The Crab That Played With The Sea
: Just So Stories
BEFORE the High and Far-Off Times, O my Best Beloved, came
the Time of the Very Beginnings; and that was in the days when
the Eldest Magician was getting Things ready. First he got the
Earth ready; then he got the Sea ready; and then he told all the
Animals that they could come out and play. And the Animals said,
'O Eldest Magician, what shall we play at?' and he said, 'I will
show you.' He took the Elephant--All-the-E
said, 'Play at being an Elephant,' and All-the-Elephant-there-was
played. He took the Beaver--All-the-Beaver-there-was--and said,
'Play at being a Beaver,' and All-the-Beaver-there-was played.
He took the Cow--All-the-Cow-there-was--and said, 'Play at
being a Cow,' and All-the-Cow-there-was played. He took the
Turtle--All-the-Turtle-there-was--and said, 'Play at being a
Turtle,' and All-the-Turtle-there-was played. One by one he took
all the beasts and birds and fishes and told them what to play at.
But towards evening, when people and things grow restless and tired,
there came up the Man (With his own little girl-daughter?)--Yes, with
his own best beloved little girl-daughter sitting upon his shoulder, and
he said, 'What is this play, Eldest Magician?' And the Eldest Magician
said, 'Ho, Son of Adam, this is the play of the Very Beginning; but you
are too wise for this play.' And the Man saluted and said, 'Yes, I am
too wise for this play; but see that you make all the Animals obedient
Now, while the two were talking together, Pau Amma the Crab, who was
next in the game, scuttled off sideways and stepped into the sea, saying
to himself, 'I will play my play alone in the deep waters, and I will
never be obedient to this son of Adam.' Nobody saw him go away except
the little girl-daughter where she leaned on the Man's shoulder. And the
play went on till there were no more Animals left without orders; and
the Eldest Magician wiped the fine dust off his hands and walked about
the world to see how the Animals were playing.
He went North, Best Beloved, and he found All-the-Elephant-there-was
digging with his tusks and stamping with his feet in the nice new clean
earth that had been made ready for him.
'Kun?' said All-the-Elephant-there-was, meaning, 'Is this right?'
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician, meaning, 'That is quite right';
and he breathed upon the great rocks and lumps of earth that
All-the-Elephant-there-was had thrown up, and they became the great
Himalayan Mountains, and you can look them out on the map.
He went East, and he found All-the-Cow-there-was feeding in the field
that had been made ready for her, and she licked her tongue round a
whole forest at a time, and swallowed it and sat down to chew her cud.
while the Eldest Magician was talking to the Man and his Little Girl
Daughter. The Eldest Magician is sitting on his magic throne, wrapped up
in his Magic Cloud. The three flowers in front of him are the three
Magic Flowers. On the top of the hill you can see
All-the-Elephant-there-was, and All-the-Cow-there-was, and
All-the-Turtle-there-was going off to play as the Eldest Magician told
them. The Cow has a hump, because she was All-the-Cow-there-was; so she
had to have all there was for all the cows that were made afterwards.
Under the hill there are Animals who have been taught the game they were
to play. You can see All-the-Tiger-there-was smiling at
All-the-Bones-there-were, and you can see All-the-Elk-there-was, and
All-the-Parrot-there-was, and All-the-Bunnies-there-were on the hill.
The other Animals are on the other side of the hill, so I haven't drawn
them. The little house up the hill is All-the-House-there-was. The
Eldest Magician made it to show the Man how to make houses when he
wanted to. The Snake round that spiky hill is All-the-Snake-there-was,
and he is talking to All-the-Monkey-there-was, and the Monkey is being
rude to the Snake, and the Snake is being rude to the Monkey. The Man is
very busy talking to the Eldest Magician. The Little Girl Daughter is
looking at Pau Amma as he runs away. That humpy thing in the water in
front is Pau Amma. He wasn't a common Crab in those days. He was a King
Crab. That is why he looks different. The thing that looks like bricks
that the Man is standing in, is the Big Miz-Maze. When the Man has done
talking with the Eldest Magician he will walk in the Big Miz-Maze,
because he has to. The mark on the stone under the Man's foot is a magic
mark; and down underneath I have drawn the three Magic Flowers all mixed
up with the Magic Cloud. All this picture is Big Medicine and Strong
'Kun?' said All-the-Cow-there-was.
