Monday, January 23, 2017

Fantastic Folktales from Fiji (Following folktales around the world 9. - Fiji)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Fiji is our last stop in Melanesia. It was a great way to say goodbye.
Myths and Legends of Fiji and Rotuma
A. W. Reed & Inez Hames
A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1967.

I have to admit that out of all the volumes I have read so far for this challenge, this one was probably my favorite. I am aware that I might be subconsciously biased, since the tales were "re-told" by someone not native to the islands, and therefore probably told in a way that rang familiar to Western readers - but still, as a collection of stories, this one was both enchanting and entertaining, with dozens of stories that I instantly fell in love with. It is not an academic folklore publication by any stretch, and it lacks background information - but it was, none the less, a fascinating read.


One of the strangest and most entertaining tales in the book was titled The man who was used as a ball. In it, a man was "accidentally" left behind on an island, where every night the local demons used him as a ball in their game. He tried to hide from them five or six times, sometimes in extremely creative ways, but he kept failing, until a god took pity on him. In the end, he even got to visit the spirit world, leaving his body behind on the beach (and, similar to the Mongolian tale of Tarva the Blind, the crabs ate one of his eyes by the time he returned).
Another great favorite of mine was Gods who fought for their women. It was a tale of love and adventure, in which two friends (one of them a wind-god) set out to elope with the daughter of a god from a neighboring island. She was only willing to go (despite being in love) if they also rescued the youngest wife of her father, who was beaten and miserable. The two women eloped with the two gods, but the father/husband followed them, and used all kinds of shape-changing tricks to try to get them back. It was an exciting story, with a very satisfying happy ending. Women, by the way, often got away from marriage in these stories, choosing independence over a wedding - one of them even broke a basket on the head of the man that tried to trick her into marriage...
One of the most endearing stories was The god that turned into a rat. In this, a deity visited a neighboring island in the form of a rat, but was so exhausted by the voyage that he could not change back - and no one believed that he was in fact a god. In another rather fun tale the god of an island tricked his neighbor into swapping his fruit trees for all the mosquitoes of their home - by saying that mosquitoes were magical, invisible creatures that sang beautiful songs.
Not all gods were this funny or lovely, however. There was an entire chapter full of legends about the Shark God. He was portrayed as fearsome and stern, but also a protector of the islands and their people. In one story, one of his unruly sons swam up a river, and people made sure he got back home. A similarly nature-friendly legend was The turtle nuts of the vonu tree. This one told about a custom where people greeted the turtles coming from the sea every year, and then stayed in their houses for two days to allow privacy for the animals on the beach. Of course someone had to break the taboo, and the god of turtles turned him into a tree as a punishment. Turtle privacy is important, people. Let them lay eggs in peace.


This volume also contained a very beautiful description of the journey of the soul into the afterlife. Interestingly, this time bachelors were at the highest risk of being punished, and even pure souls had to fight their way through numerous dangerous creatures.
One of the most obvious connections to "Western" tales was the motif of sky-high trees, vines, and stalks; some were used to visit the kingdom of the Sky King, while another was utilized as a vehicle by a hero to travel to the faraway island of Tonga. There were not one, but two "tortoise and the hare" type animal race tales, one featured a heron and crabs, and the other a heron and a butterfly (heron lost both, go figure).
There was a legend that reminded me of the myth of King Midas - in this, a chief challenged a snake god's powers, and the god cursed him, turning all food, drinks, and even his bed into living snakes. There was also a snake-husband tale (with love breaking the curse), and many other stories that featured snakes.
I was reminded of the Whale vs. Octopus story of Micronesia - here, the Shark God Daquwaka fought a giant octopus over who gets to be the protector of the reef (Octopus won again). Several stories mentioned giant clam shells that trapped the hands or feet of unsuspecting people or animals, and drowned them - I have seen similar stories in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. I was reminded of Japanese and East African folktales by the story where someone traveled into the Underwater Realm on the back of a giant turtle. 

Where to next?
Tuvalu. We will be making our entrance into Polynesia.


  1. In all fairness, if a rat ever told me that he was really a god, I probably wouldn't believe him.