Monthly Archives: February 2014

JUST HOW FRIENDLY ARE THE FRIENDLY ISLANDS?

It was James Cook who first named Tonga ‘the Friendly Islands’. It happened in 1773, during his second Pacific voyage. The British explorer was so impressed by the warm welcome he had received in the village of Lifuka that he immediately coined an appropriate nickname for the country. What he didn’t know then was that the native Tongans had actually planned to kill him and his crew. They didn’t succeed as they were busy arguing on how to do it best.  But that’s just a tiny, little detail not even worth mentioning…

Today, if you want to visit the islands, you don’t have to worry – no one is going to kill you. Actually, the moment you’ll find yourself amongst Tongans, you’ll feel like a member of a big family.

Yes, those people radiate warmth and friendliness, but they need to be given a slight encouragement. Initially, they may appear shy, reserved or even harsh. But throw them a smile, and they will immediately open up. In the blink of an eye you will be welcomed into the local community. They will treat you like someone who belongs to that place. And you will never feel lonely again. It is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Islanders give and share. Whatever they possess or own – be it food, personal items or even valuables – is regarded as common good. They will gladly ‘lend’ you anything you want. Just because you asked; or said you liked it. It’s always nice to do the same, although Tongans don’t expect any gifts. Selfless givers; that’s who they are. What really matters to them is a relationship with another human being. Material things always come second. Nevertheless, they may mention, from time to time, that your cap or that piece of jewellery you wear is very nice… Well, it is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Speaking of sharing… Tongans are extremely hospitable, even towards strangers. Visitors are welcomed at all times. Upon entering the house, they are honoured with the best seats. During the meals, they are served first while the hosts usually sit, watch and wait, asking occasionally if anything else is needed. When leaving, guests are given a small present. Such generosity is a sign of respect. And respect, as well as kindness to other people, are key values in the culture of this South Pacific kingdom. Putting it simply, it is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Do you think I’ve painted a rosy picture here? Hold on, there’s even more. Tongans laugh. Constantly. At almost everything. And that laughter is infectious. It takes away all the sorrows and brings happiness and bliss instead. In times of crisis, in times of disasters, in times of pain – those people are joyful. For they know they can count on their brothers and sisters. Always. This is the rule: you never desert your family and friends; you support them, you help them, you back them up. And you never look down on anybody. No matter who that person is. As you can see, humility, modesty and genuine love can still be found somewhere in this world.

No, this is not some utopian community that I’ve just described. It’s quite real. It is… anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Such are the Friendly Islanders. It then comes as no surprise that the true winner of the Winter Olympics in Sochi was Fuahea Semi, or Bruno Banani, as he is now known. Not only did this Tongan luger impress people all over the globe with his fantastic performance, but he also won their hearts with his strong character, great attitude and a truly amazing personality. I don’t think you can ever find a nicer, more humble and more likable athlete; or a person, for that matter. Well… It is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life. And he is the pure quintessence of it.

‘THE BONE BEARER’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘The Bone Bearer’ is the third and final instalment in the Telesa series. It is a long-awaited conclusion to the story of Leila Folger and her adventures in the Pacific Islands.

THE BONE BEARER

Summary

After the fight with Sarona, Leila is taken to the hospital in Samoa. Everyone is happy and relieved when she finally wakes up from a coma. But their joy doesn’t last long. The sweet girl they all knew before the accident now seems to be a completely different person who cannot recognize her boyfriend, friends, or relatives.

Shocked and confused Daniel finds out that Leila’s body has been possessed by Pele, the great Fire Goddess. He chooses, yet again, to fight for the one he loves. To do this, he needs only one thing – the Tangaloa Bone necklace. But he is not the only person who tries to recover the three pieces of this ancient weapon. As Pele’s awakening caused quite a stir among Telesa guardians from the Pacific region, they’ve all decided to join forces and protect their beloved islands. And what is more, they are not willing to give up at any cost.

Knowing this, Daniel puts together a team made up not only of his friends, but also of his enemies. Along with Simone, Keahi, Lesina, Teuila, and Talei, he starts the race to save his girlfriend. But in order to win, they all need to overcome their differences and work as a group. And this only seems like an easy task.

Review

Let me start by saying that this book is definitely different from its predecessors. First of all, it is not written from Leila’s point of view. There are parts with the first-person narration, where you get to know certain characters’ thoughts, but they are quite rare. Instead, Lani Wendt Young chose to serve as an unseen voice that slowly unfolds the entire story. Mixing the narrative perspective was definitely a great idea as it added a little bit of mystery and made the whole thing even more interesting.