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician; and he breathed upon the bare
patch where she had eaten, and upon the place where she had sat down,
and one became the great Indian Desert, and the other became the Desert
of Sahara, and you can look them out on the map.
He went West, and he found All-the-Beaver-there-was making a beaver-dam
across the mouths of broad rivers that had been got ready for him.
'Kun?' said All-the-Beaver-there-was.
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician; and he breathed upon the fallen
trees and the still water, and they became the Everglades in Florida,
and you may look them out on the map.
Then he went South and found All-the-Turtle-there-was scratching with
his flippers in the sand that had been got ready for him, and the sand
and the rocks whirled through the air and fell far off into the sea.
'Kun?' said All-the-Turtle-there-was.
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician; and he breathed upon the sand
and the rocks, where they had fallen in the sea, and they became the
most beautiful islands of Borneo, Celebes, Sumatra, Java, and the rest
of the Malay Archipelago, and you can look them out on the map!
By and by the Eldest Magician met the Man on the banks of the Perak
river, and said, 'Ho! Son of Adam, are all the Animals obedient to you?'
'Yes,' said the Man.
'Is all the Earth obedient to you?'
'Yes,' said the Man.
'Is all the Sea obedient to you?'
'No,' said the Man. 'Once a day and once a night the Sea runs up the
Perak river and drives the sweet-water back into the forest, so that my
house is made wet; once a day and once a night it runs down the river
and draws all the water after it, so that there is nothing left but mud,
and my canoe is upset. Is that the play you told it to play?'
'No,' said the Eldest Magician. 'That is a new and a bad play.'
'Look!' said the Man, and as he spoke the great Sea came up the mouth of
the Perak river, driving the river backwards till it overflowed all the
dark forests for miles and miles, and flooded the Man's house.
'This is wrong. Launch your canoe and we will find out who is playing
with the Sea,' said the Eldest Magician. They stepped into the canoe;
the little girl-daughter came with them; and the Man took his kris--a
curving, wavy dagger with a blade like a flame,--and they pushed out on
the Perak river. Then the sea began to run back and back, and the canoe
was sucked out of the mouth of the Perak river, past Selangor, past
Malacca, past Singapore, out and out to the Island of Bingtang, as
though it had been pulled by a string.
Then the Eldest Magician stood up and shouted, 'Ho! beasts, birds, and
fishes, that I took between my hands at the Very Beginning and taught
the play that you should play, which one of you is playing with the
Then all the beasts, birds, and fishes said together, 'Eldest Magician,
we play the plays that you taught us to play--we and our children's
children. But not one of us plays with the Sea.'
Then the Moon rose big and full over the water, and the Eldest Magician
said to the hunchbacked old man who sits in the Moon spinning a
fishing-line with which he hopes one day to catch the world, 'Ho! Fisher
of the Moon, are you playing with the Sea?'
'No,' said the Fisherman, 'I am spinning a line with which I shall some
day catch the world; but I do not play with the Sea.' And he went on
spinning his line.
Now there is also a Rat up in the Moon who always bites the old
Fisherman's line as fast as it is made, and the Eldest Magician said to
him, 'Ho! Rat of the Moon, are you playing with the Sea?'
And the Rat said, 'I am too busy biting through the line that this old
Fisherman is spinning. I do not play with the Sea.' And he went on
biting the line.
Then the little girl-daughter put up her little soft brown arms with the
beautiful white shell bracelets and said, 'O Eldest Magician! when my
father here talked to you at the Very Beginning, and I leaned upon his
shoulder while the beasts were being taught their plays, one beast went
away naughtily into the Sea before you had taught him his play.'
And the Eldest Magician said, 'How wise are little children who see and
are silent! What was the beast like?'
