Among the myths in a group of tropical islands, there is one that is both strange and not well-known. In a far off time on one of these islands lived a tribe that had only fruit and insects and the occasional wild pig to live off, so they looked to the sea for something better to eat. At that time there was an abundance of fish living in the waters closest to the island. The islanders lost no time in perfecting the art of fishing. The fish was much appreciated by the people so they built a temple in its honour and erected a stone stele, like a huge tombstone, with a carved image of the fish as a totem in the courtyard with the explanation of the story in hieroglyphics. Eventually the day arrived when the number of fish caught could be counted, but as they hadn't found another way to feed themselves they continued fishing. Every day they visited the large stele of the fish begging it for help by filling the waters with fish again.
One day the fishermen went out to fish as usual, but some didn't return alive. The nets, the boats, and human remains were all found - burnt. Witnesses from other boats said that on arriving near the site chosen to cast their nets, the sea had begun to burn with a heat that was unbearable. They fled, but it was too late for the boats which were consumed by the flames.
From then on the fish was drawn against a background of flames and of course they never went fishing again. In time, the fish became respected and feared. Many inhabitants abandoned the island and the few who stayed learned to live without fishing.
Years passed and the legend of the fire fish was forgotten. On the other hand the fish won out. The fish were neither caught nor eaten. As a sign of reverence, every year a boat with its nets was sent out with no fishermen on board.
When this story begins there is no longer any homage paid to the fish, however there is an overabundance of fish off the coasts. In every house there is either a picture or relief of the fish, even though the ancient temple is now covered in moss.
THEY AREN'T FOR EATING
"Where are you going to eat what I've prepared for you?" Liana asked her father on handing him a package of food and drink.
"We're going to the temple," Liana's father Filo answered.
"Why don't you go somewhere else? It's always the same. You're driving yourself crazy with all those stories."
"I don't understand why you have to get so angry about whether or not we go to the temple. I don't ask you to come, so why so much aggravation from you?"
"No, I'm not annoyed, I just don't understand. There are so many other places to go to, it seems a shame you only go to the temple."
Filo and his grandson Curro enjoyed going up to the temple and thinking about everything that had happened there throughout the island's history.
Getting to the temple was not difficult. The government had built a road that brought islanders and foreigners to where the survivors had erected the temple as a sign of their devotion towards the fish. The temple was called the Sacred Fire Fish because for many years a perpetual fire was kept alight at the base of the large stele of the fish. That fire was sacred and if it were to go out it would be a bad omen for the island. A storm of thunder and lightning caused a tree to fall onto the temple, putting out the sacred fire and destroying part of the building. These events helped towards the islanders' forgetting the practise of the cult. Slowly the jungle overgrew the sacred place, till among the foliage only a part of the stele could be seen. Something similar happened to the village, only the story was now called a legend, and respect for everything that lived in the sea and the sea itself.
The government had cleared the temple area as a way towards making money and attracting tourists. Filo and Curro joined up with a group of tourists dressed in shorts, T-shirts and caps. They looked like an army all dressed in the regulation holiday uniform. Hanging from their shoulders were bags, cameras, binoculars, or a sweater. The man at the turnstile counted them as they passed through. Filo and Curro winked at him and followed them through.
Grandfather and grandson knew the exact spot to go to in order to get the maximum benefit from the summer vacationers. On preparing the temple ruins for visitors, a member of the government, being a bit more astute than the others, said, "We have to leave the trees and the plants. If we were to clean it as it would have been in the past some of the atmosphere would be lost. The plants give it an air of being really ancient," and so they left all the foliage and only cleared and cleaned the stele.
Filo and Curro were sitting at the base of the large stele eating their lunch.
"Couldn't you sit some place else, please?" asked one of the visitors.
Another man explained, "They probably don't understand our language."
The first one took out some banknotes from his pocket "See this? International language, there's no one in the world who doesn't understand the language of money."
His wife grabbed his hand saying, "Gus, don't be so coarse!" And turning to the other man said, "I like having people in my photos. Who wants a photo of a tree?"
Her husband, Gus, started to take photos. "Hey, Sonila, have you seen the floor?"
The islanders had carved giant stones telling the story of the tragic events of what had been the last day of fishing on the island. These stones covered a large area of the floor. In the centre there was a circular stone with a fish carved out against a background of flames. The floor was very worn and not all the details on the stones showed up, but you could still follow the story. The centre stone stood out from the rest, thanks to its shape and devastating association. The visitors were walking around looking at the floor, Filo and Curro were forgotten about.
"Gus, d'you think a fish like that could really exist?"
Before Gus was able to answer Sonila, Filo interrupted, "The fish that are in the sea surrounding the island are of that species. There is no other kind of fish."
"D'you know what I think?" said Gus, now able to give his opinion, "The people didn't stop fishing because some fish burnt their nets, but because they were fed up with always eating the same thing."
"Gus, you're not romantic. The myths of these places give them an air of mystery."
"Mystery accompanied by mosquitoes," answered Gus, killing one that was working on his neck.
Filo went up to Gus, "Excuse me, sir, but if you and your wife would like a boat trip along the coast I could take you. Then you'd see there's only one kind of fish here."
Gus said nothing to him but turning to Sonila, said, "Did you hear that? Would you like to go for a boat trip?"
"Ahhh, yes, I wouldn't mind."
"Me, too," responded another voice. All together six tourists were in favour of a boat trip. The hotel guide, who was involved in Filo's underhand operations, agreed. To convince the tourists, who were from more sophisticated places, of their authenticity Filo and Curro were dressed in islander attire. Artificially torn jeans, barefooted, a straw hat, and hanging from their necks a medallion with the fish on one side and a fishing boat on the other. Grandfather and grandson had bodies burnt by the sun from many hours on the boat.