Tag Archives: Pacific mythology

BEST BOOKS BASED ON PACIFIC MYTHS, LEGENDS, FOLK TALES

The Telesa Trilogy by Lani Wendt Young

This highly acclaimed series is a modern take on Pacific mythology, which makes it a perfect read for teenagers.

The thrilling story of Leila Folger is a passionate romance based on the legends of Teine Sa, the spirit women of Samoa. The popular ancient beliefs are masterfully incorporated into the narrative – they constitute a considerable part of the story, yet they are not overwhelming.

The trilogy may be perfect for juvenile audiences, but you’ll love it even if you’re past your teenage years!

‘Sirena: A Mermaid Legend from Guam’ by Tanya Taimanglo

The story of Sirena, Guam’s legendary mermaid, is so well-known in the Pacific region that there is probably not a single person who wouldn’t be acquainted with it. This is one of the reasons why every Pasifika aficionado should read, and possess, Tanya Taimanglo’s book.

This particular retelling of the famous folk tale is a real beauty. Embellished with the most gorgeous illustrations – created by the author’s brother, Sonny Chargualaf – it will be an absolute treasure in your home library. Plus, it will definitely draw children’s attention!

‘Princess Hina & the Eel’ by King Kenutu

This is another wonderful book, especially for older children and teenagers.

The story of genuine, eternal love between a princess and a commoner is one of the better-known folk tales in Polynesia. It is captivating, thought-provoking, and timeless in its message. King Kenutu’s version is not only beautifully told but also full of passion that can be felt in each and every word.

The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

Lehua Parker’s saga is a brilliant example of engaging middle grade/young adult literature that’s deeply rooted in the local Polynesian mythology.

Although the series is not based on one particular myth, legend, or folk tale, it draws inspiration from old Hawaiian stories of a shapeshifting shark-man, Nanaue. It is not a retelling of the legend, but you may certainly find some similarities. Who knows, maybe Zader’s adventures will encourage you to delve into ancient tales from the Aloha State…

‘Turtle Songs: A Tale for Mothers and Daughters’ by Margaret Wolfson

This book tells the ancient Fijian myth – especially popular on the island of Kadavu – about the Turtle princess and her daughter.

It’s a classic retelling, gracefully narrated and adorned with lovely – absolutely lovely – watercolours. The illustrations make the story come alive before the reader’s eyes, so even young children will read or listen to this tale with great interest.

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?