Monday, February 6, 2017

East of the Sun, West of the Clam (Following folktales around the world 11. - Tonga)

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!

Tonga is made up of 169 islands, but only 36 of them are inhabited. 

Po Fananga
Folk tales of Tonga
Tupou Posesi Fauna
Friendly Islands Bookshop, 1982.

I was really happy to find a folktale collection written and translated by a Tongan author, and published by a Tongan publisher. The volume was practically falling apart in my hands, but it was very much worth the read. It contains eleven traditional folktales, and one story made up by the author herself - so much like a folktale that I would have never picked it out of a lineup. Even more interesting was the author herself. Tuopu sounds like a remarkable lady. She was raised in the Tongan tradition, and learned the tales from her grandmother; on top of being a grandmother of sixteen herself, she was also an accomplished lecturer in Tongan folklore, and a helper to all visitors interested in it. She came from an old Tongan family, one of her ancestors being a famous blind (!!!) navigator named Kahomovailahi, who could navigate the ocean by dipping his hand in the water and feeling the currents (your move, Moana).


Pretty pretty giant clam
One of the most beautiful (and most intriguing) tales in the collection was titled Daughter of a Clam. It told of a woman who accidentally gave birth to a giant clam. The clam-daughter was raised in a pool where the son of the king used to bathe, and she fell in love with him. When he was not looking, she sucked on his bathing sponge - and got pregnant (I kid you not). In time, the clam delivered a beautiful (human) daughter with whom the prince later fell in love. Incest was narrowly avoided by the grandparents stepping in. My favorite part was the one where the daughter smashed the clam against some rocks, and her beautiful (human) mother stepped out of it - she was cursed until someone who really loved her broke the shell with tears in her eyes. She was saved by her daughter, not the prince.
I also loved Tupou's own tale, The daughter of the Rainbow. It followed folktale motifs and plots, and flowed beautifully. I loved the part where two boys descended into the under-water Otherworld, where their grandmother helped them fish the soul of their murdered father up, and bring him back to life.


Tongan royal wedding, 1976. 
I really enjoyed the tale titled Son of the Sun, which reminded me of several other stories. It began with a girl who was in love with the Sun, and she bathed in the rays of the rising sun until she got pregnant (see also: Daughter of the Sun, by Italo Calvino). The boy she gave birth to grew up, and went to visit his father before his wedding (Phaethon). The Sun gave him two presents, one of fortune and one of misfortune, telling him not to open them too soon. Of course he did, he opened Misfortune, and the winds roaring out of it blew him out to sea (Odysseus) (also Pandora). Eventually everything turned out well in the end - they even managed to use Misfortune to clean up after the wedding feast.
Another familiar motif I knew from the Maui legends - it featured a girl who had relations with a giant eel. Eventually, the eel was killed, and from its buried head grew the first coconut palm.
There was a version of the ever-depressing "mother killed me, father ate me" folktale type - a jealous brother killed his spoiled sister and buried her in various places. The wind carried her voice to her parents and told the sad story; the girl was eventually brought back to life.

Where to next?


  1. Verry uninteresting storys. I think clams a beautiful,they come in diffrent shapes,and sizes. I love to eat them. I love to visit theys islands and play the role as the prince :).

  2. (giggling to myself) Each time I google "Any country, island, or ethnic group" + "folktale", your blog pops up among the first five links :D
    And believe me, for this latest project of mine, I have been googling the most obscure and less-known islands, ethnic groups, tribes, etc + folktale for the past two weeks! :D

    1. Ooh, I am curious now what the project is! :)

    2. Also, there is nothing more annoying when I google something like that, and my own blog pops up... :D