Tale Tokelau: Tae-A-Tangaloa

The tales of Tokelau contain many references to mythological characters and events found in tales from other parts of Polynesia. Numerous myths mention trips to Fiji and the people there, a common feature of Samoan tales. This is the Tokelauan Tale of Tae-A-Tangaloa.


The Story of Tae-A-Tangaloa

Once Fakataka and his wife, Paua, and Luafatu and his wife, Kui, were traveling in a canoe from Fakaofu to Fiji. A quarrel arose between the two couples which finally resulted in a fight. Fakataka and Paua jumped from the canoe and went down to the bottom of the sea, where they remained as the shells called fasua and paua.

Kui and Luafatu continued in their canoe toward Fiji, but they encountered a great storm. The canoe sank and Luafatu was thrown out and drowned. His body sank to the floor of the ocean and became a rock (fatu). Kui swam through the storm, praying that she might set her foot on land: “ko au, ko au, ko Kui e oku lunga, e oku lalo, ke akahi toku vae ke tu ki he motu” (I … I … Kui. My kicking above, my kicking below, may my foot stand on an island).

Soon she came to the reef of an island and crawled on to it. Kui was pregnant, and when she came to a hole (tafeta) in the reef, she lay down and gave birth to her child and then walked to the beach and died.

Tangaloa, in the sky, saw the new-born child dying on the reef below and sent down the snipe, tuli, to name it. Tuli flew down with two gifts for the child, a small adz (atupa) and a long-handled ax (ualoa). When he came upon the baby he called it Tae-a-Tangaloa and named the parts of its body after himself; calling the knee tuli vae; the elbow tuli lima, the head tuli ulu, and naming the other parts in the same way.

The child, Tae-a-Tangaloa, walked ashore, and on the beach he found the pool of blood left by his mother and her dead body. Then he walked among the trees along the shore and came upon Kui Kava, a carpenter, who was making a canoe with the help of his son, Pepe-le-kava. 

Tae-a-Tangaloa regarded the hull they were piecing together and said to Kui Kava, “Your canoe is crooked.” Kui Kava became angry and replied, “You are an evil boy. I am the chief canoe builder and yet you tell me my canoe is crooked.” Tae-a-Tangaloa repeated many times that the canoe was made out of line, and at last Kui Kava came and stood with him at the end of the canoe and saw that Tae-a-Tangaloa was right. Kui Kava asked Tae-a-Tangaloa to remain with him and help to build the canoe with his ax and adz.

Tae-a-Tangaloa set to work with the carpenter. First he laid down several short coconut logs in a row, as a cradle for the hull, while he fitted the sections of the hull in line. But Pepe-le-kava, angry because Tae-a-Tangaloa had found his father's canoe crooked, put his foot on an end of one of the logs and threw the section resting on it out of line. 

When Tae-a-Tangaloa found they had made a mistake, he began again to fit the hull; but each time he finished he found the sections would not join. Working again to make the canoe right, he saw Pepe-le-kava tipping a section by pressing down one of the logs with his foot, and killed him with his ax. After this, Tae-a-Tangaloa finished the canoe in three days.

When this was done, Tae-a-Tangaloa took the body of Pepe-le-kava to Tangaloa and asked that the boy's life be restored. They returned to the island of Kui Kava, where Tae-a-Tangaloa found the people sailing for Fiji. He stood in the canoe passage as the canoes filed out to sea and requested each one to take him in the canoe, but each refused because he was too young. As the last canoe went out to the reef, Tae-a-Tangaloa offered to go with them as living food (oso o te vaka) to be eaten by the party during the journey; and he was taken.

During the voyage a great storm arose and many of the canoes sank. Tae-a-Tangaloa stood up in his canoe and prayed to Tangaloa to save them from the strength of the waves: “Tangaloa, kua ita kuku ki faitalia kae tafia, tafia, tafia” (Tangaloa, why does your anger sixteen us? Let it be driven away). Then the water became calm, but the people in the canoe demanded that they should eat the man who had offered to come as food.

Tae-a-Tangaloa stood up again in the canoe and prayed to Tangaloa for food, and it fell from the sky into the canoe. The people ate and then turned to Tae-a-Tangaloa and cried that they were thirsty. He told them to drink the water that had leaked into the canoe, and when they tasted it they found that it was fresh and drank.

With plenty of food and a fair wind they traveled on and finally came in sight of Fiji. Near the passage lived the high chief, Tui Viti, who destroyed all canoes which came to his island. Tae-a-Tangaloa stood in the canoe again and said to the people, “When Tui Viti lifts his hand, do not look at him but look at me.” (Tui Viti lifted his right hand in signal to the entering canoes; the crews raised their hands in salute, and fell dead.) When Tae-a-Tangaloa came to the passage, the people in the canoe all looked at him and he recited :

Sua, lau putuputu lau manunu
Kaho ia ka he kaho lakulu
Talotalo ki le tua i manunu. Sua.
Sua, sue my tukutukua mataseua
Kae mulisau ma the tokamea
Tu ki tai se kava se ula ma ke
Tapatapa keli ake te ika he
Palaoa e fakatalau ki te taotao
Amakula ko ai le ia le kava ola
Koa ia the ia the kava kona ui ifo
Aliki kei na ola ko au ko
Tae-a-Tangaloa. Sua.

At the end of this recitation Tui Viti died. Tae-a-Tangaloa went ashore and brought back to life all the people whom Tui Viti had killed as they arrived at his island and had hung from trees. He took a young coconut and the end of a coconut leaf and went to the place where Tui Viti had died. He fanned the old chief with the leaf and broke the young nut, pouring the juice over Tui Viti's face, and brought him back to life. Tui Viti ruled again over his island and married Te Malamafitakia, the daughter of Tae-a-Tangaloa.