A J Thompson | Andrew Thompson, Rockhampton Australia

The Tamita-Pinjarra War ~ History, myths, and legends from the Kingdom of Irukandji

Irukandji Ministry of Heritage and Culture

The Tamita-Pinjarra War

In 1975, after more than a century as a British colony, the small South Pacific nation of Irukandji gained independence.

Irukandji Motto

Still tribal in nature, but accustomed to the British system of government, the elders decided to establish their new country as a kingdom, with an advisory council comprised of the elder of each tribe.

The person chosen to be King would hold the throne for fifty years, and if he died, his tribal heir would take over. At the end of his clan's allotted time, the elders would meet again to decide their new King.

Given his diplomatic and wise disposition, coupled with his tribe's traditional distaste for conflict, Daniel of Weta, elder of the Weta Island tribe in Irukandji's northeast, was named King.

With much of the colonial infrastructure still in place; its buildings, utilities, and procedures, the transition to nationhood went smoothly. New connections were made with other nations, which in the absence of European interference, were happy to take advantage of mutual trade and relations with the new kingdom.

For four years, prosperity prevailed, until suddenly without warning, King Daniel died, his death attributed to a weakened heart. While sad, that contingency was allowed for. Under the terms of his ascension, his next-in-line would take the throne.

What had not been allowed for however, was betrayal. Within days of King Daniel's passing, and with the nation still in shock from his death, a despicable coup began and all eight of his children murdered.

While the advisory council tried frantically to identify the perpetrators, one elder amongst them - aware that his warriors were about to be uncovered as the assassins of Daniel and his kin - subtly vacated his post. The Pinjarran prince, Kebo Kebo.

Pinjarra Island 2014

Kebo was a scarred man psychologically. Pinjarra Island's history was not a pleasant one, and the angry rants of his grandfather, the mighty Pinjarra himself, had taken their toll. Now in his sixties and with a lifetime of hatred poisoning his mind, Kebo finally played his long game.

With a hundred paid mercenaries, Fijian ex-military no less, and the strength of his own army of warriors, he divided and conquered. Half of his force charged north to the naval base at Split Rock Mountain, capturing it with ease. The other half roared southeast to Old Fort Island and captured the army base. From each outpost, they began encircling the islands, cutting off help from the outside world.

Kebo made his demands on the council clear. The Irukandji experiment is over. Submit to Pinjarran rule. His confidence and arrogance were absolute. The elders gave no official reply, while one by one, the outlying states were overrun by Pinjarran forces. Aboyo, of which Old Fort Island was a part, was the first state to fall. Its people were rounded up and put in camps. Further north, Weta, leaderless in the wake of the royal family's assassination, suffered the same fate.

Everyone on the council knew that Kebo's final prize was Tamita Island, the largest city in Irukandji, and its capital. Tamita Island controlled the nation's wealth and its infrastructure.

Memorial cannon emplacement Tamita Island

Yet for all its assets, the island and the greater Tamita State beyond, had few defences except a lone cannon on the mountain which had not been fired since World War II, and a small civilian police force that patrolled the surrounding seas.

Tamita Island possessed two assets however, that Kebo had underestimated. The rage of its elder, and the loyalty of his clan, the once-powerful Tamita warriors.

Savu de Tamita was an understated man. Like Kebo, he had sat as an infant at the feet of the great revolutionary, Lady Uba Uba, hanging on her every word, and as an adult, had been an active combatant during the fight for independence.

Now in middle-age, he was calmness personified, quiet at council meetings, listening rather than speaking unless he had something pertinent to say. This, along with his heroic past, made his voice loud amongst his peers. Indeed, it was his voice that saw Daniel of Weta crowned King.

Savu was the same when out amongst the people of his tribe. Justice was dispensed thoughtfully and quietly. His word was final and never appealed. To his people, his solemnity and gravitas made him a god.

Savu, elder of the Tamita tribe, 1969

So it was, that when King Daniel died - Savu's childhood friend, and on occasion in their youth, his lover - Savu wept. In dignity and in private, he spent a night alone with his sorrow.

Then, as one by one, news of the slaughter of Daniel's children reached his ears, he seethed. His insides tore, but still he maintained his outer calm.

But finally, when the cowardly Kebo threatened the kingdom he loved - the kingdom that he and Daniel had fought so hard to gain its freedom - his silence turned to rage, and the warrior blood of his ancestors boiled over.

Barefoot and dressed in nothing but his tribal loincloth, with spear on his back and shield on his arm, he went out into the street and screamed in rage. He then climbed the slope of Mount Kiribati and stared down at the gathered throng.

Hundreds and then thousands of faces stared up at him. The sight of their noble elder, angry and eager for war, made the entire kingdom fall still. Such was the silence that a gull could be heard a dozen miles away.

When finally he spoke, his voice was calm yet deep as thunder. He called upon the people of Irukandji, natives and whites, men and women, to fight at his side. And to the very last soul, they did. Even on Pinjarra Island itself, Kebo's support fell away until only his mercenaries remained.

Three months of bloody war followed, as island by island, Savu's forces, armed only with weapons of old, pressed on. Finally, they freed all the outlying states and then set their sights on Pinjarra Island itself. The locals yielded willingly and still Savu raged. Finally, Kebo was cornered in his villa on the atoll he had named for himself, Kebo Atoa.

