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?