Taema and Tilafaiga: the Twins


O le atua lenei sa fai ma ona fa’atinoga le manulele o le ti’otala. Sa iai fo’i lona malumalu e faitoto’a tasi. E masani ona gasolosolo atu toea’i’ina o le nu’u i totonu o le malumalu ma fai ai a latou lāuga i le atua, a uma a latou lāuga, ona tali mai lea o le atua i le leo o le tagata ae le iloa atu lona tino. E fa’apea se isi tala, o lenei atua fafine na maua e ni tagata fagogota i le va o Tutuila ma Upolu. Na latou fa’a’ofu i lenei atua fafine i ni lā’ei mananaia fa’a-le-atunu’u ma ave ia te ia i uta ma fausia se malumalu mo ia. O ietoga ma mea taumafa ‘ese’ese ua avatu e fai ma taulaga i luma o ali’i e to’alua na fai ma faitaulaga. I le suiga po’o le liliuga o aga fa’anu’upō i le olaga Kerisiano, na ma’eu le mau’oloa o nei tamāloloa i taulaga na ofoina atu e tagata mo le malumalu. Na fa’aleagaina le malumalu lea ma sa fai se ‘aiga tele, o pua’a ma mea’ai ‘ese’ese na saunia ai le ‘aiga na fa’atauina i oloa o le malumalu. Na latou faia se taumafataga tele e fai ma fa’amāvaega i le fulituaga i le pogisa ma manatu o aso ua te’a.

O se tasi tala e fa’atinoina Taemā i se tasi nu’u i le fusinifo tanifa; sa avea o ia o se atua o taua i lea lava nu’u. Sa afifiina ia nifo i fasi siapo ma e muamua lava ona latou fesiligia ia nifo i mea e ao ona latou faia a o le’i o atu i taua. O Taemā ma Tilafaigā, o atua i laua o tufuga ta tatau po’o tufuga ta pe’a. Na fe’ausi mai ia teine e to’alua mai Fiti e aumai lea faiva o le tagā tatau i Samoa. Na fa’atonuina i laua a o le’i tu’ua Fiti, ia pepese fa’apea pe a alu le la fe’ausiga:

“Tatā fafine, a e le tatā tane.”

Ina ua alu le la fe’ausiga na usu le la pese ma le fiafia pei ona fa’atonuina ai i laua. Ae peita’i, na fesesea’i le la pese ina ua taumai i Samoa ma ua fa’apea upu:

“Tatā tane, ae le tatā fafine.”

O i’inā tonu lava na māfua mai ai le aganu’u lenei ua matuā ta’atele i tama tane o Samoa. E iai fo’i se tala fa’apea o Taemā ma Titi, o igoa ia o atua nofofale o se isi aiga i le itu i sasa’e o le atunu’u. E fa’apea o se masaga e fepi’ita’i o la tua. A’o fe’ausi mai i laua, sa la fetautalatalaa’i fa’apea, “Ma’imau pe a na ta feva’aia’i, anusa o lenei lava na’o le ta talatalanoa ma fepa’ia’i o ta tino, ae le iloa lava e le isi le tasi.”

E le’i ‘umi’umi lava ae fati loa se galu tele lava ma ua momotu ai le so’otaga o la tua.

O tagata o le aiga e faimalaga i so’o se mea, e fa’afeaoina i latou e atua ia ma puipuiina fo’i i latou mai fa’alavelave. Ma, o mea uma e pi’ilua, ua matua fa’asaina mo atua ia. O le sala, o le oti. Sa fa’asaina fo’i tagata o ia aiga e feua’i o latou tua ina ne’i manatu atua ua ulagia i laua.