And the little girl-daughter said, 'He was round and he was flat; and
his eyes grew upon stalks; and he walked sideways like this; and he was
covered with strong armour upon his back.'
And the Eldest Magician said, 'How wise are little children who speak
truth! Now I know where Pau Amma went. Give me the paddle!'
So he took the paddle; but there was no need to paddle, for the water
flowed steadily past all the islands till they came to the place called
Pusat Tasek--the Heart of the Sea--where the great hollow is that leads
down to the heart of the world, and in that hollow grows the Wonderful
Tree, Pauh Janggi, that bears the magic twin nuts. Then the Eldest
Magician slid his arm up to the shoulder through the deep warm water,
and under the roots of the Wonderful Tree he touched the broad back of
Pau Amma the Crab. And Pau Amma settled down at the touch, and all the
Sea rose up as water rises in a basin when you put your hand into it.
'Ah!' said the Eldest Magician. 'Now I know who has been playing with
the Sea;' and he called out, 'What are you doing, Pau Amma?'
And Pau Amma, deep down below, answered, 'Once a day and once a night I
go out to look for my food. Once a day and once a night I return. Leave
Then the Eldest Magician said, 'Listen, Pau Amma. When you go out from
your cave the waters of the Sea pour down into Pusat Tasek, and all the
beaches of all the islands are left bare, and the little fish die, and
Raja Moyang Kaban, the King of the Elephants, his legs are made muddy.
When you come back and sit in Pusat Tasek, the waters of the Sea rise,
and half the little islands are drowned, and the Man's house is flooded,
and Raja Abdullah, the King of the Crocodiles, his mouth is filled with
the salt water.
Then Pau Amma, deep down below, laughed and said, 'I did not know I was
so important. Henceforward I will go out seven times a day, and the
waters shall never be still.'
And the Eldest Magician said, 'I cannot make you play the play you were
meant to play, Pau Amma, because you escaped me at the Very Beginning;
but if you are not afraid, come up and we will talk about it.'
'I am not afraid,' said Pau Amma, and he rose to the top of the sea in
the moonlight. There was nobody in the world so big as Pau Amma--for he
was the King Crab of all Crabs. Not a common Crab, but a King Crab. One
side of his great shell touched the beach at Sarawak; the other touched
the beach at Pahang; and he was taller than the smoke of three
volcanoes! As he rose up through the branches of the Wonderful Tree he
tore off one of the great twin-fruits--the magic double-kernelled nuts
that make people young,--and the little girl-daughter saw it bobbing
alongside the canoe, and pulled it in and began to pick out the soft
eyes of it with her little golden scissors.
'Now,' said the Magician, 'make a Magic, Pau Amma, to show that you are
Pau Amma rolled his eyes and waved his legs, but he could only stir up
the Sea, because, though he was a King Crab, he was nothing more than a
Crab, and the Eldest Magician laughed.
the sea as tall as the smoke of three volcanoes. I haven't drawn the
three volcanoes, because Pau Amma was so big. Pau Amma is trying to make
a Magic, but he is only a silly old King Crab, and so he can't do
anything. You can see he is all legs and claws and empty hollow shell.
The canoe is the canoe that the Man and the Girl Daughter and the Eldest
Magician sailed from the Perak river in. The sea is all black and
bobbly, because Pau Amma has just risen up out of Pusat Tasek. Pusat
Tasek is underneath, so I haven't drawn it. The Man is waving his curvy
kris-knife at Pau Amma. The Little Girl Daughter is sitting quietly in
the middle of the canoe. She knows she is quite safe with her Daddy. The
Eldest Magician is standing up at the other end of the canoe beginning
to make a Magic. He has left his magic throne on the beach, and he has
taken off his clothes so as not to get wet, and he has left the Magic
Cloud behind too, so as not to tip the boat over. The thing that looks
like another little canoe outside the real canoe is called an outrigger.
It is a piece of wood tied to sticks, and it prevents the canoe from
being tipped over. The canoe is made out of one piece of wood, and there
is a paddle at one end of it.]
