The Goddess Nafanua


O le igoa lenei o Nafanua, le atua fafine mai le itumalō i le pito i sisifo o Savai’i. O ia o le afafine o le atua sili i Pulotu, o lona igoa o Saveasi’uleo. Sa natia le teine i le togavao e lona tinā ona o lona māasiasi, aua o ia o se tamatoifale. Na sau Nafanua mai Pulotu i le nu’u e le tausisi i mea uma i le aganu’u fa’asamoa. O aso ia o le mamafa o le amo o le pologa i tagata Samoa. Sa fa’afea’ei tagata Samoa i ia aso ma o latou ulu e u i lalo, ma taumafai e toli niu i o latou tamatama’ivae. Sa so’ona ui ane Nafanua i lea mea, ona ia iloa ai lea o se tagata ua vaivai lava o lo’o tau’a’e ma ona vae e ū i luga i se niu. Ua na’o le ‘e’e ma mapuea i le aga fita ua fai po fai ao. Na faiatu Nafanua i le tagata e alu ifo i lalo a’o le’a ia fa’aeaina lea to’ilalo. Na potopoto tagata uma i le upu a Nafanua, ona mulimuli atu ai lea ia te ia i le taua. Ua tulia le fili ma ua mafua i a te ia ona fa’aeaina o le itumalō i se tulaga aloa’ia.

Sa ufitia uma lona fatafata ina ne’i iloa mai e le fili ua na’o ia o se fafine. Na i’u le taua ma ua manumalo Nafanua, ona ia fa’atonu lea ia noanoa launiu i la’au e fa’ailoga ai la’au ua fa’asāina mo ia. E o’o mai i aso nei lea lava masani o le tanoanoa o fasi launiu i la’au e tapui ai. E le so’ona tolia fua ia la’au, e tu’u ai pea mo ni fa’atatau fa’apitoa.

O se tasi tala fa’apea, o Nafanua o le igoa fo’i lea o se tasi atua o nu’u i le motu o Upolu. I le sā’iliga o se tagata gaoi, e potopoto uma ia ali’i ma tagatanu’u ma fa’asolo e augani e fa’ao’o atu le taui ma sui ia i latou ta’ito’atasi pe a fai lava o le tagata ua agasala. A fai ua fa’afiti tagata uma ma ua le’i mautali lelei i le tautoga, ona fa’ai’u ai lea i le tautu’i a ali’i ua fai i a Nafanua fa’apea, “Se’i e alofa mai i a’i matou Nafanua e, ia e fa’aali mai po o ai ua sala, ma ia auina mai le lipiola ia te ia lea.”

A’o sauni atu i latou i se taua, e fa’atali ia tagata uma se’ia sausauina i le suāniu a Nafanua. A manumalo ona latou manatu lea, ua lelei ona fai le sausauga. Ae a faia’ina, ona latou manatu ai lea ai lava e le’i matuā lelei le sausauina o’i latou.

O e ō atu e fa’aali a latou agasala, e sausauina muamua, auā e fai lea ma fa’ailoga o le fa’amāgaloga o sala ma le fa’amamāina. E va’aia so’o le gasolo o tagata i le po ma feoa’i i le nu’u ma sulu e fai ma fa’aaloaloga ia Nafanua. E aumaia i luma o le taulasea ia ma’i ina ia fa’amaloloina. E vave malolo ma’i e omai ma ietoga, ae fa’aumi’umi le tigaina o ma’i e fa’alelelei meaalofa.