Taema and Tilafaiga: the Twins

Introduction: The Taema and Tilafaiga myths and stories are numerous, and have become more complicated over time. It is clear from our translation that the 1980’s writer of this story in Talitonuga Anamua wanted to describe this variety, rather than choose just one upon which to elaborate. This was wise, since therefore no story of these endearing and infamous twins would be lost or minimized. With such a vast number of choices, Dotsy chose to illustrate Taema and Tilafaiga in their animal (bird) form, likely because this was one of the first and most primitive stories or manifestations. Recall that the first and most central characteristic of all the Samoan gods was their fluid, adaptable form, and ability to change from one into the other whenever it suited their purposes, and also their inexplicable failure to do so when they could to their advantage. Taema and Tilafaiga are both fickle and willful, but most often heedless, when deciding how to appear. Here is our contemporary translation; we expand only upon the last Taema & Tilafaiga story, which appears at the end. In this and other versions, the twins are conjoined twins who descend from Tagaloa and also Nafanua and who traverse Oceana as brazen, often ill mannered adventurers who, having no patience, delight in initiating courtship and intimacy without waiting for men to do so. We would be remiss not to refer the reader to HTC Fofo I.F. Sunia’s version, “Taima and Tilafaiga,” in Samoan Legends of Love and Courtship, pp. 125-137.

Our translator writes from the volume Talitonuga Anamua:

1. There is a god Taema who is the embodiment of the bird of prey, said to be a kingfisher. He has his own temple with only one door. The elders of the people of the village would often go into the temple and pray to the god. After they finished their prayers, the god would answer them in a human voice, but his body could never be seen.

2. In another story, Taema is a goddess who was found by some fishermen between Tutuila and Upolu. They dressed this goddess in beautiful traditional clothes and carried her ashore and built a temple for her. Fine mats and various foods were offered as a sacrifice in front of the two priests, or chiefs or others of high standing of the temple. At the time of historical change or conversion of traditional culture to Christianity, these men greatly benefited from the sacrifices offered by the people at the temple. The temple was destroyed; then the large feast made of pork and various foods that had been bought as offerings of the temple were brought to the churches of Christianity. They made a great feast to mark the turning away from the darkness and thoughts of the past.

3. Another story was told about Taemā in one of the villages regarding fusinifo tanifa (the symbolic shark bone teeth necklace reserved for taupou and manaia); she became a very important god of war in this village. The goddess became incarnate in the teeth which were made into a necklace which was wrapped in pieces of tapa cloth. They first asked the teeth in the necklace whether or not they should go to war.

4. “Tatā fafine, ‘a e lē tatā tāne”: Taemā and Tilafaigā, are the gods of tattooing or traditional tattooing (pe’a). These two girls swam from Fiji to Samoa to bring the art of tattooing. They were instructed before leaving Fiji, they must sing like this when as they swam:

“Tattoo women, but not men.”

As they continued swimming, they cheerfully sang as they were instructed. However, when they arrived in Samoa they sang the words incorrectly (differently):

“Tattoo men, but not women.”

This is where the custom of traditional tattooing males in Samoa originated.

5. There is also a legend about Taemā and Titi, the names of the god-dwellers of another tribe in the eastern part of the country. It was said they were twins that were joined at their backs. While they were swimming, they were saying to each other, “I wish we could see each other because, although we can talk and touch each other’s bodies, we have never seen each other’s faces.”

Not long after, a big wave broke, and separated their connection at their backs. When family members travel anywhere, the gods protect them from harm. And, whatever two things are joined together (two conjoined), it is strictly forbidden to separate them, for only the gods may do so. The punishment is death. People of any family were also forbidden to turn their backs to one another under any circumstances, since family is the foundation of Samoan society and to do so would be considered derogatory and insulting to the gods.