'You are not so important after all, Pau Amma,' he said. 'Now, let
me try,' and he made a Magic with his left hand--with just the little
finger of his left hand--and--lo and behold, Best Beloved, Pau Amma's
hard, blue-green-black shell fell off him as a husk falls off a
cocoa-nut, and Pau Amma was left all soft--soft as the little crabs that
you sometimes find on the beach, Best Beloved.
'Indeed, you are very important,' said the Eldest Magician. 'Shall I ask
the Man here to cut you with kris? Shall I send for Raja Moyang Kaban,
the King of the Elephants, to pierce you with his tusks, or shall I call
Raja Abdullah, the King of the Crocodiles, to bite you?'
And Pau Amma said, 'I am ashamed! Give me back my hard shell and let me
go back to Pusat Tasek, and I will only stir out once a day and once a
night to get my food.'
And the Eldest Magician said, 'No, Pau Amma, I will not give you back
your shell, for you will grow bigger and prouder and stronger, and
perhaps you will forget your promise, and you will play with the Sea
Then Pau Amma said, 'What shall I do? I am so big that I can only hide
in Pusat Tasek, and if I go anywhere else, all soft as I am now, the
sharks and the dogfish will eat me. And if I go to Pusat Tasek, all soft
as I am now, though I may be safe, I can never stir out to get my food,
and so I shall die.' Then he waved his legs and lamented.
'Listen, Pau Amma,' said the Eldest Magician. 'I cannot make you play
the play you were meant to play, because you escaped me at the Very
Beginning; but if you choose, I can make every stone and every hole and
every bunch of weed in all the seas a safe Pusat Tasek for you and your
children for always.'
Then Pau Amma said, 'That is good, but I do not choose yet. Look! there
is that Man who talked to you at the Very Beginning. If he had not taken
up your attention I should not have grown tired of waiting and run away,
and all this would never have happened. What will he do for me?'
And the Man said, 'If you choose, I will make a Magic, so that both the
deep water and the dry ground will be a home for you and your
children--so that you shall be able to hide both on the land and in the
And Pau Amma said, 'I do not choose yet. Look! there is that girl who
saw me running away at the Very Beginning. If she had spoken then, the
Eldest Magician would have called me back, and all this would never have
happened. What will she do for me?'
And the little girl-daughter said, 'This is a good nut that I am eating.
If you choose, I will make a Magic and I will give you this pair of
scissors, very sharp and strong, so that you and your children can eat
cocoa-nuts like this all day long when you come up from the Sea to the
land; or you can dig a Pusat Tasek for yourself with the scissors that
belong to you when there is no stone or hole near by; and when the earth
is too hard, by the help of these same scissors you can run up a tree.'
And Pau Amma said, 'I do not choose yet, for, all soft as I am, these
gifts would not help me. Give me back my shell, O Eldest Magician, and
then I will play your play.'
And the Eldest Magician said, 'I will give it back, Pau Amma, for
eleven months of the year; but on the twelfth month of every year it
shall grow soft again, to remind you and all your children that I can
make magics, and to keep you humble, Pau Amma; for I see that if you can
run both under the water and on land, you will grow too bold; and if you
can climb trees and crack nuts and dig holes with your scissors, you
will grow too greedy, Pau Amma.'
Then Pau Amma thought a little and said, 'I have made my choice. I will
take all the gifts.'
Then the Eldest Magician made a Magic with the right hand, with all five
fingers of his right hand, and lo and behold, Best Beloved, Pau Amma
grew smaller and smaller and smaller, till at last there was only a
little green crab swimming in the water alongside the canoe, crying in a
very small voice, 'Give me the scissors!'
And the girl-daughter picked him up on the palm of her little brown
hand, and sat him in the bottom of the canoe and gave him her scissors,
and he waved them in his little arms, and opened them and shut them and
snapped them, and said, 'I can eat nuts. I can crack shells. I can dig
holes. I can climb trees. I can breathe in the dry air, and I can find a
safe Pusat Tasek under every stone. I did not know I was so important.
