Category Archives: NOTES ON PASIFIKA

THAT ONE BOOK

My Pacific Literature adventure began when I first read Albert Wendt’s book. I read it and I fell in love – with his creativity, writing style, talent. Then, years later, I discovered other authors from the region: Lani Wendt Young, who is the voice of contemporary Pacific women. Tanya Taimanglo, a very gifted lady whose tales accompany me in my daily life. Epeli Hauʻofa, for works of whom I reach whenever I need a bit of laugh. There is also Sia Figiel (The greatest). And Célestine Hitiura Vaite (Oh how I regret she hasn’t written anything since her charming Materena Mahi Trilogy). And Stephen Tenorio Jr. (Joyce, Hemingway of the Blue Continent?). And Chantal T. Spitz (She proves that poetry can convey a powerful message). And Lehua Parker (I had never thought I’d be interested in the adventures of a teenage boy, but I was!). And… I could go on and on about the writers from the South Seas. All outstandingly talented, most virtually unknown.

But if there is one author and one book that truly touched my heart, it’s Sieni A.M. and her ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’. This is such a superb novel, that it’s impossible to simply describe it, as no amount of words could ever truly show its beauty.

The (love) story of two young people, both physically or emotionally ‘flawed’ (I hate this word!), is technically aimed at young adults. However, it should be read by all – regardless of age, sex, social status, etc. At this moment you are probably wondering why. Let me explain.

Sieni A.M. created a moving narrative and filled it with extraordinary, extremely believable characters. Especially Kiva, the heroine of the book, is someone we should look up to. By modern standards, the girl is not perfect. Her visible limp makes her less worthy. She gets laughed at; she gets called names; she gets bullied. Just because she doesn’t meet the standards of beauty. What is beauty anyway? Well… Beauty is Kiva. A girl so strong, so understanding, so compassionate that you can’t help but be amazed at her fortitude. She proves that nothing can break you unless you let it. That you are not ‘without your strengths’, even if you ‘have flaws and insecurities’. That each and every one of us ‘belongs to something greater than our physical body and the physical world around us’. That if we can ‘walk, crawl, or limp toward our dreams, it is enough’.

How often do we forget about this? How often do we ask for more than we already have? How often do we treat ‘people like Kiva’ with not enough respect? ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’ is a wonderful reminder of what’s really important in life. It lets us understand that if we are good people, we are all perfect – even if the rest of the world keeps telling us otherwise. The colour of your skin, the structure of your hair, the length of your legs don’t matter. Dream, fulfill your potential, and help others do the same.

I have already read this novel quite a few times and it’s still not enough for me. I know that this book will stay with me till the rest of my life. Because it is beautiful, thought-provoking, inspiring, and moving. Every time I immerse myself in this story, it touches my heart. It gives me hope and encouragement. And it makes me cry (and you must know that I am not an easy crier – quite the contrary).

Such phenomenal piece of literature could have been created only by an enormously talented writer. That’s Sieni A.M. – a truly perfect woman.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘MAHÅLANGNESS – THE FUEL THAT FED MY WRITING FIRE’ BY PAULA QUINENE

‘How long have you been away from home?’ I asked an army friend.

‘Thirteen years,’ he replied.

And to myself, I said, How could anyone be away from Guam for 13 years? It’s simple really. When was the last time you checked on ticket prices to an island half way around the world? Imagine the expense for a college student from the lower end of the middle class.

So it began, the winter of 1993. I started college at the University of Oregon, away from my family, away from Guam, and very mahȧlang. In Chamorro, mahȧlang means homesick. My parents bent over backwards to bring me home in the summers of 1993 and 1994. During my second full year of school, I decided that I would wait to go home. I didn’t want to ask my parents for another $1,800 ticket. And even with my multiple jobs as a college student, I couldn’t afford that ticket, not after paying for rent, books, and food. I could wait three years to go home. Truth was, I was very mahȧlang listening to JD Crutch, and cooking Guam food. I almost left college in 1995 without graduating. But I realized how hard my parents were working to send their oldest child to school. So I stopped listening to Chamorro music, and focused even more on my studies.

