The Third Bird and the Death of Semsem

The following is an excerpt from a folktale from the present nation of Vanuatu, about a dangerous man-eating demon named Semsem who is dispatched by some brave islanders, a mother and her sons. Semsem, pierced by spears and weakened, falls upon the ground:

The mother and the boys, fearing that he might not be dead, asked some small birds to go close to the body and see if life were really extinct. One bird touched the body of Semsem with its head and flew away in terror. This is a bird that has red feathers on the top of its head today. Another bird, more venturesome, put its head and shoulders into a wound. This is a bird that has red feathers on its head and shoulders today. A third bird went directly through the body entering at one wound and coming out by another. The bird is almost entirely red today. […] When the third bird came out of the body of Semsem the victors were certain that the giant was dead.

If in the Kashmiri tale below, it is the third bird’s task to transform the beast into a man, here it is the third bird’s task to confirm that the beast will not return, but only by daring to abide within, to inhabit, and finally to traverse and break free of the latter.

—Corresponding Secretary