Tongans Myths and Legends
For hundreds of years, myths and legends help to shape and maintain Tongan ideals and beliefs. The creation myth explained how Tongans came into existence, whereas the myths and legends that came after taught people how to live. Legends give the greatest gift to Tongan and Polynesian culture; we are taught the traditional ideals and customs through stories.
As a child, I remember a time when the nightly practice of Pō Fananga (storytelling) was still practiced. This would mostly take place when my cousins and I travelled around the outer islands with our grandparents, the late King Tupou IV and Queen Mata’aho. It was a magical time, on warm nights in the Palace in Ha’apai after all the grandchildren tucked into bed, our grandparents would play their guitars together in their room; a perfect background for Po Fananga. The Queen Mother’s attendants would come to our room after finishing their chores and tell us many stories.
The old ladies tell us stories of great landmarks in Tonga and why we have certain traditions and values. There are countless times I would refer to a particular legend with real life occurrences. The stories teach lessons and forewarn people of the outcome of certain actions.
The Two Eels and their Sisters
Legend has it that a couple had two eels as sons. Before the couple had two daughters, they hid their sons, the eels. When the daughters disobeyed the parents, they were chased by the eels into the ocean where they turned into two rocks. You may still find them at Mui Ha’atafu.
Also, legends assist in remembering the High Chiefs.
In the story of the great beauty Tangifetaua, the Gods of the elements played a trick on her to see who could destroy the mats her mother had trusted her to guard. After her mother’s precious koloa (mats and tapacloth) was destroyed, Tangifetaua ran away out of fear for not fulfilling her parents’ wishes. She travelled on the back of a turtle from Niuafo’ou to the main island of Tongatapu. She would ask the turtle about the chief of each island they pass. After the turtle told her the chief of Tongatapu is the Tu’i Tonga, the highest and most powerful of all the chiefs, does she finally choose to come ashore on Tongatapu. When the Tu’i Tonga sees Tangifetaua, he makes her his bride. Tangifetaua agrees to be his primary wife if he agrees to move back to Niuafo’ou where she can care for her parents as they have no one else.
Tongan folklore gives me a sense of empowerment, especially in the area of leadership. For one to be able to withstand life’s tests there has to be a small amount of defiance which is distinguishable in many of the legends of leaders.
A few reoccurring themes in old Tongan stories are centered on the four traditional Tongan values – respect, love, humility, and gratitude.
The Legend of The Tu’I Tonga’s wife, the Moheofo, and her maid Manuna
The Moheofo (Queen) and Manuna were best friends in spite of their social standing in society. For a high ranking woman to be so close to a servant was seen as unusual as chiefly women had close relatives who were attendants and confidants. The Tu’i Tonga forced Manuna to sleep with him whereupon she became pregnant and gave birth to a son who was named Fakana’ana’a (to console). After the Moheofo consoled Manuna, she thanked her for helping in her duty to give the Tu’i Tonga an heir.
The issue with Tongan legends is that as interesting as they are, the moral of the story doesn’t always fit in with modern day values. In ancient times, women were more dependent on their partners. Today, women can work and be self-sufficient to have the choice and strength to leave their unfaithful spouses.
Recalling the stories give me a connection to the past. These stories like culture shape me, but they do not define me. The stories I preferred are the ones of great battles and any that involves the spirit world Pulotu, such as, the story of the Goddess of the Underworld Hikule’o and how she gifted the people of Tonga with fire.
Legends make the traditional expectations of our forefathers coherent so that we may apply what we can to our lives today and not lose touch with what is at the core of being Polynesian.
Article Written By: Hon. Frederica Tuita