It was the summer of 1996, and low and behold, I had only one year of college left – then I fell in love with a Chamorro boy in the army, got married, graduated, and was whisked away to Germany. I cried almost every day my first year overseas. What did I do? I was supposed to go home!

In the span of 20 years, I had been to Guam only three times – 1999, 2006, and 2013. The pain in my heart, in my very being, gave life to my cookbooks, ‘A Taste of Guam’ and ‘Remember Guam’, and my novel, ‘Conquered’. My mahȧlangness was the fuel that fed my writing fire.

During my sophomore year at Simon Sanchez High School, I felt I had a destiny with my island. It was in 2006, while I was working on my cookbooks and my novel that I realized exactly what I was meant to do. And that was to write about Guam. If I had returned to Guam, I wouldn’t have been mahȧlang, and I wouldn’t have written my books.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built my website, Paulaq.com, and my supporting social media presence, because I am very mahȧlang. Denial works sometimes – that I’m OK being away from home. However, writing about Guam keeps me connected to the land and the family that raised me. Writing has proven to be more productive and useful than hiding from the pain.

Fortunately, I’ve been home twice within the past three years, and am now able to continue that trend. I’m still homesick, but the pain is more bearable.

While I’ve been working on another Guam food book on and off since 2012, I thought I was done writing novels. Yet she calls to me. Her plight. Her fight. Her struggle to reclaim what was taken by colonizing forces, ‘Write for me. Let your love now feed your writing fire.’

From whatever island you are from, embrace your love and your homesickness. Allow it to help you share and preserve the richness of your heritage.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘HEROINE OF MY OWN WORLD’ BY LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

My frantic schedule as a tina (mother) compels certainty that I am a heroine of my own kind. A heroine of my own world. Not the mother who wakes up to the sound of birds in her garden with violin playing in the background. Or one who would snap her finger and the kids would form a formation while singing Do-Re-Mi before single filing out to the car for school. As a heroine of my own world, I persevere through the opposite of that.

When I reflect back to legendary myths about heroines across the Pasifika, I marvel at their strength, preservation, and dauntless examples as warlords. Like Ka wahine ‘ai Honua, or the goddess of fire Pele – she shaped and sheltered the Hawaiian lands. In Samoa, I admire the Siamese twin sisters Taema and Tilafaiga’s journey that procured titles and proverbs presently used by the Samoan people. They profusely left behind tales which not only contributed to histories of lands and the ocean, but also influenced the growing mana of the tina in the family.

As a mother, I find strength to cope with every responsibility through the eyes of my family. My mom has. Grandmothers, great grandmothers and every woman in our lineage of ancestors did. My gratitude extends far out to pillars who appraised the value of culture and family. I wouldn’t be embracing much now, without the restless mothers and goddesses who instilled courage into the feats I now battle with as, “Mom, mommy, ma, Momma, Mummy, Momsy…mummified!”

I remember the tale of the Siamese twin sisters Taema and Tilafaiga, whose breeding voyage knitted a foundation of the Samoan culture. They are known in real stories as the sisters who sailed between Fiji, Tutuila (American Samoa), Manu’a, Savaii and Samoa. Tilafaiga is the mother of a mighty war goddess by the name of Nafanua. Nafanua’s supernatural powers have no equal. Her immortal influences crafted systems currently embraced by the Independent Samoan government.

In the course of an endless hardship in Falelatai village, Nafanua sailed out to save her people from slavery. When Nafanua arrived unaccompanied with her war clubs, there wasn’t a presumption that she’ll drive a force of warriors away from her village. She didn’t have an army. However, her scorching powers formed an army of dragonflies and insects that fought beside her. Although men outnumbered her, Nafanua killed a numerous count during battle. At the wake of dawn, a breeze swept her upper apparel, exposing her breasts to the men. The Warriors were embarrassed and immediately fled out into the forest.

