This place I live in is called Labud. It derives its name from the Jezik and can be translated as “The place of swans”. This town, though small, possesses some brilliant archeological sites that date back to the archaic phase of Jezik culture. The Jezik folk tales speak of a boy, Cor de leo, who built a canoe and sailed from Labud’s coast to his homeland to save his swan, Karap, from drowning when the rest of his native land was gulped in by the mighty Mahtava river. They say Cor de leo brought Karap, the first swan, to Labud and that was how Labud got its name. But historians suggest that the tale is but an allegory just to explain why the town has a population of swans. I like to stick with the folk tale though.
Mr. Hurk, a local librarian here, once told me that Cor de leo’s story is not just a folk tale, in fact it has some historical evidence. Mr. Hurk said that famous British explorer James Cook, in the Endeavour, the British Royal Navy research vessel, had visited Labud once. In his account of Labud he had talked about a strange voice that he heard once or twice echoing at the coast. He, in his account, had written that the voice sounded like that of a teenage boy.
Yes that is true. It is said that Cor de leo loved his swan Karap. One day when his father was afflicted with an incurable disease, he came to the coast and prayed to Goddess Rebane. In Jezik mythology, Rebane was goddess of wisdom and cure. She was depicted as a woman with sensuous body and a head of fox. It was believed that a strand of hair from her tail could cure any illness but to lend it to the seeker she asked for a price. Cor de leo sat by the river and prayed to Rebane for three days and two nights. It was on the third night that Rebane appeared by the coast. It is said that her footprints are still clear on the coastal sand. When Cor de leo prayed her for a strand of hair from her tail she asked him to sacrifice the one thing he loved the most. Cor de leo had no choice. He sacrificed his swan Karap. It is said that Rebane had told Cor de leo that whenever he wanted to talk to Karap, he could. All he had to do was to come to the coast and say, “Can you hear me…” and Karap would reply.
Cor de leo’s father was cured. The people of Labud rejoiced over Cor de leo’s victory. But he was not happy. He was missing Karap. So from the very next day, after his father was cured, Cor de leo would go to the coast and shout “Can you hear me…Karap…Can you hear me…” but never did a reply come. He died and was buried at the coast. Since then people of Labud have told stories about the voices at the coast. They say that the spirit of Cor de leo still awaits Karap’s reply. Some people have even reported to have seen a teenaged boy sitting and sobbing by the coast.
Although birds do not have teeth, swans have beaks with serrated edges. They look like jagged teeth. I mentioned this because once a tourist lured by the tale of Cor de leo came to the coast and started shouting mockingly, “Can you hear me…Can you? huh…is there anyone?” hardly had he turned around when he slipped and rammed into a swan. The bird got angry and caught the tourist’s lower lip between its beaks. People ran to help the tourist but by the time the swan left him, the man’s lower lip was gone, portions of it were hanging exposing a bloodied gum. The following week the tourist died in the town hospital. People here at Labud believe that the sad spirit of Cor de leo had cursed the tourist.
The swans of Labud are partial migrants. They migrate in the winter season mostly to oceanic countries like Australia and New Zealand. This time of the year is mourned as Ovojeno season or the separation season here. It is believed that it was a night of winter when Rebane had appeared before Cor de leo and allowed him to take a strand of hair from her tail in turn of Karap. After the incident with the tourist, people have begun to take the Jezik tradition of mourning seriously. Women and children offer fish and algae when the swans return. It is considered a good omen for the family of the women whose offering the swans leisurely devour into and a bad omen for the one whom they refuse.
When a swan dies here, its body is buried at the coast and a priest would pray to spirit of the deceased bird to be the messenger of Cor de leo and convey to the spirit of Karap to respond to his sobbing.
There was one Mr. Walsh. He owned a black-necked swan. He named it Karap, fascinated by the most famous folk tale here. Here, in Labud, we don’t keep birds in captivity. Mr. Walsh was not of Labud, he came to Labud as a tourist and inspired by the archaic vibe of the city decided to spend his life here. It was here that Mr. Walsh had got hold of a black-necked swan and kept it in a small pond in the courtyard of his bungalow. Black-necked swans do not survive more than a year if held captive. So didn’t Mr. Walsh’s Karap. People urged him to bury the bird by the coast as per the ritual but Mr. Walsh, in all those days with his Karap, had become so obsessed with the bird that he ran across the coast with the bird’s body in his hand shouting, “Can you hear me? Can you…hear me?” He died of heart failure there on the coast. When Walsh’s bungalow was visited by a few people, the following day, they were all petrified at the sight of prints of blood-bathed webbed feet all over the floor…
Today, Labud is well-noted for the paranormal activities here. The tourists who visit the coast are asked to be careful with the things they do here and to stay away from the swans. As far as I am concerned, I used to sit by the coast and look at the rising and falling waves in Mahtava river. I would miss the stories that are told here. I would miss the eeriness of this place. I am leaving for New Zealand tomorrow to spend rest of my life there. I hope someday Cor de leo’s calls would be answered and his spirit might fly away with the swans. Away from this land…Away from this sky.