Second of all, in this last instalment of the series Polynesian mythology is a dominant element. The novel explores all the legends in much more depth than the previous books. Right from the start you are taken on a wonderful journey to the magical world of Telesa. A very captivating (and long) prologue gives you some background on Pele’s life, unraveling the secrets of her soul. You learn why she behaves in certain ways and why she makes certain choices. You understand more and thus can fully enjoy this amazing tale.

Another great thing is the fact that this book introduces some new characters but at the same time explores the ones you already know. You discover a different side of Keahi (who eventually turns out to be a really good man), Lesina, and Teuila. And of course you cannot forget about Simone – brilliant as always.

At this point I should mention that you may be disappointed if you expect to find some more interaction between Leila and Daniel. Except for the very romantic ending, there is no place for amorousness here! But this is probably a good thing as it brings quite a bit of diversity to the whole trilogy.

Of course, the novel is a pleasure to read. Vivid descriptions are second to none. Again, you’re almost able to see the scenery, and you feel as if you were really there – on the beautiful islands of Samoa, where people are nice, food is delicious, and everything around is just breathtaking.

If I were to sum the Telesa series up, I would say it is absolutely fantastic. A great concept was turned into a truly unique tale of love, commitment, and friendship. It is not your ordinary paranormal romance with vampires, fairies, or werewolves. It is so much more as it brings back the Polynesian mythology and the forgotten world of the fierce Earth Guardians. Every single book in this trilogy is just excellent: well-written, captivating, thought-provoking (!), and full of Samoan culture. Highly recommended for people who would like to read a good piece of literature!

WHO ARE THOSE WOMEN?

They are beautiful. Or at least this is what people say. And they can be quite frightening. They’re neither humans nor ghosts. They are the spirit women. And they wander the villages of Samoa. Yes, it’s time to take another journey into the world of Pasifika myths. So, shall we begin?

The women in question are known as Teine Sa. It is believed that every village in the Samoan Archipelago has its own lady, who guards and protects the area. Most of them are known only by local inhabitants, but you may have heard about Telesa – the Teine Sa from the village of Lepea, Saumaeafe from Saleimoa or Sinaleavele – the spirit of Alaoa and Tanugamanono.

They are all described as being stunningly attractive, with long hair and red hibiscuses tucked behind their ears, and… eager to seduce young men. Word on the street is, they can charm anyone they want. Such extraordinary beauty can be alluring. But guys, watch out! Falling in love with the Teine Sa may lead to your… death. Especially, if you pay attention to other girls.

The spirit women of Samoa are extremely jealous. They detest good-looking females. The ones that flaunt their physical appearance run a risk of… getting seriously harmed. So all you ladies, beware! Don’t brush your hair at night, don’t wear it down, don’t misbehave. Otherwise the Teine Sa will come after you.

Yes, it is obvious that those strong-willed women don’t like it when young people don’t respect the community, when they behave in an inappropriate way or fail to conform to social norms. It’s quite simple: try one of these, and you will be punished. Or: follow the rules, be demure and modest, set a good example, and you will never have any troubles. The choice is yours. But remember, it may not be just a myth…

Now, you may assume that the Teine Sa spirits are embodiments of evil. Well, such statement would definitely be an exaggeration. Those beautiful women, who apparently can hurt human beings so easily, are the protectors of not only Samoan land, but also indigenous traditions and beliefs.

In Pasifika, nature was always considered sacred. Forests, rivers, lagoons and even single plants were often declared tapu, just so people would respect them. The islands and the ocean were the sources of life: the homes of the ancestors, the ‘givers’ of food, the shelter and hope for future generations. Every single person was inseparably linked with Mother Earth.

This is how it looked in the past. Nowadays, things have changed. The trees and waters are no longer tapu. People care less and less about their surroundings. Well, modernity has arrived and everything has evolved: culture, customs, traditions and beliefs. It only seems like a natural cycle of life but… If you forget about your heritage, you start to lose your true identity. And the Teine Sa? They try to awaken those memories of the ancient times, when people actually listened to the great world of nature and took proper care of the place they called ‘home’. The spirits demand respect: for themselves, but most of all for Samoa.

The big question is: are the stories based on facts? It’s hard to say. Some elders claim they encountered the ghosts. They swear to God the Teine Sa are real. Others disagree. According to them, the legends were made up in order to frighten and discipline children and teenagers, so they would obey adults. Whatever the case is, the lore is deeply rooted in the Polynesian culture. It may not be as prevalent as it was in the old days, but it’s still there. Young Samoans insist they do not believe in the Teine Sa. But somehow they try very hard not to anger them. Who knows, maybe those beautiful women with red hibiscuses over their ears do exist… Roaming the sacred lands of the islands and connecting people to their past.

