where the megapode decided to settle down. The turtle said he would continue further south to the Rock Islands. Before they parted ways, the megapode said to the turtle ‘make sure that when it is time for you to have your children, put them up on the sand where they have a greater chance of surviving and I will be able to assist them’. And to this day, that is the behavior of the megapode – it makes its nest in the sand close to Hawksbill nests, where it brings leaves down to the shore for turtle hatchlings to take cover under. Thus wherever there are Hawksbill turtle nests, you can find a megapode nest nearby.
I thought the legend of the turtle and the megapode was a particularly poignant example of what we had come to Ollei to learn about – traditional ecological knowledge and conservation, and the role those play in modern-day local conservation. Anne Singeo, one of the founders of the Ebill Society, explained to us that “people learn better when there is a story attached to the knowledge,” and that through these traditional legends and stories, valuable ecological knowledge is maintained through generations.