Mungoongarlee the Iguana and Ouyouboolooey the Black Snake (Australian Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, Australian Folk Tales1036

When the animals were first on the earth they were very much bigger than they are now. In those days the bite of a snake was not poisonous, but that of an iguana was. Mungoongarlee, the largest kind of iguana, which even now in its comparatively dwarfed condition measures five feet or so from tongue to tail, was, by reason of his poisonous bite, quite a terror in the land. His favourite food was the flesh of black fellows, whom he used to kill in numbers. Such havoc had he wrought amongst them that at last all the other tribes held a meeting to discuss how best to check this wholesale slaughter. Many things were suggested, but nothing that seemed likely to be effective. The meeting was breaking up; the tribes could think of no plan to save their relations, the Daens. Just as they were dispersing came Ouyouboolooey to the watering-place. He asked what the meeting was about; Dinewan the emu told him, that Mungoongarlee was so merciless towards the Daens or black fellows, living almost entirely on their flesh, that they feared the race would soon be exterminated if something were not done to stop it.

“And,” said Bohrah the kangaroo, “though some of us are as big and bigger, as strong and stronger than Mungoongarlee, if we went to fight him he would kill us with the poison he carries in a hidden bag, and we too should die, even as our relations the Daens do. Most of us have relations amongst the Daens, and we do not wish to see them all killed, yet we know not how to stop the slaughter.”

“I, too, have relations amongst them, the hippi and comeboo. My relations must be saved,” said Ouyouboolooey.

“But how?” said the others. “We are nearly all their relations.”

“Mungoongarlee himself is their and my relation,” said Moodai the opossum.

“But that does not stop him from slaying them, whether they are our relations the Murrees and Gubbees, or the others, he slays all alike.”

“I tell you that I shall save the Daens from Mungoongarlee,” said Ouyouboolooey.

“But how?” said the others in chorus.

“That I tell to none. But Yhi the sun shall not go to her rest to-morrow before I shall have got that poison bag from Mungoongarlee.”

“Yhi the sun shall not have hidden behind that clump of Yaraan trees before you lie dead from the poison Mungoongarlee carries, if you fight against him.”

“Did I talk of fighting? Is there no way to gain your end but by fighting? Let those who fight die. I shall not fight him, and I shall live. No Mungoongarlee shall kill me.”

So saying, away glided Ouyouboolooey through the trees surrounding the water-hole where the tribes had met. When he was gone, the others talked of him and his boasting for awhile, then they all dispersed, having agreed to meet again at the same place, when Yhi the sun was sinking to rest the next evening.

Ouyouboolooey went his way alone, pondering over his plans. Cunning he knew must be his guide to victory; not otherwise could he hope to gain it, for Mungoongarlee was bigger than he was, stronger, quicker of hearing and quicker to move, and above all the hidden bag of poison was his. The only advantage that Ouyouboolooey thought he had was that Mungoongarlee had been invincible so long that he might have grown careless and unsuspicious. Ouyouboolooey decided he would wait until Mungoongarlee was gorged with his favourite food. He would then follow him until he saw him go to sleep after his feast. That would be the next day.

Having thus decided, Ouyouboolooey went near Mungoongarlee”s camp, and lay down to sleep there. The next morning he watched Mungoongarlee sally out. He followed him at a distance, saw him surprise three Daens one after the other, and kill them all, then sit down and eat his favourite parts, taking some of the flesh afterwards back to his camp with him. Ouyouboolooey followed him, saw him sit down and eat more, then roll over and go to sleep.

“Now is my chance,” thought Ouyouboolooey, as he crept into the camp.

He was just going to raise his boondee to crack the skull of Mungoongarlee, when he thought, “But first I might as well find out where he keeps and how he uses the poison. If I had it I could soon make myself feared of all the tribes as he is.”