Translation by Tracey Pritchard Evans and Vaeva Lei-Sam Pritchard, August 18, 2019

Here is another retelling of Taema and Tilafaiga by our editors:

The last “Taema” story presented here is the one which is most widely known, and has all of the elements of the early stories told above. Tilafaiga is thought by some to be the mother of the goddess of war Nafanua. It tells the story of the brazen and strangely uncultured, ill behaved, conjoined twin girls of dubious birth who swam throughout the islands, and were inseparable in their many adventures, but finally went their separate ways, only to be reunited at the end of their time on earth. It is a story of the unbreakable bonds of siblings, which endures even when their unity is shattered, the family dissolves, and they must go their separate ways. Here is their story:

At Tafua in eastern Savaii, Ulufanuasesee (known in another story) left his then wife to swim to Falelatai in Upolu where he again got married to a woman who gave birth to Siamese twins. Because they could not be separated, they remained nameless. Since the twins were grandchildren of the High Chief of the village in Falelatai in Upolu, an order was issued that when the twins were asleep everything in the village must be absolutely quiet. One day when the men returned home from work they were carrying firewood which they dropped on the ground and caused such a clamorous noise that it awakened and alarmed the twin sisters. In their anxiety and excitement the twins ran to sea where they broke apart from each other.

Terrified to be separated in the deep blue sea, they bravely swam together and went ashore at a village by the name of Samamea in Upolu. The women of the village were engaged in making lega (ginger powder) when the twins arrived. The girls asked the village women for some lega for themselves. A small amount was given to the twins at their request. The girls, being brash and without a proper upbringing, rudely remarked that the amount was too little, and they rudely expressed themselves accordingly. To this the leading woman of the village replied: “E itiiti ae o le lega mea” (It may be little but it is a legamea). This expression became very popular with the orators. It is quoted to impress the fact that quality is preferred over quantity.

When the twin sisters received the powder they asked for, they again took to the sea, and continued to swim eastward. In mid-ocean, between Upolu and Tutuila, they came across a broken mast and a package made of breadfruit leaves. In memory of this incident the girls named themselves by what they found. In some versions, it is this log which finally breaks them apart when Tilafaiga climbs upon it. After that, they were known by the names of Taema and Tilafaiga. When Taema and Tilafaiga reached the Taputapu Point in Tutuila, they went ashore where they lavishly dusted themselves all over with the powder they had brought from Samamea. Tamea had taken her name after the source of the powder. This powder was thought to impart a glow, and make them more attractive to the men, for whom they had a notorious and apparently inexhaustible interest and voracious appetite.

Miraculously, the yellow powder the girls had brought from Samamea, instead of dwindling when consumed, increased in amount. The twin sisters then believed what they were told about the value of the small amount of powder made in Samamea. The powder that the girls could not use was left at Taputapu Point where it continued to increase and covered the beach and the soil until it became the golden, glowing color, which remains to this day. In honor of the twins the spot is named Lega o Taema (Powder of Taema) located in the extreme west end of Tutuila.

Tilafaiga could not continue to swim east with her sister, since she had become married to Moamoaniua, a son of High Chief Fatutalie of Fagalii, the village next to the spot named after her sister.

So Taema swam eastward alone. Coincidentally, she was met behind the island of Aunuu by her uncle Saveasi’uleo, the eel who had eaten his four brothers. Taema then became the wife of her uncle Saveasi’uleo and they swam off together to far off Pulotu (the underworld), westward, drifting with the wind and ocean current. One or the other of the twins is thought to be the mother of the war goddess Nafanua, most often Tilafaiga.

The event of the marriage of Taema to her uncle the eel brought about the fulfillment of Saveasi’uleo’s own prediction when he told his youngest brother Ulufanuasesee (father of Tam), at the beach below Alao, that they “would again meet and associate through their descendants.”

As mentioned, their only child was a premature birth whom they named “Nafanua” (meaning hidden in the ground) who was buried in the royal burial ground, among the chiefs in Pulotu, but resurrected to begin life on earth as the most important war goddess.

The memorable saying of Saveasi’uleo is popularly quoted by the talking chiefs of Samoa, when they refer to relatives or loved ones who are separated and have lost track of each other for years, but by chance are finally brought together to live in peace and harmony thereafter.

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