According to The Walrus magazine, members of the Lau Lagoon clans of Solomon Islands are accusing Canadian anthropologist Pierre Maranda, recipient of the 1996 Canada Council Molson Prize and proponent of structuralism, of stealing the clans' sacred octopus, holding it captive in a swimming pool on his "faraway island" (Canada), and using its magic power to make himself rich and famous, thereby leaving the islanders vulnerable without its protection:
The [Lau people's] ancestors, who were descended from worms, lived on a mountain above the jungled folds of Malaita. One day, a hero named Golo'au ventured forth from the mountain to discover the promised land, which was not land at all but a vast, reef-protected lagoon fringing the island's northwest coast. Golo'au and his kin built rafts from bamboo and they paddled out onto that calm water. They pulled hunks of coral rock from the shallow bottom and piled them upon each other until they had created islands on which they could build thatch houses. The Lau raised their children on the water, safe from the headhunters and mosquitoes that populated the bush. Fish filled their nets. Life was good. When the ancestors died, their spirits did not leave the lagoon. Instead, they inhabited the bodies of sharks and birds and, together with other spirit creatures, they were able to protect their descendants with their magic.
For centuries the Lau people honoured the spirits by following their edicts and killing pigs for them. The priests of the Rere clan offered regular blood sacrifices to the speckled octopus that inhabited the reef near the island of Foueda, ensuring the octopus would protect them from the dangers of the sea. "The octopus took care of people," the man with the scarified cheeks told me. "If they were lost at sea, he would bring them home. If they were drowning, he would save them." Sometimes the octopus would crawl right up out of the sea into a priest's canoe to let him know it was time for a sacrifice. It would crawl onto land, too. If you left a basket of food outside your door, the octopus would plunk himself down on top of it and engulf it. He preferred pork to fruit.
The Rere priests had kept the octopus's name a secret so that lay people, fools, and enemies could not abuse its power. But, said my friend, all that changed half a lifetime ago. That's when Maranda tricked the priests into giving him the secret names of their ancestors. He used those words to beguile the octopus, lure it through the reefs and away across the Pacific. The creature did not go willingly. It used its power to strike Maranda with a terrible illness and it killed his wife. But still it did not return. The octopus had not been seen near its coral sanctuary in years. Now, with no spirit to protect them, the people of Foueda have become vulnerable, falling victim to mysterious diseases or drowning inexplicably in the empty and unforgiving sea.
Of course, Maranda has his own version of the events. And then there's the complicating factor of a custody dispute over the octopus (Seventh-day Adventist islanders apparently want it rebaptized with a proper Christian name, like John, or Paul, or Ringo).
Regardless, this incident does highlight the importance of teaching your sacred octopus about Stranger Danger: If a strange anthropologist approaches you and offers you tasty pork treats, do not go with him -- even if he knows your name. He could be leading you to a life of mytho-semiotic debauchery in Québec.
Fortunately, I don't think the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus has much to fear from being lured away from the Republic of Cascadia since we have a system in place to keep just such a thing from happening: Should the tree octopuses be reported missing, an Octopus Alert will be howled to the Sasquatch Militia, who'll place the borders on lockdown until they are recovered. In the unlikely event that the abductor manages to escape Cascadia to Canada, interhominoidal agreements ensure that the Royal Canadian Mounted Wendigos will be waiting to recover the tree octopuses and extradite the abductor back for delimbing. So don't get any funny ideas, Pierre.