Relatively, my contemporary dream is some sort of power that’ll someday lure my imaginary Edward Scissorhands to organize plates, spoons and laundry around the house. Or perhaps a wand gadget devised to hold all the chores while the other arm is sitting at the drive-thru of Starbucks awaiting a Venti-sized caramel macchiato with two shots of espresso and less foam.

Every tina, or mother is a heroine in many ways. A tina is a representation of her own kind, a legend of her own story and a descendant of heroine ancestors. I am a heroine in my own world who still wakes up to the sound of the fire alarm because my better half has left the toaster notch at 5. A mother who is always relieved to be the first at the school drop off zone, and in the latter discovers a peanut butter face with a missing pair of shoe. Echoing in the hallway some mornings are numerous complaints to start my day: Mommy, the dog ate my science project! Mommy what am I going to wear? Where’s my catcher’s mitt? These mind-boggling occasions happen so often that all I can reminisce about are the days when there was no Starbucks, no toaster or a car; but a dear mother who wakes up before sunrise to grind the Koko Samoa (Samoan cocoa beans) and gather pandanus leaves to weave a fine mat for my family.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘HAWAIIAN ON THE INSIDE’ BY LEHUA PARKER

I was walking through Dick’s Sporting Goods in Salt Lake City, Utah when I saw it hanging on the back wall: a ski jacket with the same bird of paradise print my tutu had on her couch cushions in the ‘70s. Like a teri beef plate lunch special it called to me. My daughter was appalled. ‘You are NOT wearing that, Mom. No way!’

‘It’s reversible, right?’ my son asked.

My husband shrugged. ‘At least we’ll be able to find you in a crowd.’

I bought it.

And I wore it. For about a week it clashed with everything and everyone, as out of place as an aloha shirt at – well, a ski slope. When you’re an ex-pat Hawaiian living near world-class winter sporting grounds it can be hard to find the aloha spirit in the middle of January.

I tried not to care. I ignored the stares and snickers and carried my childhood wrapped around me like a blanket. But one day I caved and reversed it.

‘What’s up with your coat?’ my son asked.

‘It’s like me. I’m wearing my Hawaiian on my inside.’

He tilted his head. ‘Yeah, but unlike your coat you’re not even brown on the outside.’

Ouch.

Through a genetic quirk my youngest sister and I inherited our mother’s super fair northern European coloring while my other sister and brother have our father’s mixed Hawaiian heritage of medium brown hair, eyes, and skin.

I’m not going to lie to you. As the only blond, blue-eyed kid in the entire school district in Kahului, Maui it was rough. Unlike every other Hawaiian family I’ve known, my dad was an only child from a family of only children – and from Oahu. I didn’t have a huge ohana of cousins calabash or otherwise on Maui to vouch for me. It was easy to be the target from the teachers and principal on down.

No lie. People go to jail now for what they did to me in elementary school. But Maui was a different time and place back then. At least I like to think so.

There’s a disconnect that happens in your head when you’re beaten for being an outsider by kids who are descendants of sugarcane and pineapple workers from Asia when your ancestors farmed taro in those same fields for hundreds of years. But on the playground nobody cares about those kinds of distinctions. It’s all about freckles and the need for sunscreen.

For a year or two after school while waiting for my mom to get off work, I went to a house where the father carved traditional ki‘i – tiki statues – and the grandmother spoke beautiful Hawaiian with her friends under the shade of mango trees. They were patient with me – the gangly haole girl who watched with big eyes and listened to the melodious voices rolling like water over her head. Sometimes they would tell me stories about Hawaiian history, culture, legends, and traditions. I soaked them up like a sponge.

After my family moved back to Oahu, I was accepted into The Kamehameha Schools and that changed my life. I didn’t have to fight so hard to belong because everyone knew I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. At Kamehameha I learned more about what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and like my classmates, promised to perpetuate our culture in positive ways. Our princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop had given us the precious gift of an education; we therefore have an obligation to be her hands and pass aloha along.

