The Tale of Octopus and Rat

Retold by Jean Tekura Mason

This is a tale often told here, which I have never seen in print. I am not sure where it originated but it’s most likely the northern group of the Cook Islands, or Aitutaki, where islets in lagoons abound. 

Once upon a time, a rat wanted to get across a lagoon to another islet. The rat couldn’t swim so he asked a passing octopus to take him across the lagoon.

The octopus obliged and allowed the rat to climb onto his head. Upon reaching the shore, the cheeky rat quickly leapt off the octopus’ head and called back at him to feel the ‘gift’ he’d left for him on his head. The ungrateful rat had pooped on the octopus’ head and left a disgusting mess, which so infuriated the octopus that he tried to chase after him onto the shore. He was going to catch that rat and teach him a lesson. But the rat was too quick and he was soon up a pandanus tree laughing at octopus.

A couple of birds looked down and laughed at octopus too. Octopus, in his shame, slunk back into the water. It is said that to this day the octopus is the sworn enemy of the rat and will sometimes be encountered in a pandanus tree near the shore as he goes looking for the rat that pooped on his head.

An eyewitness account of an octopus in a pandanus tree was reported in Aitutaki in a 1950s Cook Islands newspaper.

Truly, we have that newspaper in our archives at CILAMS.

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