Only Watubi Can Save You Now


Skipper Jonas Grumby finds this old tiki idol and believes he’s under the “curse of Kona.” Only the powerful witch-doctor Watubi can save him. Skipper is rendered nearly mad by his fear of the curse, his senses so distorted that he does not recognize Gilligan dressed up as Watubi. Nor does he realize the exorcism Gilligan performs is sheer nonsense. But then caucasian sea captains do not tend to be scholars of Polynesian religious ceremony.

Recently I had occasion to dine with several scholars of Polynesian lore. We met over breakfast at a diner in Reseda. All of us shared a mutual acquaintance who was not present that day. His absence, in fact, was the reason for our meeting. None of us knew what had become of him. He had been returning from a lecture in Hawaii and never made it to the airport. The airline insisted he had boarded in Honolulu but he did not deplane in Los Angeles. Nobody knew he was missing for three days, and even then they assumed he was on a bender. His disappearance finally became evident when he failed to attend a faculty conference.

It was my misfortune to have been the last person to speak with the professor before he left for Hawaii. I had called him very late at night with a question. He told me he was leaving for Hawaii the next day and was packing, but would spare a moment. We talked about Hina, the wife of the trickster Maui. “She was originally the wife of Tuna,” the professor told me. “The god of eels,” he added. “In one story she cuts off his head and plants it. That’s the origin of the coconut, which is Mangaia is sometimes still referred to as Tuna’s brains. they also teach you can see the face of a god in the coconut shell.” He told me a few more stories and referred me to Beckwith, then said he would call me when he returned.

Three days later I received a FedEx package from Maui that contained a six-inch tall wooden tiki statue and a plastic bag of what appeared to be black rubber eels. There was no return address, note, or any indication that it had come from the professor, but I assumed as much. Who else but the professor would send me a package from Hawaii?

“Did you bring it?” one of my breakfast companions asked. I opened my bag and took out the two items. The eels were still in their packaging. I stood the tiki in the middle of the table. They all stopped eating to admire it. “That’s Hina,” they agreed. They debated whether the rubber things were eels or snakes, but none of them was a biologist so there were no conclusive arguments.

They examined the statue and agreed it was hand-carved, but noted there were no markings or other indications of the identity of the artist. This suggested to one that the statue was perhaps sacred or had been used in a ceremonial fashion. There were indications in the craftsmanship that suggested the item was unique. “He may have intended to pick this up from you when he returned,” one of them said.

For another half-hour I sat with them and listened to their discussion, making notes when appropriate. When I told them I needed to be going, one of them asked, “I wonder if I might keep these.”

“The statue?” For some reason, I was a little uneasy about letting it go. It seemed valuable, and I knew that academics liked to fight over valuable artifacts, so didn’t want to be the cause of an interminable tug-of-war between two mythologists. “I guess so.”

He laughed. “No, not the statue. The rubber eels.” He was one who had argued they were not snakes. “You can keep the statue. I don’t need that kind if mojo hanging out around my office.”

“You think it’s cursed?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “Cursed or not, only Watubi can help you now.”