I write the Niuhi Shark Saga and other stories for island kids who never see themselves or their families in popular literature. So much about Hawaii has been rewritten by Hollywood and that’s tragic. There is a need for authentic Pasifika voices to tell our stories, and I hope to add to the conversation in my small way.

When people read the words, they hear a Hawaiian voice. But when I show up at a book signing or appearance that disconnect happens again. ‘You’re Lehua? From The Kamehameha Schools? No way!’ I don’t think anyone ever gets used to being called a liar within the first few minutes of meeting a stranger, but I smile and roll with it. I’ve thought about putting my dark-haired sister’s photo on the back of my books and sending her to out into the world as Lehua, but I know that wouldn’t be pono. And for a Hawaiian, living a life that’s pono – a life in harmony with what is good, noble, and true in thought, action, and deed – is our deepest aspiration.

Like many of my classmates, I went to the mainland for college and stayed to raise a family – a family of towheads like me with looooong Hawaiian middle names. And I worry about that.

Every year I grind my teeth when the local grocery store hosts its Hawaiian days with samba music from Brazil, masks from Papua New Guinea, paper flowers from India, and calls anything with pineapple Hawaiian. In the summer neighbors are keen to throw luaus where they wear cellophane grass skirts, fake coconut bras, and serve Hawaiian haystacks – a truly vile concoction of shredded chicken, raw veggies, coconut chips, long-grained rice, and Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. About the time they bring out the limbo stick and form a conga line is when I sneak home. I know I should be more gracious, but it’s hard.

I insist my kids call flip-flops slippahs, snow cones shave ice, and understand that true aloha is colorblind. I wonder if I’m going to be the last generation in my family that remembers how Maui captured the sun, when the makahiki season starts, and why haloa is the staff of life. But then I hear about how my son called out his AP World Geography teacher about comments he found derogatory and inappropriate about Polynesians – and insisted on an apology. When the teacher balked and called him a poser, my son told his teacher to look at his middle name and offered to have his mother come in and explain real Hawaiian history to the class.

Pono.

Maybe I won’t be the last after all.

THE ‘P’ FACTOR

Since the 16th century, the Blue Continent has been a playground for adventure-seeking travellers. Early navigators’ quest for knowledge (officially) and glory (unofficially) prompted them to undertake hazardous voyages in search of new lands in the vast Pacific Ocean. White traders saw the islands as a source of wealth. Missionaries came to convert the cannibals and wild savages into civilized, God-fearing men. Artists, poets and writers simply searched for inspiration somewhere among the swaying palm trees and little lagoons. And ordinary tourists… What really attracts us? Why are we drawn to this corner of the globe? Well, there are more than plenty of reasons, but let me name just a few of them.

‘And that Palau is where? Oh right, it’s at the end of the world!’

Exactly, the end of the world. Let’s be honest, every once in a while we all have this thought: to leave it all behind and travel to a distant land where everything is new and different. Pacific Islands are the most remote, isolated location on the planet Earth. And even though the world doesn’t really end there, it is still fun to be able to enjoy this exceptional feeling of freedom.

‘C’mon, don’t you wanna go to a place where everyone goes?’

No, not really. I need some privacy; I’m tired of being surrounded by thousands of people. Do you know that feeling? Well, the islands are perfect, because they are completely off the beaten track. Visiting the South Seas gives you the opportunity to explore places far away from the usual tourist routes. Go there and you’ll get something more than a typical all-inclusive holiday by the pool.

‘Kiri-what? Ah, Kiribati. Yeah, that sounds kinda exotic!’

Oh yes, we all like those exotic-sounding names. Somehow they seem to represent things that are more unique, more unusual. And when it comes to the Pacific Islands, they are as extraordinary as they sound.

‘Paradise doesn’t exist!’

Maybe it doesn’t, but if there’s any place that resembles Eden, that’s the Blue Continent. It is the land of eternal beauty and utter perfection (well, most of it anyway). It’s so easy to fall in love with all the sights, sounds, tastes and colours. And believe me, this love lasts forever (and ever, and ever, and ever…).

‘Those overwater huts are quite romantic!’

