Samoan mythology as a subset of Polynesian mythology will be the subject of this blog post. I have previously covered various deities of the Hawaiian islands and in the future I will address the gods of the other Polynesian island groups.
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GEGE – A deity who specialized in ridding the Samoan island of Upolu of demons. Operating out of his base at Falealili he roamed the island, met demons in contests of magic and transformed them into stone. Countless unusual rock formations on Upolu are said to be the petrified bodies of the demons overcome by Gege.
PAPA – In other Polynesian island groups Papa is the Earth goddess. In the Samoan pantheon she is strictly the goddess of the flatrock base beneath islands. Admittedly that is an oddly specific designation. She mated with the supreme deity Tangaloa to give birth to some of the Samoan islands.
VAVAU – The Samoan god of peace. The chief deity Tangaloa sent Vavau from the heavens down to the earth, forbidding him to return until he had brought peace to all humanity. Since conflicts in some form persist in some areas of the world at all times Vavau is still wandering among humans, but every time he brings a peaceful resolution to one conflict another breaks out elsewhere.
TOAFA and FOGE – The goddess and god of freshwater springs that burst forth from rocks. They are represented in the form of two smooth, oblong stones. Two mountains on Savai’i are named for them. Their daughter is the rain goddess Saato.
TAEMA and TILAFAIGA – The patron deities of tattooing. These two goddesses were born as conjoined twins but as they swam the ocean to Tutuila and then Fiji they were separated by a collision with a floating log. On Fiji the twins learned the art of tattooing and when they swam back to the Samoan islands they introduced the artform there. As twins double yams, double bananas and other flukes are sacred to them. Because they were born conjoined it is considered an affront to Taema and Tilafaiga for humans to sit back to back.
LESA – The Samoan god of agriculture and plenty. He brings abundant harvests and can help crops by asking his wife Saato to send rain. All manner of cultivated foods fall under his purview. Lesa can also be prayed to to ruin the crops of one’s enemies during wartime. He is the son of the god Turia, who controls the weather. Lesa’s messenger is the owl.
SAVEA – The god who rules over the subterranean land of the dead, called Pulotu. Savea had the head, arms and torso of a human but the rest of his body was that of a large eel. His wives were the twin tattooing goddesses Taema and Tilifaiga, one of whom (accounts vary) gave birth to their daughter Nafanua, the goddess of war. Savea’s brother was Salevao, the god of minerals found deep in the earth.
The entrance to Savea’s realm was at a cave in Falealupo. Various demons patrolled the path to Pulotu for Savea and would seize any mortals daring to venture along that path while still alive.
MANILOA – The Samoan god of cannibalism. Originally humans did not feed on each other. Maniloa (no relation to Barry Maniloa – rimshot) would construct bridges like spider-webs over ravines. When people would cross those bridges Maniloa would shake them, causing the mortals to fall to their deaths below, following which he would devour their remains.
Eventually an entire army of ancient Samoans attacked him and succeeded in slaying him. His godly essence entered all of them, filling them with his hunger for human flesh and turning them into the first cannibals of the Samoan islands. In some versions Maniloa’s slayers ate his remains as a form of poetic justice, only to find themselves cursed with cannibalistic hunger after doing so.
FAINGA’A and SI’SI – The patron goddesses of true but unrequited love. These two sisters fell in love with the mortal Pasikole, the only Polynesian man with blonde hair. Pasikole loved his mortal wife, however, and remained true to her. He rejected the two goddesses’ advances but they refused to leave him, even watching when he and his wife would have sex.
Eventually Pasikole tried to get rid of the goddesses by tricking them into huge baskets and leaving them in the mountains. They eventually made their way back to him so he next took them fishing and trapped them in a net. He weighed down the net with rocks and tossed Fainga’a and Si’si into the sea. The chief deity Tangaloa freed them and, as they requested, sent the two goddesses to the land of the dead to await Pasikole’s arrival after he died.
When the blonde man did finally pass away he still remained faithful to his wife and refused the goddesses’ advances again, preferring to wait for his wife’s arrival after her own eventual death. Fainga’a and Si’si later went on to marry the monster-slaying god Ti’i-Ti’i (the Samoan version of the Hawaiian god Maui) while Pasikole was worshipped after his death as the god of husbandly fidelity.