Savu himself speared Kebo then dragged him outside. Deaf to the traitor's pleas for mercy, and remembering the fate of poor Daniel's children, he hacked Kebo to death. Kebo's body was thrown to the sharks in the lagoon and his villa burnt to the ground.

Kebo Atoa, 2009

In the days and weeks that followed, civilian order was restored, and the elders met to determine Irukandji's future. With his rage vented, Savu was himself again, his manner quiet and controlled.

In his own eyes, he was the same man he had always been, however his fellow elders saw him differently. He was a hero, a living legend. The godly light in which his tribe perceived him, now shone throughout the entire kingdom.

Without ceremony or debate, the crown was handed to Savu. He regarded it for long minutes then pushed it away.

"I will be your prince of princes," he said, "But Irukandji has only one king. It is Daniel. Let us govern together, with kindness and wisdom, so our king may live forever."

So it was that Irukandji became a kingdom without a living king, and that same model of government exists to the present day.

He established the Council of Princes, comprised of the elder and first-born of each of the Irukandji states. All but Pinjarra. Kebo's progeny had yet to pay for their crimes, not the least of which was their involvement in the massacre of their fellow princes. It was decided that they would be punished under the tribal laws of old.

All but the eldest of Kebo's offspring were killed by spear, and the surviving heir became a slave to the crown. It was further decreed that as penance for three generations, such would be the fate of each firstborn Pinjarran prince. They would be allowed to breed a single heir in order to preserve their bloodline, but with the knowledge that said child would be nothing but a titled slave.

Xay de Tamita, a Prince of Irukandji, 2014

Time passed, and for the people of greater Irukandji, life returned to normal. Twenty-five years of prosperity followed. Savu, now in old age, saw the new century in then finally, in 2007, passed away.

His son had died early before having the chance to ascend, and hence Savu's grandson, Xay de Tamita, succeeded him.

In turn, the Pinjarran heir, Rah, just a year younger than Xay, passed to him as slave.

This did not sit well with the grandson of mighty Savu. Xay respected the old man's legacy and the need to punish the Pinjarran elders, but he had issues with its enactment in the modern age.

Such was the prince's dark mood on the day of his inauguration. With the ceremony over, and in the privacy of his new apartment in the palace, his slave was brought to him. Xay showed Rah to the room that led off his own, smaller than his but no less grandly appointed with fittings of gold and purple drapes.

Legend says that during the single minute that followed, based on overheard accounts of the day, the seeds of modern Irukandji truly took root.

The Pinjarran slave, Rah, unexpectedly thanked his new master for the room, adding that he had not anticipated such luxury. Already in a dark mood, Xay snapped at him, "What did you expect? A pig pen? You may be a slave but you are still the prince of Pinjarra."
The chastened Rah averted his gaze. "If I may say, I consider myself the elder of Pinjarra, but a prince of Irukandji."

It was a bold statement, given that Pinjarra Island had been stripped of its status as a state and thus its heir had no place on the Council of Princes. But Xay knew by Rah's submissive tone that the words were not spoken as insult or challenge. They were an insight into the man who spoke them, a glimpse of his dream for the future of his island and people.

"I apologise for my manner ," Xay had said, "You seem fine in nature and it has been a very long day. I just feel as though there is something I should say or do, to make some attempt at reconciliation. But I cannot without betraying my ancestors."
"Thank you," Rah had replied, "You are very kind, just like your grandfather."
"Kind? That is not a word I would expect a Pinjarran to say about Savu."
The Pinjarran simply smiled.
"But Savu was kind. Yes, he punished my family, but he could have punished my tribe as well. He had the power to destroy us. Yet he did not. In the heat of war, and during all the years since, he treated my people well, and for that, I will always be grateful."

Rah Pinjarra, a Prince of Irukandji, 2015

Every word from the Pinjarran's mouth caused a seismic shift in Xay's world. It felt obscene that Rah, who was genial despite his fate, and clearly intelligent, should pay for crimes he did not commit. Yet parallel in Xay's thoughts was the fact that he respected Savu's reasons for enforcing the decree.

To quell his chaotic mind, he focused on Savu's single quality that so impressed the Pinjarran. His kindness. Perhaps there was a way that he too could be kind without showing dishonour to Savu.

He devised a compromise that would respect Savu's decree, but temper its harshness with benevolence. Thus, with Rah as his constant companion, he set about steering that path.

At first, when out in public, passersby would look at Rah with scorn, but he courageously endured it. More and more, Xay pushed him into the public eye, and with increasing authority, until the people began to regard him as a servant of the kingdom instead of a simple slave.

Within the year, Rah was performing functions of state on his own, including oversight of a massive construction project, the Trans Irukandji Causeway.

Finally, after Rah had served two years of his penance, Xay presented him to his fellow princes, and for his service and loyalty to the kingdom, declared him free. That same year, Rah Pinjarra was welcomed by his peers onto the Council of Princes, and Pinjarra Island re-admitted as a full member state of Irukandji.

Recommended further reading:
The Matriarch of Manatu
Tale of the Twin Pearls

Andrew Thompson a.k.a. Xay Tomsen