Not just them. Dreamy locations, beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and sweet aromas of tropical flowers are perfect for loved-up couples. But, just to be clear, you don’t need a partner to be able to enjoy this exceptional scenery! If you are in the mood for love – Pacific region is the right place to go.

‘It’s like it’s Photoshopped!’

There’s no need for Photoshop in the Pacific! The islands are filled with picture-perfect scenery, so every snap (well, ok, almost every snap) taken looks like a postcard. So, what were you saying about that Photoshop…?

‘Do you realize they eat people???’

In the South Seas you get a chance to encounter some of the most unique cultures in the world. So many islands, so many traditions. Every single one is different; every single one is totally captivating. Indigenous Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian folkways are well worth exploring. Oh, and don’t be afraid, you’ll come back alive…

‘Yeah, they are good-looking; but friendly? I don’t think so.’

‘Friendly’ doesn’t even describe how amazing Pacific Islanders are. They are warm-hearted, welcoming and hospitable. Known to be very family oriented, they always make sure that any guest feels at home and as comfortable as it is possible. Only in Pasifika can you arrive as a visitor and leave as a member of the community.

‘But what will you eat there? And what will you drink?’

And who cares? The Pacific diet may be a little unvaried, but at least you know there’s one thing you can never run out of: fresh coconuts! And by ‘fresh’ I mean a coconut straight off the tree. You just have to ask one of the very friendly Islanders!

‘Yeah, so.. Ok… Maybe it is an incredible place…’

If you don’t live near the Pacific Islands, it is quite probable that your visit there was, is or will be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But even the shortest trip leaves great memories. Memories that are to be cherished forever.

AND THE WHITE MAN CAME…

Pacific Islanders used to lead a pretty peaceful life. Their daily existence was untroubled by the outside world. They were happy. They were content. They lived inside their very own bubble. But then the white man came… And the perfect bubble burst.

This is probably how you could start the story of haole / palagi exploration of the South Seas. It all started in the 1520s. The first westerners to stumble across the islands were European navigators; Spaniards and Portuguese to be exact. The former were keenly interested in new lands, the latter just wanted to find their way to the Moluccas – the famous ‘Spice Islands of the East’.

The inaugural landfall on the Pacific territory was made by Ferdinand Magellan. His ships entered the ocean – which he named Mar Pacifico for its apparent calmness – at the southern tip of the Americas. He sailed northwest until he reached Guam. What happened there? Well, we all know the pattern. The Chamorro people helped themselves to one of the expedition’s boats, Magellan didn’t approve and as a result seven islanders were killed. Foreign relations, ladies and gentleman. Foreign relations.

From the 1520s to 1760s quite a few explorers visited the Blue Continent. But the greatest of them all was James Cook, a British captain who rose to fame after his three voyages to the region. He’s the one who discovered the Hawaiian Archipelago, New Caledonia, Niue and – of course – the Cook Islands. He managed to set foot on most of the Pacific isles, and – thanks to that – he unwittingly started a new era: an era of colonialism.

After Cook’s explorations, white people decided to go one step further. The newly found territories were full of hidden treasures which could be sold to foreign countries. Sandalwood, pearls, sea cucumbers were traded for cheap whiskey, tobacco or guns and then exported to China. For westerners, this proved to be immensely profitable business. There was only one problem: the goods were not unlimited.

When white traders were left without recourses, they turned the finest lands into copra, cotton and sugar cane plantations. Labour force was much needed. And this is how ‘blackbirding’ came into existence.

Blackbirders were contracted to obtain workers, so they travelled from bay to bay and searched for people willing to ‘get a job’. They used both trickery and force to meet the enormous demands. On the friendlier islands, everything went quite smoothly: the villagers were welcomed on board, given some booze and when they finally passed out, the ship simply sailed off. But sometimes the natives didn’t want to cooperate and then the things would get pretty nasty. Westerners raided a particular place, kidnapping not only men but also women and children. From the 1860s till the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of Pacific Islanders were sold into servitude. Few of them returned home.