TI’I-TI’I – The Samoan Hercules. This demigod was the Samoan island group’s version of the Hawaiian god Maui. In fact, Maui’s longer name is Maui-Tiki-Tiki and Ti’i-Ti’i is pronounced like Tiki-Tiki but with glottal stops where the k’s would be. Ti’i-Ti’i’s deeds included: a) Slaying a land-dwelling octopus who lived in a cave and had tentacles so long it could pluck victims from anywhere on the island and drag them to its mouth to devour them,
b) Retrieving a floating island and returning it to its original position in the ocean
c) Slaying a shark-like Devil Fish that was eating all the fish of the sea and leaving none for Samoan fishermen,
d) Subduing and returning one of the four winds when it escaped from the cave of the wind god Fa’atiu,
e) Freeing the Samoan islands from the reign of terror of a race of giant humanoids with the heads of dogs. Those giants were especially dangerous because they roamed the islands with packs of enormous dogs on leashes. Ti’i-Ti’i eventually killed them all,
f) Slaying Tetuna the eel god to stop his attempts to seduce the goddess Sina
and g) Stealing fire for humans by invading the underground lair of the fire and earthquake god Mafuie. Ti’i-Ti’i did this by defeating Mafuie in a wrestling contest and breaking one of his arms. This was also how he obtained his two wives, the goddesses Fainga’a and Si’si, whom Savea, god of the dead, gave him as a reward for winning his battle with Mafuie.
LOSI – A fishing deity and a member of the race of immortal earth-bound giants who are Samoan mythology’s version of the Titans. Losi was a master fisherman and a trickster deity who loved defying the heavenly gods. Once when the chief deity Tangaloa ordered Losi to provide all the gods of the heavens with fish for a feast the mischievous figure caught untold numbers of fish but placed them on the doorway of each of the gods’ homes in their heavenly realm.
When the gods emerged from their homes at sunrise they each slipped on the fish and filled Losi with laughter. Angered, the gods ordered Losi from the heavens. Before he departed the trickster concealed seeds for taro plants (which at the time grew only in the realm of the gods) in his anal cavity. Tangaloa sensed something was wrong and ordered Losi searched. The intimate search did not find the taro seeds but did embarrass the master fisherman to the point where he wanted revenge.
Back on Earth Losi rallied his fellow giants to him and they all stormed the skyland home of the gods. Though nearly all of the world’s belief systems feature a similar conflict between the gods and a race of giants the Samoan pantheon boasts the only version of the tale in which the gods get their celestial butts kicked. One of Losi’s fellows, the giant Lefanoga, was the god of destruction and led the giants to victory. They then ransacked the realm of the gods for fruit trees as well as yams and took those items down to the Earth to give to mortals. Previously only the gods had such things.
PILI – The black lizard god who was the son of Tangaloa and the ancestor of the four main ruling families of Samoa. Though his primary form was that of a large lizard Pili, like all the other gods, could take human form at will. When his sister Sina was courted by the king of Fiji and then taken away to be his bride she invited him to come with the party on their journey by sea.
Enroute to Fiji the food ran out and Pili had to save Sina from the royal party’s plans to try to eat her. He did so and multiplied the ship’s existing food to make enough for the rest of the voyage. Unfortunately the king and his crew deceived Sina into thinking Pili was behind the food shortage in the first place and so she took her brother by surprise and tossed him overboard.
Pili was saved by his brothers Fuialaio and Maomao, then followed Sina to Fiji. The king’s evil nature had brought a famine to all of Fiji just as it had done to the royal party at sea. The vile king began killing his own subjects to provide food for the nobility. Pili saved the day by planting magical yams that grew immediately and saved the people from starvation and from being eaten themselves. Sina rejected the king and left Fiji with her brother.
Pili himself eventually married a mortal woman and had four sons – Tua, who founded Atua; Ana, who founded A’ana; Saga, who founded Tuamasaga and Tolufalo, the greatest of the four, who settled all of the island of Savai’i. Years later the brothers had a falling out, thus beginning the War of the Brothers, a real war but the history of which is complicated by the layers of mythology and folklore that have evolved alongside it. (Think of the Heike or the Trojan War or even Le Mort d’Arthur) The rivalries between the four factions of Samoa’s noble families linger to this very day.
