As with any often retold story, there are several versions of the legend of the turtle and the shark. I am repeating to you what I remember my grandpa telling me nearly 50 years ago.
Many years ago, in the village of Vaitogi, there lived a woman and her daughter. They had lived in the village for a long time. They were both of good character and lived exemplary lives.
One night, the entire village caught fire and was destroyed. The woman and her daughter found themselves trapped at the edge of the cliff as the fire burned out of control. In fear of their lives, they leapt into the ocean to escape the flames. As they entered the water, they were magically changed into a turtle and a shark. It is said that the woman and her daughter had been saved by their goodness.
It’s believed that they continue to live on in the ocean waters of Vaitogi and can be summoned from the sea with a special song.
It was in 1972 that I experienced staying in a fale Samoa (traditional Samoan house) for the first time.
Our family of five (Mum, Dad, brother, sister and myself) were invited to stay with family inland near Tafaigata prison. My uncle and his large family lived in a very traditional fale (house). Their fale was built on an oval foundation bed of volcanic rock with small scoria and coral for the floor covering. Over the top of that flooring was a layer of several hand woven mats. The fale had no walls, only supporting poles and a simple palm thatched roof with layered pola (woven blinds) hanging from the upper edges of the fale roof.
Kerosene lamps were used at the time as reliable electricity hadn’t reached that far inland.
We slept surrounded by a thick layer of mosquito netting and the acrid smell of mosquito coils burning.
At dawn we woke to a cacophony of roosters crowing.
In the falling dusk, hunters from my Faleula family travelled inland seeking the pe’a (flying fox).
In no time at all, a tall tree full of these upside down creatures came into view. Rifle sounds pierced the quiet evening, causing the flying foxes to surge up into the darkening sky. They were fleeing in all directions. It was a sight I will never forget. I was struck by the shapes and patterns they made in the sky. I looked on – thinking of the legend that Grandpa had told me about Nafanua, the Goddess of War, who was rescued by flying foxes, when she was stranded on a hostile island.
The hunters had caught five flying foxes. These were prepared in a umu (traditional above ground oven of hot volcanic stones) by aunties and cousins to honour us as guests visiting from New Zealand in 1972.
I have so many fond memories of my grandpa Maiava Fa’avae from Faleula, Samoa. During my childhood years, he filled my imagination with so many myths and legends from ancient Samoa. My eyes often wide as saucers when he’d whisper fervently about the supernatural. I could never get enough of listening to the stories told over and over.
Maiava was also a notable Samoan healer. At times, he would talk of Samoan Fofo (traditional massage), herbal remedies, and the treatment of illnesses that were either physical or supernatural in origin. Sadly I was too young and impatient. I didn’t listen carefully and much of that knowledge is now lost.
The world is full of stories. Many waiting to be told, others kept secret or simply overlooked and then forgotten with the passage of time. That’s why I started this blog – to give a voice to those stories!
Mine begins as a first generation immigrant child born in 1960s New Zealand…