Tale of the Twin Pearls

Pinjarra Shoals, Irukandji

The Twin Pearls – a tale from the islands of Irukandji

Irukandji Ministry of Heritage and Culture, stories and legends

To the south and southwest of Tamita Island, both touched by the waters of Tiamo Reef, lie Manatu Island and Pinjarra Island, two low lying atolls lined up like a string of beads.

Tiamo Reef, Irukandji 2014

Perhaps for this reason, or because pearling had once been the local industry, seafaring merchants of long ago referred to them as the Twin Pearls.

The two islands had once supported large native communities well into colonial times, and provided much of the wealth in the region.

Unfortunately, the native inhabitants of both islands shared the same fate as those of nearby Alantay Island, simply disappearing in the night without trace, be it under the watchful eye, or with the same eyes turned, of their colonial masters.

Distinct from Alantay though, is the legend of how Manatu and Pinjarra finally gained their names.

Note: if you are trying to visit the current Irukandji world, the landing sim is Arius on the DigiWorldz grid. The region is hypergrid enabled for easy teleportation from other Open Simulator virtual worlds. If you have the Firestorm viewer, use this link to teleport to Arius.

Demons on the beach

In 1896, fifteen years after the local population’s disappearance, the twin pearls remained abandoned. Native myth had grown on neighbouring islands of evil spirits who would eat any man who set foot upon the forsaken lands. Locals feared the same fate would befall them.

Then one day during stormy seas, a kayaking fisherman of the distant Weta Island tribe capsized on the shores of the Pearls. As he flailed about, fighting for his life amongst the coral outcrops, he saw two figures on the beach. One of them raised their hand towards him. He knew beyond doubt that they were demons, and the terrifying storm, a curse of their creation.

Manatu Island, Second Life 2009

Half mad, he drifted on his ruined boat and finally made his way home. He hid in his hut for days without telling another soul of his encounter. The elders of his clan, troubled by the man’s unusual behaviour, finally intervened.

They plied the man with kava and summoned the wisdom of Tungatuna, the goddess of the sea. Finally, in an alcohol-fuelled trance and in the protective arms of his goddess, the fisherman whispered, “Ona badlan saw manatu”. Pidgin for “On the bad land, I saw a man or two”.

The words repeated from village to village, then island to island. Fear spread amongst the tribes. Soon, the news of ghostly demons cursing the sea reached the young British Governor, Lieutenant Quintessa, on Tamita Island.

An English Governor

Governor Quintessa was a practical man, and himself married to a native princess of the southern Aboyo clan. He was unfazed by, yet accustomed to tribal myths. He was a man of Queen Victoria through and through.

Quintessa feared not for demons but rather an attempt by the French to settle the twin pearls, further expanding their Pacific influence. He immediately ordered his men to the fabled beach the terrified Weta Islander had called ‘manatu’.

When spotted, the two ‘demons’ made no effort to hide and were amiable enough. They turned out to be a native man and his nephew. The older man claimed to have been born on The Pearls, with the younger man born of his family’s loins but in exile. He spoke of being taken by force along with his kin, to a faraway place called Queensland to labour on the sugar plantations, then unceremoniously dumped home again. History would later support their claims, and the birth-right of the uncle, an elder named Pinjarra.

An Aboyan princess

Pinjarra Island, one of the Twin Pearls of ancient fame.

Lieutenant Quintessa was sympathetic to the repatriated native, a rare quality for his ilk at the time. Whether driven by pressure from the other tribal princes of his tropical domain, or by guilt over the mother empire’s complicity, he installed Pinjarra as elder of the westernmost atoll, and named it for him.

Of the other atoll, it had been dubbed Manatu Island by some eager, young cartographer. It would be added to the territories of the Aboyan tribe who claimed ancestral domain over its fishing grounds.

Unpopulated, and with ample historic evidence to support the Aboyans’ claim, Manatu Island passed to them without opposition from the other Irukandji tribes.

The only criticism of the day came from a journalist who questioned the Governor’s neutrality. After all, Quintessa’s Aboyan wife, Uba Uba was elder of her tribe. Thus, Manatu Island would pass on to their children.

Lady Uba Uba age 19 on her wedding day (first marriage) 1875

Regardless, the greater Irukandji tribes were content and their elders deemed the matter of the Twin Pearls settled. For the white population as well as the black, life returned to normal. Any lingering doubt over Lieutenant Quintessa’s decision died away.

Seeds of revolution

Alas, the same degree of peace would not be enjoyed on neighbouring Pinjarra Island. No longer paired culturally to Manatu, its status was in flux as hundreds of repatriated natives continued to arrive home from Fiji and Australia. The vast majority were Pinjarran-born and the population of the island quickly grew.

The newly returned natives were treated kindly and fairly, but the elder, Pinjarra, felt bitter. He could not forgive his abductors. Kidnapped in his youth, then maligned and discarded as an adult, Pinjarra had no intention of becoming a puppet. He had seen a larger world beyond Irukandji, and the ways of imperial colonisers like his present British overlords.

In whispers at first, he began to spread the first seeds of revolution, but eventually he over-stretched. To make matters worse, the tolerant governor, Quintessa, passed away. Pinjarra had no English allies left. When his whispers finally became too loud, his new masters hanged him for treason.

Predictably, with the benefit of hindsight, the harsh penalty backfired on the British. Rather than silence the rebel leader, a martyr was born. So too was a sympathetic hero; Uba Uba of Aboyo. The widow of a popular governor, and tribal elder to a third of Irukandji’s population, she was a virtual queen.

Over the next forty years, children learned pride and self-reliance at her sandaled feet, while rebels throughout the Irukandji islands harangued the British at every chance. Retaliation was brutal. Many lives were lost on both sides.

World War II intervened. All but a few of the British left, and then the Japanese arrived. Uba Uba, now in her 80s, was interned and died in prison just before the Australians liberated the islands. A nation mourned another martyr.

After World War II, when the British Empire was at its weakest, Pinjarra’s grandson, Kebo Kebo, helped complete her mission, uniting the local tribes to oust the British.

Kebo Atoa, name for the tribal prince Kebo Kebo Pinjarra.


Full independence for Irukandji would take another thirty years. It was finally gained in 1975, eighty years after Pinjarra’s return from indentured slavery.

The tribal elders of Irukandji came together and agreed upon the establishment of a kingdom. The installed Daniel, elder of the Weta tribe as ruler of all the islands. However, Daniel de Weta’s reign was only a short four years due to a weakened heart. Worse still, a sudden coup saw all eight of his children murdered.

Pinjarran warriors were identified as the perpetrators. They acted on orders from old Kebo, the Pinjarran leader, who was attempting to gain control of Irukandji. That one disgraceful act destroyed the hard-earned legacies of Kebo and his forebear, the great Pinjarra himself.

Andrew Thompson a.k.a. Xay Tomsen

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