Somewhere along the way, the Blue Continent was also visited by European and American missionaries, who tried to implement new customs into the ancient traditions. Local inhabitants were quickly converted to Christianity and later – to Mormonism. People were taught hard work, generosity and modesty. Blood and death were replaced by love for Christ and care for others. Cannibalism, polygamy and idolatry – once so typical for the region – faded into oblivion.

When the white man came, he left a clear footprint on the Pacific sand. He took the small nations on a long journey towards modernity, western philosophy and a whole new way of life. He turned cruel savages into kind and gentle human beings. He gave them a wonderful opportunity to discover a better world. But… Is this western world really better? Does it offer more? Does it guarantee endless happiness? Think about it. The answer isn’t so obvious.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘I AM DIVERGENT’ BY TANYA TAIMANGLO

Okay, let me explain how a 40 year old Asian Pacific Islander who now lives in the Pacific Northwest can be anything like the heroine, Tris from the bestselling trilogy by Veronica Roth.

I was born into a faction of sorts. Two if you want to be exact. If you were to peg me into the two Roth defined factions, it would be Erudite (The Intelligent) and Abnegation (The Selfless). Being raised by a Korean mother and a Chamorro father on Guam had its limitations, and blessings of course. I love my heritages, don’t get me wrong and have spoken of and written about it many times. However, I was bound by rules and regulations of the cultures which affected the adult I became. It is only in the last five years or so, perhaps factored by my father’s passing in 2007 that I have become freer. I have changed factions so to speak.

Focusing on being a Chamorro female, I was told many times that school came first. I was restricted from dating (my first kiss was at the age of 21 – but, don’t weep for me). I was pushed into a college degree that wasn’t my first choice. Vanity, like in Tris’s world, was frowned upon. I wasn’t allowed to feel pretty, or to focus on my looks. My father, the practical one, knew that these things fade. Any time I strayed too far from my set boundaries, I was yanked back by an invisible leash of obligation. In many ways, these restrictions saved me from risky behavior, but I have always wondered what kind of super woman I would be today, had these restraints not been placed on me. I probably wouldn’t cringe when someone pays me a compliment, especially regarding how I look.

I was scolded when at 18, I wanted a tattoo (it was all the rage with my girlfriends). Side note, it took another 18 years to get my first one. A tiger on my back with many hidden symbols (again, much like the Divergent characters).

I married a childhood friend, who is also Chamorro, when we were 30. When we were set to leave the island, I was struck by fear and excitement. I was scared to leave the tiny sanctuary of home and all that I knew for California. But, I was excited at the ripe age of 30 to start my life. I wanted to jump into and off that moving train. And in these last ten years of living in California, and now Washington State, the result of being a Navy wife; I have never felt more liberated. Now, is this a slap to the Chamorro childhood and upbringing I sprouted from? I would hope not. My Chamorro and Korean culture seeps into my everyday being. In my interactions with my new community, I am a culmination of all my experiences. I haven’t immersed myself so deep into the traditional American life that I have lost all that I was originally. But once in a while, I’m reminded that I don’t do things like we do ‘on the island’.

We celebrated my birthday and my daughter’s this past weekend. A friend from Guam was here. She overheard me tell my son to grab his ‘flip flops’ to go outside. I was scolded on the spot and then flushed red in the face. I got it. I didn’t use the term for slippers we use on Guam, ‘zoris’. I then had to explain to the two Navy wife buddies of mine why I was being chastised. In one sentence, I explained Guam terminology and the word origin being Japanese. This small oversight on my part made me question whether I was bringing my children up properly, my very Divergent children. But I dismissed my doubt quickly and enjoyed the rest of the party.

In many ways, we are all Divergent and it’s when people judge you for liking something outside of your cultural norms that my feathers get ruffled. I know who I am, where I’m from and where I’m going. Just because I’ve switched from a life of coconut trees and balmy weather to a life of chill winds and evergreens, it doesn’t make me less. It makes me Divergent. It makes me greater. And, I continued to evolve.

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.

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.

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?