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Samoan Mythology

Three or four years ago, perhaps 2018, when this website began, it was intended to be a simple vehicle for the restoration and republication of the artwork and storytelling of John and Dorothy Kneubuhl on behalf of the Board of Education of the American Samoa mission (see below) to restore and revive the mythology, stories and history of the culture.  Specifically, they created three short volumes for teaching purposes: These are Tali Tonuga Anamua, Sina and Tigilau, and “Lafai” or History of Samoa, listed below. Their work was completed around and about 1980, and published entirely in the Samoan language. All of those stories had been re-told and published in the language of contemporary Samoa of 1980, for teaching the Samoan language to Samoan children. Therefore, as we republish them in English, it is important to realize these 2020-2022 (or thereabouts) writings are translated first from works prepared in both the very “High” Samoan and European English in 1955, which is rarely used today, then next re-told in the everyday, colloquial Samoan of 1980.  Because any translation from 1980 Samoan to contemporary English spoken in 2022 by contemporary Samoans would result in a vocabulary that would have been entirely culturally inappropriate, we have abandoned strict translation to English, and the stories are now here re-told in the contemporary English of 2022.   The Samoan versions are as close as possible to the 1980 originals.  Please see our list of translators, editors, and collaborators here. You will find our bibliography here as well. We are indebted to Jeff Napier who rebuilt the entire site- and designed and constructed the coloring book- after the untimely death of our first web designer, Peter Buddemeyer in October, 2021.  We are grateful for your comments which you may send here.

We are especially pleased to add in 2023 the work of Estlin Miller of Kenyon College and Los Angeles who has written for us re-tellings of the stories of Nafanua, The Turtle and the Shark and The Twins Taema and Talafaiga (and hopefully more to come!) where the original 1980’s versions felt incomplete or otherwise in need of fresh insights. Estlin’s work integrates the essential elements of a story within the framework of the various versions which reflect the abundant creativity and imagination of the original native storytellers who kept these stories alive over the centuries.

Tali Tonuga Anamua

The Origin of the People

This is the legend of the origin of the Samoan people as told by the an old man named Tuamᾱsaga: In the beginning, before the Samoan people began to live on the earth below, the supreme God Tagaloailagi (Tagaloa)… more

The Legend of the Sun: Uiga I Ie La

 

There was a woman named Magamagai who was so distressed that she could do nothing but stare all day at the Sun. One day she became very heavy since she became pregnant from staring at the Sun. She bore a son and gave him the name Alo o le Lᾱ ( Child of the Sun)… more

Maui Captures Fire

Maui, who is known as a god throughout the Pacific, is the son of Maeatutala and Talaga, who are both superhuman deities. This is the story where their son Maui brings fire to the people of Samoa, and therefore the wonderful new delight of the ability to cook food… more

Vave: Fast like a Bird

Vave is a god who was born in a stone in Tutuila, perhaps in the village of Amanave. “Vave” means swift or quickly. It is thought Vave first came as a spirit from Tonga, and since being a spirit Vave could take many forms. Since a spirit cannot… more

Talaaga Samoa Lafai

The Creation

 

As Brother Fred Henry points out in the Lambie edition of History, (pp. 18) the Samoans believed Samoa was the whole earth. Like philosophers everywhere throughout history, some emphasized the physical creation… more

The Story of Maui

 

One day, Maui met a woman. Immediately he felt sure that she was his true mother. He told her this, knowing he would have to convince her, since, by discarding him in the first place, she would believe it impossible that he could be alive. But it was not long until… more

The Story of Lata o Rata

 

Lata, who lived about A.D. 860 was the son of Fafieloa and Tula. The father of Fafieloa was Tavai who lived in Pago Pago. Fafieloa had been killed by a Chief named Matu’uta’ota’o who lived in Fogatuli on the southwest… more

Sina and Tigilau

The Origin of the Name “Tigilau”

 

In the village of Taga in Savaii, there was a maiden named Lau. She was a maiden who was sought by many young men who competed for her from Samoa. The young man who won her heart was a young man from Falelatai in Upolu named Olo. Then Lau married Olo. However, there was a young man… more

The Story of Sina and Her White Seagull (Gogosina) and Her Twelve Brothers

 

There was a couple by the name of Tafitofau and Ogafau and their eleven children. All ten were named Tui, and Tui and Tui, and Tui, and Tui, and Tui, and Tui, and Tui, and Tui, and Tui and their only sister named Sina. Sina was the tenth child and the youngest boy was also named Tui… more

The Story of Sina and Her Strong Desires for Tigilau

 

In the village of Lepu’a, there lived a couple named Taue and Fa’alaulaue. They had only one child, their daughter Sina. Sina was a beautiful young lady. Not only was her face beautiful but she was also very strong physically. This was the reason her parents were very proud of her… more

The Legend of the Courting Parties That Went to Sina

 

There was a couple by the name of Vi and Vo and their only daughter named Sinausuimanu. This young lady was also well known by her shortened name, Sina. This Sina loved her parents dearly more than men and those of high status who had come to propose to her. This story… more

About Us

This website is designed to restore, preserve, and especially share the illustrations drawn in the early 1980’s by Dorothy Kneubuhl, known as “Dotsy” or just “Tasi.” She and her husband John Kneubuhl, who lived in American Samoa, worked alongside many other persons and scholars of distinction in the Bilingual Bicultural Program of the American Samoa Department of Education. They produced three volumes they called “readers” to be used to restore teaching the Samoan language in the schools. These are titled Lafai, Talitonuga Anamua and Sina and Tigilao. In particular, John feared the loss by Samoan youth of their Samoan cultural literacy and language, as the island’s social structures and norms faced increasingly intense pressures of displacement, diversification and assimilation. Dotsy illustrated three volumes; each illustration is accompanied by text, whether a translation, a summary or a simple comment. The text borrows heavily from the work of Brother Fred Henry whose volume, Lafai, (History of Samoa) was reproduced in 1979 at the National University of Samoa in tribute to K.R. Lambie with an extended gathering of talented and gifted linguists. Please see our full acknowledgements here.

 

10 thoughts on “Home

  1. Thank you, Robin, for putting this together to honor your parents, John and Dotsy. It is a great work of love for two incredibly talented and thoughtful people.

    1. So excited to report, dear Mary, we have inquiry to reproduce for a distinguished scholarly journal. Thank you!

      1. That’s absolutely wonderful! It is a remarkable document, and the soft sepia tones are perfect for your mother’s artistry.

  2. obviously like your website but you have to take a look at the
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    1. Thank you for your patience! As we wrote in the introduction, much of the content here is basically repeated from other earlier writers, and we found the Samoan language almost impossible to sort out given the extensive and rapid changes over time, which are, of course, accelerating with the AI intrusions into all text editing. If we get a name wrong, please let us know so we can fix that with gratitude.

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