SINA – Samoan mythology’s counterpart to Hina from Hawaiian myths. Unlike Hina, Sina was not the moon goddess but was a deity of love, beauty,and fertility. As part of that role Sina had countless lovers (including her father Tangaloa) and various husbands. She also attracted plenty of demons and monsters as would-be romantic partners too.
Tetuna, who was the eel god of the Samoans just as he was for the Hawaiians, tried to court Sina at the spring where she would retire to for her baths. After Tetuna persistently joined the goddess in the spring for several days in a row Sina finally appealed to the chief deity Tangaloa for help. He ordered the demigod Ti’i-Ti’i to go and slay Tetuna, who, with his dying breath, asked Sina to transform him into the first cocoanut tree. Sina granted his wish, and that is why cocoanut trees have the long bodies of eels and why cocoanuts look like they have Tetuna’s face on them.
Sina’s promiscuity led to her being the mother of countless figures in Samoan myths. She would sometimes marry mortal men, but they would eventually die, freeing the goddess to pursue new romances with other males, either mortal or divine.
NAFANUA – The Samoan goddess of war. She was the daughter of Savea, the god who ruled over the land of the dead, and of one of the tattoo goddesses (accounts vary as to which). Nafanua was born as a clot of blood and was thus thrown away by her mother. Savea found her and gave her life.
Nafanua could not be defeated in battle by any of the other deities in the Samoan pantheon. The center of her worship was Falealupo, which was also where tradition held that the entrance to the land of the dead lay. Nafanua’s first battle in the human world came when her father sent her to the realm of mortals to help Chief Matuna overcome the forces of a tyrannical war-chief who was trying to conquer all of Samoa. Matuna’s chief priest Tai’i had prayed to Savea for assistance.
Nafanua’s strength was equal to hundreds of men and she wielded a huge fallen tree as a war-club. The goddess overcame several of the tyrant’s armies enroute to his capital. Nafanua at last reached Matuna’s home where he and his family feasted the goddess and let her drink all of the kava in the village.
Refreshed, Nafanua took the field the next day, leading Matuna’s armies against the tyrant’s forces. The war goddess killed dozens for every one killed by the mortals she led. At length, the wind blew Nafanua’s tiputa (warshirt) up far enough that the opposing forces could see her breasts and realize it was a woman decimating them. The rest of the tyrant’s army surrendered in shame.
Before starting wars chiefs would often make a pilgrimmage to Falealupo to pray to Nafanua for her help in the upcoming battles.
TANGALOA – The supreme deity of the Samoan pantheon, also called Tagaloa. He incorporates elements of the gods Kanaloa, Rangi and Lono from other Polynesian island groups. Tangaloa rules both the sky and the sea. One of his early acts was to use his nets to fish up the sun-fish and the moon-fish and set them in the heavens. The two take turns leaping through the sky, but like other flying fish eventually need to land back in the sea. Tangaloa rides the sun-fish across the sky during the months with long days but rides the moon-fish through the sky during the months with long nights. His son takes his place on the other fish at such times. Eclipses are caused by the sun-fish and moon-fish having sex.
Originally there was no land on the Earth and the sea filled the world. Sina flew down to the Earth in the form of a bird but complained to Tangaloa that she had nowhere to land. Tangaloa threw enormous boulders down from the heavenly realm of the gods to form some islands and fished up other islands from the bottom of the sea.
When Sina had rested she returned to her father, who sent her back down to the ancient Samoan islands with a giant creeper vine. As the vine rotted, large worm-like creatures were formed and Tangaloa went down to personally craft them into the first humans. Originally they were all males but when one of them died for the first time Tangaloa resurrected the being as the first woman.
Tangaloa’s children are innumerable but include various gods, demigods and even the race of giant immortals like Losi, who once led the giants in an attack on the heavenly home of the gods. He mated with his daughter Sina to spawn the race of giants.
Tangaloa does not like noises in his presence, so when he visited ancient Samoa carpenters were forbidden to work. Tangaloa also created the nine heavens where the Samoan deities live.
FOR MORE DEITIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD: https://glitternight.com/category/mythology/
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