Report from the Field: the Lanais

The last thing I remember, before waking up in the hut, was tripping on one of the primitive stone steps. It was starting to get dark, so I decided to return to the Bulabird for the night. Turns out, walking down the stone staircase was more precarious than walking up.

When I awoke, I found myself inside of a small, stone hut, laying on a simple surface. In the middle of the hut was a fire. It was otherwise totally dark, leading me to believe that many hours had passed. Had the porgs picked me up and carried me into this hut? And built a fire? It all seemed highly unlikely.

After sitting up, and finding my way to the door, I stumbled outside and was greeted by a surprise. I rubbed my eyes a couple times to ensure I wasn’t hallucinating after that fall.

Peacefully sitting on a stone bench outside of my hut, leaning back, eyes closed, was… avian? A fish? A reptilian of some sort? I was entirely unsure!

IMG_20180414_195308Here’s what I observed: Two forward-facing eyes on a large, round head, bulbous nasal region and a long, wide mouth formed in the shape of a disapproving frown. The otherwise smooth skin of the head and face was lined with many wrinkles. The creature’s body was rotund and stocky, but tapering severely at the legs, which were nothing more than what appeared to be two, skinny, avian feet.

More surprising than the exterior physiology, however, was the outfit! This particular being was dressed in a plain, white frock with an apron and a simple headpiece. The outfit, combined with the fact that she (I would later learn that this was a female) started speaking to me, led me to the immediate conclusion that, unlike the porgs that covered this island, this creature was very much sentient!

When she spoke, her words were fast and her voice was high-pitched. I did not recognize the language but her repeated gestures to my head led me to believe that she was asking about my well-being after having been unconscious for so many hours. It seemed that this surprising being (presumably with the help of others) had found me after my fall and taken me to the hut to recover.

I tried to communicate that I felt fine and I tried to express gratitude for the care, but her brow remained furled and her language remained sharp as she steered me around and back into the hut, pointing at the bed where I had been laying. I eventually relented (it would have been hard not to while facing that stern presence) and laid back down on the bed. Seeming satisfied with this, she turned around and left the hut; I heard her sitting back down on the bench outside.

Admittedly, I was pretty tired. It had been a long day, crashing on this island, climbing up cliffs, and falling down stone staircases. And for some reason, despite her harsh exterior, something about knowing that my new friend was keeping watch outside put me at ease. With the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks in the distance, it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.

When I awoke the next morning, sunlight pouring through the single window in my hut, my caretaker had been joined by four others, all similarly dressed in plain, white frocks with aprons and headpieces. They were performing various cleaning and maintenance tasks in and around the other huts in the clearing: sweeping, scrubbing, washing, folding. I attempted to engage with them, but they tended to give me short responses, all in the same chittery language, never taking their eyes from their work.

IMG_20180414_195300I spent the next five days in the company of my caretaker and, as I soon discovered, the many others that also called the island home. They seemed content to do their work and let me explore the island in peace. If they were perturbed by my inclination to watch them work, studying them and making sketches, they never let on. It was only when I tried to directly interfere when they would respond with a sharp verbal warning.

I continue to be mystified by the physiology of these beings. I think it’s pretty clear that they share a common ancestor with the porgs, from sometime way back in their evolutionary history. The legs, the nasal slits, the general body shape all point towards a common evolutionary ancestor, which makes sense given their apparent isolation on this island. Whether I would classify them as a fish, avian, or reptilian is harder to say, as they carry common characteristics of these three families. Part of the joy of discovery, I suppose, is the constant need to re-evaluate our categorical classification of species.

It is safe to assume, I believe, that I am not the first visitor to this island world. The entire culture of my caretakers seems to be structured around exactly that: taking care of the island and the beings that come to visit. Besides the hut village, I found a number of other fascinating landmarks, including what appears to be a spacious, temple-like structure with a curious stone mosaic on the ground. Additionally, one afternoon, I stumbled upon a huge tree with hollowed out trunk. The tree was charred pitch black and looked like it had very recently been burned. Was this caused by lightning from a storm on the island? Or had a recent visitor felt the need to burn this intriguing structure?

I have some theories about the ancient purpose of this island and its previous inhabitants. However, without an anthropology degree to back me up, my ideas will remain to myself, to avoid the risk of becoming a laughingstock.

In my time exploring the island and observing my caretakers, one thing in particular struck me – there seemed to be no noticeable differentiation between any of the individuals that would mark a different sexed being. It had been easy to define the difference between male and female porgs, but I could not figure out whether both sexes looked the same or if I was living in the presence of just the females. I received clarity on my fifth night on the island.

It was dark and the fire in my hut was beginning to die down when I heard something new mixed in with the usual soundscape of the island – distant horns! I immediately ran out of my hut and saw four boats sailing towards the caretakers’ village.

By the time I, very carefully, had made my way down the stone steps and around the bend to the village where I had learned the caretakers live, the boats had already arrived on shore. I was not sure what I was expecting to see when I arrived – a party was certainly not it. But sure enough, there were my caretakers, those grumpy, surly fish/reptilian/avian creatures, dancing and singing and whooping and hooting!

Mixed amongst the white frocks were new colors: blues, greens, browns, and yellows. And underneath these colorful vests and shirts were new individuals I hadn’t observed before – I had found the males.IMG_20180414_195317

Throughout the party, I observed as the males unloaded their boats and the females helped to carry their hauls, huge nets filled with a plethora of fish species, into their village. It appears that the lack of males up to this point was because they were all away fishing. And now, with their return, came a celebration the likes of which I had never experienced before.

The party went well into the night. The music was played on a host of instruments constructed from various materials found around the island. My favorite was the bagpipes made of a fish bladder. They ate fish and drank wine (too bitter for me – I immediately spat mine out) and I was welcomed in a way that I hadn’t been before. It was as if, for one night only, the caretakers let their cantankerous pretense down and just enjoyed the company of each other, their ocean-going counterparts, and me, the strange visitor, twice their height, who had crash landed on their island and just wanted to take notes about them.

When I awoke the next morning, the females were back to their work and the males were nowhere to be found. I wonder how often the males return to the island to share their catches and celebrate with the females. It seemed a rare and special enough occasion that I feel lucky to have been able to witness it for myself.


I have compiled my notes on the lanai species and my field guide entry can be found here.

(Vyrdaw’s posts are translated by Danny, with sketches by Zan Morris).