Thus thinking he sat down to wait until Mungoongarlee awoke. He did not have to wait long. Mungoongarlee slept but restlessly. Feeling something was near he awoke, sat up and looked round. At a little distance away he saw Ouyouboolooey. As he was making a rush at him, Ouyouboolooey called out:

“Take care! If you kill me you will hear nothing of the plot the tribes have planned against you, of which I have come to warn you.”

“What plot? What can the tribes do against me? Have I killed numbers of the biggest tribe to be frightened now of the others?”

“If you knew their plot you would have no need to fear them; knowing it not your life is in danger.”

“Then tell it to me.”

“So I meant to do. But you were going to kill me, though I had not harmed you. Why, then, should I save your life?”

“If you do not tell me I shall surely kill you.”

“Then you will be killed yourself, for no one else will warn you.”

“Tell me the plot, Ouyouboolooey, and your life is spared, and the lives of your tribe for ever.”

“How do I know that you will keep your word? You will promise much, but how do I know that you will fulfil your promise?”

“Ask of me what pleases you, and I will give it to you, to show I mean what I say.”

“Then while I tell you the plot that threatens you, give me your hidden poison bag to hold. Then only shall I feel safe. Then only shall I tell you what was planned at the water-hole where the tribes meet to drink; where all said the Daens should be saved and your end assured. And surely it will be so if you do not know their plans.”

Mungoongarlee asked Ouyouboolooey to name some other boon, and surely he would grant it; but his hidden poison bag would he give to none.

“That is the way. You ask me to name what I want. I do so. You cannot grant it. So be it. Keep your poison bag. I will keep my plot.” And he moved as if to go.

“Stay!” cried Mungoongarlee, who was determined to hear the plot at all risks.

“Then let me hold the poison bag.”

Mungoongarlee tried to induce Ouyouboolooey to make other terms, but in vain, so he gave in. Reaching into his mouth he drew the hidden poison bag out; then he tried to frighten Ouyouboolooey from taking it by saying:

“The touch of it will poison one not used to handle it. I will put it beside me while you tell the plot against me.”

“You will not do what I ask; I will go.” And he turned away.

“Not so; not so!” cried Mungoongarlee. “Here, take it.”

Assuming as indifferent an air as he could, Ouyouboolooey took the bag, and went back with it to his old place on the edge of the camp.

“Now quickly tell me the plot,” said Mungoongarlee.

“It was this,” said Ouyouboolooey, putting the poison bag into his own mouth. Then going on: “It was this. One of the tribes was to get this bag from you, and so take away your power to harm the Daens in the future. I vowed to do so before Yhi the sun went to her rest to-night. Not by strength could I do it. Nor by strength did I try to do it. Cunning I brought with me, and cunning has done it. Back I go now to tell the tribes.”

And before Mungoongarlee had time to realise how he had been tricked, Ouyouboolooey was gone.

After him went Mungoongarlee, but his meal had been heavy; he only caught Ouyouboolooey up in time to hear him tell the tribes that as he had said so had he done.

“Give us then the poison bag that we may destroy it,” they said.

“Not so,” said Ouyouboolooey. “None of you could get it. It is mine alone. I shall keep it.”

“Then you shall never live in our camp.”

“I shall come as I please to your camps.”

“Then we shall slay you. You are not big as is Mungoongarlee.”

“But I have the poison bag. Whosoever interferes with me surely shall he die.”

And away went Ouyouboolooey with the poison bag, leaving Mungoongarlee to tell the tribes how he had been tricked.

Ever since then the snakes have been poisonous, and not the iguanas, and there has been a feud between the snakes and the iguanas, who never meet without fighting. But though the snakes have the poison bag, they are powerless to injure the iguanas with it. For Mungoongarlee was a great wirreenun, and he knew of a plant which if eaten after snakebite made the poison powerless to kill or injure. Directly an iguana is bitten by a snake he rushes to this plant, and eating it, is saved from any evil consequences of the bite. This antidote has ever since been the secret of the iguana tribe, left in their possession by the Mungoongarlee who lost his poison bag by the cunning of Ouyouboolooey the black snake.

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