It is often said that legends are a mixture of fantasy and reality. This indeed may be true.

‘WHEN WATER BURNS’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘When Water Burns’, penned by Lani Wendt Young, is the second book in the Telesa trilogy. It brings back the story of Leila Folger and her incredible journey as the Goddess of Fire.

WHEN WATER BURNS

Summary

After the death of Nafanua and her sisters, The Covenant Sisterhood no longer exists. The only one that survived is Sarona, who, being completely alone, poses no threat to Leila and Daniel. The two lovers can finally lead a normal life. Or so they think.

While Daniel is recovering from the battle with vicious sisters, Leila is back in the Washington D.C. to be with her dying grandmother. Before her death, the old lady reveals a shocking secret to her granddaughter, which leaves the young girl utterly shattered. Despite her family’s objections, Leila decides to go back to Samoa.

Back on the island, she starts university, moves to a new house together with Simone, and finds out that she is the sole beneficiary of Nafanua’s will. She chooses to accept the inheritance, much to Sarona’s frustration.

Leila’s life seems almost ideal. She is happy in Samoa, has quite a few friends and a loving boyfriend. Her relationship with Daniel flourishes as they get to know each other better and better every day. But nothing lasts forever and there are dark clouds on the horizon. Daniel learns the truth about his past, Leila meets mysterious Keahi, and Sarona is back in the game.

Review

The problem with sequels is that they hardly ever live up to the originals. But let me tell you, this novel is just as good as its predecessor. It is even more action-packed and full of surprising twists and turns you definitely won’t foresee. What is more, it is set not only is Samoa, but also in Tonga and Hawaii, so you’ll get to know more about all those fantastic places.

As Leila’s story evolves, it also gets a little bit darker. This volume is certainly less light-hearted than the first one. It addresses some serious and difficult subjects: sexual assaults, abuse, domestic violence. They are particularly prominent in the very touching prologue, which, despite being a great introduction to what a reader can expect, may be hard to get through for some people.

But of course, there are occasional bouts of humour among this gloominess, especially when Simone takes the stage. As a flamboyant fa’afafine, he is the most hilarious character with a truly extraordinary personality. And it is absolutely fantastic that he plays a bigger part in this book.

All the other characters are much more mature and grown up compared to the first novel. Leila is not a teenager anymore. She is a young woman who knows how to fight for her life. She is determined to succeed and is not afraid of what may happen in the future. Daniel, on the other hand, has finally come into his own. As he discovers his gifts, he becomes more independent. He starts to be ‘Daniel’ and not just ‘Leila’s boyfriend’; but he still remains that sweet and loving boy everyone knew. Keahi is a new introduction. He is an inscrutable person with a painful past. Because of his secrets, he adds extra spice to the whole story.

‘When Water Burns’ is a great novel. Without a doubt it is just as good as ‘Telesa:
The Covenant Keeper’, which, by the way, you should read if you haven’t done it yet. Brilliant storyline, good pace, intense action. The sequel is a bit darker and serious (but still incredibly funny!), so I would say it’s best for emotionally mature people. I highly recommend it.

THE WORLD OF MYTHS

How did our world come into existence? Who created it? How did it gain its current form? Aren’t those the questions we all want to know the right answers to? But do the right answers exist? I’m not sure. Nowadays everyone speaks of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Or they insist our presence on Earth is an act of God. In the past, the answers weren’t that simple and they differed widely from country to country. Why? Well, every nation has its own culture. And every culture has its own set of beliefs.

Before the arrival of the first missionaries, indigenous people in the South Seas lived within their own, unique world. They believed in gods and spirits – their guardians and protectors, imbued with the immense power of mana.

All the gods had to be respected and, of course, worshipped. In some regions, mostly in Polynesia, the mythical beings were served in special temples – maraes. If you, however, imagine a marae as a Greek temple, you are very much mistaken. First of all, maraes were open-air enclosures with stone walls. Some were small, some were big; some were built in the forest, others – on a tract of land overlooking the sea. Second of all, maraes were used not only for honoring local gods, but also as public meeting places and ceremonial grounds (in Melanesia). Putting it simply, they were the centres of religious, social, political and cultural life on the islands.

The natives prayed a lot. They pleased their gods before every major event and every major activity. They asked them for health and happiness; for rich harvests at the beginning of the season; for a good catch before the fishing excursion; for the victory over enemies. To say the gods were an extremely important part of people’s daily existence wouldn’t be an understatement.