Kun?' (Is this right?)
'Payah-kun,' said the Eldest Magician, and he laughed and gave him
his blessing; and little Pau Amma scuttled over the side of the canoe
into the water; and he was so tiny that he could have hidden under the
shadow of a dry leaf on land or of a dead shell at the bottom of the
'Was that well done?' said the Eldest Magician.
'Yes,' said the Man. 'But now we must go back to Perak, and that is a
weary way to paddle. If we had waited till Pau Amma had gone out of
Pusat Tasek and come home, the water would have carried us there by
'You are lazy,' said the Eldest Magician. 'So your children shall be
lazy. They shall be the laziest people in the world. They shall be
called the Malazy--the lazy people;' and he held up his finger to the
Moon and said, 'O Fisherman, here is the Man too lazy to row home. Pull
his canoe home with your line, Fisherman.'
'No,' said the Man. 'If I am to be lazy all my days, let the Sea work
for me twice a day for ever. That will save paddling.'
And the Eldest Magician laughed and said,
'Payah kun' (That is right).
And the Rat of the Moon stopped biting the line; and the Fisherman let
his line down till it touched the Sea, and he pulled the whole deep Sea
along, past the Island of Bintang, past Singapore, past Malacca, past
Selangor, till the canoe whirled into the mouth of the Perak River
'Kun?' said the Fisherman of the Moon.
'Payah kun,' said the Eldest Magician. 'See now that you pull the Sea
twice a day and twice a night for ever, so that the Malazy fishermen may
be saved paddling. But be careful not to do it too hard, or I shall make
a magic on you as I did to Pau Amma.'
Then they all went up the Perak River and went to bed, Best Beloved.
Now listen and attend!
From that day to this the Moon has always pulled the sea up and down and
made what we call the tides. Sometimes the Fisher of the Sea pulls a
little too hard, and then we get spring-tides; and sometimes he pulls a
little too softly, and then we get what are called neap-tides; but
nearly always he is careful, because of the Eldest Magician.
And Pau Amma? You can see when you go to the beach, how all Pau Amma's
babies make little Pusat Taseks for themselves under every stone and
bunch of weed on the sands; you can see them waving their little
scissors; and in some parts of the world they truly live on the dry land
and run up the palm trees and eat cocoa-nuts, exactly as the
girl-daughter promised. But once a year all Pau Ammas must shake off
their hard armour and be soft--to remind them of what the Eldest
Magician could do. And so it isn't fair to kill or hunt Pau Amma's
babies just because old Pau Amma was stupidly rude a very long time ago.
Oh yes! And Pau Amma's babies hate being taken out of their little
Pusat Taseks and brought home in pickle-bottles. That is why they nip
you with their scissors, and it serves you right!
CHINA-GOING P. and O.'s
Pass Pau Amma's playground close,
And his Pusat Tasek lies
Near the track of most B.I.'s.
U.Y.K. and N.D.L.
Know Pau Amma's home as well
As the fisher of the Sea knows
'Bens,' M.M.'s, and Rubattinos.
But (and this is rather queer)
A.T.L.'s can not come here;
O. and O. and D.O.A.
Must go round another way.
Orient, Anchor, Bibby, Hall,
Never go that way at all.
U.C.S. would have a fit
If it found itself on it.
And if 'Beavers' took their cargoes
To Penang instead of Lagos,
Or a fat Shaw-Savill bore
Passengers to Singapore,
Or a White Star were to try a
Little trip to Sourabaya,
Or a B.S.A. went on
Past Natal to Cheribon,
Then great Mr. Lloyds would come
With a wire and drag them home!
You'll know what my riddle means
When you've eaten mangosteens.
Or if you can't wait till then, ask them to let
you have the outside page of the Times; turn
over to page 2, where it is marked 'Shipping' on
the top left hand; then take the Atlas (and that
is the finest picture-book in the world) and see
how the names of the places that the steamers go
to fit into the names of the places on the map.
Any steamer-kiddy ought to be able to do that; but
if you can't read, ask some one to show it you.