Speaking of the gods… Who were they? What were their names? It would be quite difficult to make a complete list here. Actually, you could compile several lists and that still wouldn’t be enough. Yes, the mythology of the Pacific is as diverse as the islands themselves. Some gods are recognized throughout the Blue Continent, nonetheless their names may vary from country to country. Others remain peculiar to only one region or, as if that wasn’t enough, to a single island. This sounds complicated, I know. And to be honest with you, it really is. But if you bury yourself in this mythical world, you will find it so interesting and absorbing that you will not want to get back here on Earth. What’s the best way to do it? Legends… Start with legends.

Traditional tales from Pasifika are a truly fascinating mixture. Giant lizards and decapitated eels coexist alongside gods, brave warriors and great heroes. They all ‘came to life’ to explain people the origins of their lands; to teach them about the importance of nature; to justify certain choices and decisions. Only in the South Seas are the myths considered legitimate history of the nations.

Today, the legends may be just a part of the folklore; some meaningless and untrue stories. But in the past, they were everything. They were the answers to all the tough questions. They were the fables for children. They were the subjects of everyday discussions. If you ever get the chance to hear a tale told by native Islanders, don’t miss that opportunity. The passion in their voice will struck you. And then you will know that Pasifika mythology is still alive.

When European missionaries began evangelizing the Blue Continent, indigenous beliefs of local people quickly fell into oblivion. But they were never completely forgotten. They’re still there. Drifting from one island to another. Maybe now it’s time to rediscover this wonderful world of Pacific myths?

‘TELESA: THE COVENANT KEEPER’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Telesa: The Covenant Keeper’ is the first book in Lani Wendt Young’s Telesa trilogy. It is a Young Adult Paranormal Romance set in modern Samoa and inspired by ancient mythologies from the Pacific region.

TELESA

Summary

Leila Folger, a teenager from Washington D.C, travels to Samoa after her father’s sudden death. All she wants is to meet her mother’s family, get to know something more about her heritage, and find a place she could call ‘home’. But from the very beginning nothing seems to go her way. Leila’s aunt Matile and uncle Tuala do not want to broach certain subjects, she is forced to abide by strict rules and has to adjust to Samoa College – a school she needs to attend.

But as time goes by, Leila starts to settle into her new environment. She is befriended by Simone, a very nice fa’afafine who instantly becomes her best friend, and meets Daniel, a handsome captain of the SamCo’s rugby team. Even though Leila and Daniel seem like total opposites at first, they quickly become attracted to each other and gradually develop a romantic relationship.

Leila’s life changes dramatically when she discovers a strange fire growing inside her body. Having no idea what it is caused by, she starts looking for some answers. And she gets them when she meets her mother. The beautiful woman introduces her daughter to the Sisterhood of Telesā. The girl is now torn between two worlds…

Review

The book is considered Young Adult fiction, but you will definitely enjoy it even if you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., as it is suitable for all ages.

The story is absolutely captivating. A slow start introduces readers to the Samoan culture – you get to know the country and its people through Leila’s eyes. Everything – certain places, clothing, food, and even everyday life – is so richly and evocatively described that you can easily visualize every part of this tale. The second half of the novel, on the other hand, is action-packed. Literally. Mysteries, suspense, twists and turns – you will get it all! And I can assure you that you will not be bored even for a second. Heart palpitations? Yes, they are quite common amongst Telesā readers!

When it comes to the characters, they are a mixed bag. Leila at first seems like a typical American teenager who has her own problems and worries, but eventually turns out to be a very strong and mature young woman. Daniel is a true Samoan gentleman, a little bit old-fashioned but definitely easy to fall in love with. Jason, an all-American guy just wishing to help a person in need, could be a model friend. And there is also Nafanua, a very complex person full of dark secrets from the past. Every character is different, every character is great. But there is one that stands out from the crowd – Simone. The first ever fa’afafine in a young adult fiction book. What a fantastic creation! Absolutely brilliant and oh-so worthy of your attention.

Equally good is the author’s writing style. Well, it must run in the family. Taking into account that Lani’s uncle is the great Albert Wendt, you couldn’t expect anything less from her. The story is told in a witty and mostly light-hearted manner, occasionally tinged with a subtle dose of melancholy. Real-life dialogues adorned with the author’s fantastic sense of humour (yes, prepare yourself for a laugh or two) balance out extended descriptions, making a novel a pleasure to read.

‘Telesa: The Covenant Keeper’ is a marvelous book. I would recommend it to everyone who wants to get immersed in a good piece of literature. Even if you are not a fan of paranormal romance genre, give it a try! You won’t regret it. The idea of incorporating Samoan mythology into the storyline was well-aimed and gave the novel a very fresh feeling. It is original, it is unique, it is simply amazing.