The Goddess Nafanua

Nafanua is the name of the goddess of the district in the western side of Savai’i. She is the daughter of the high god in Pulotu whose name is Saveasi’uleo. She was hidden in the forest by her mother because she (the mother) was ashamed as her daughter Nafanua was born out of wedlock. Nafanua came from Pulotu, a village where traditional Samoan ways are not necessarily adhered to. Since Pulotu is the final destination of the dead, once there, everything is forgotten. In those days, the yoke of slavery was heavy for the people of Samoa. As a form of ritual humiliation, people in Samoa were forced to climb with their heads facing downwards while trying to collect coconuts using only their toes and feet. One day when this cruel abuse was occurring, Nafanua happened to pass by and she saw a person who was very exhausted trying to climb with his feet pointing upwards. Nafanua cried out in protest and sighed for the cruelty (abuse) done night and day. Nafanua ordered the person to come down, since clearly she intended to free the Samoans from their oppression. [[In some versions, the perpetrator of this atrocity is the cruel Chief Lilomaeava, and the victim is her Uncle Tai’i, brother of Saveasi’uleo, her father who orders her to vindicate his maltreatment]. Hearing Nafanua’s words, the people came together and then followed her into battle. The enemy was driven out, and Nafanua was celebrated in gratitude for restoring their freedom and respect. During the battle, Nafanua had covered her chest so that the enemy would not see that she was a woman. When the war ended, and because Nafanua had won, she commanded that everyone tie coconut leaves onto the trees to identify them and to proclaim that they are forbidden to others, since reserved strictly for her. Even to this day, the custom of tying coconut leaves to the trees is still common. Fruits of these trees are seldom picked, and are often left until required for special occasions.

Nafanua is known primarily as the goddess of war. While they were preparing for battle, everyone waited until they were blessed (sprinkled) with Nafanua’s oil. If they were to win, then it was a good blessing (sprinkling). But if they lost, they would explain this by concluding that they had not been well sprinkled. Those who confess their sins are sprinkled first, for this is a sign of forgiveness for their sins and purification. It was often observed that people moved at night and traveled around the village with brightly lit traditional torches made from foliage in tribute to Nafanua. The sick people are brought before the traditional healer to be treated. Those who brought fine mats (‘ietoga) would be cured quickly but those with minimal gifts would endure prolonged suffering.

Nafanua also administered justice. On finding people who steal, the chiefs and the villagers would gather together and take turns to plead for punishment of each person who has committed a crime or sin. If the accused denied responsibility, or the chiefs and villagers did not understand the testimony, they would beg for Nafanua’s mercy saying, ‘Oh Nafanua, have mercy on Matiu, reveal to us who has committed a crime, and bring the lipiola (punishment of sudden death) to him’.

Talitonuga Anamua’s discussion of Nafanua is brief and, given her importance throughout the islands, mostly unsatisfying, especially where it minimizes her importance as a national god and also a female deity. We will elaborate here, and also refer the reader to the Lafai edition version here:

Nafanua lived in Falealupo on Savai’i with her two priests Auvaa and Tupai, who were always anxious to carry out her schemes and strategies. Unlike other local gods of war, Nafanua was a national war god, who had attained such status by her skill in forming winning coalitions and alliances. She is also famous for dressing as a male warrior when leading the unsuspecting army of men. Her female identity is first discovered when a victorious Nafanua is met with a strong breeze which lifts her shirt and exposes her breasts to the male soldiers, including her own, who are stunned and ashamed to be led by a woman who is victorious over the other men. Like contemporary women goddesses, she is an avenger, meting out justice, as shown in the story of the coconut trees.

She is also famous for her magnificent clubs which are invariably deadly. Both Lafai and HTC Fofo Sunia refer to the gruesome manner by which she tests them. We will quote from the Fofo Sunia retelling of this story in Samoan Legends of Love and Courtship:

“91. Nafanua’s club found life at home. (Ua ola fale le la’au a Nafanua) “… Before Nafanua, the goddess of war, took her new weapons to war, she wanted to try them to see if they could kill. She swung the new clubs first on the children of her own servants, Matuna and Matuna, and killed the two young boys. She was then satisfied with the ability of the weapons. That was the origin of the saying, ‘Ua ola i fale le la’au a Nafanua.’” (pp. 262-263)

“Nafanua’s Prophecy” is considered by some Europeans, especially Brother Fred Henry, (Lafai), and some Samoans and other scholars to be the key to the acceptance of the white European missionaries as gods (“heavenly bursters and sailing gods”), especially in the person of Rev. John Williams who arrived at Savai’i in 1830. Many years before, the ambitious Chief Malietoa had asked Nafanua if it was his time to rule, since he understood that Nafanua would know who would be victorious in the upcoming battle. She replied neither yes nor no, but prophetically and enigmatically replied, “Ole a tali i le lagi sou malo.” (Await your Kingdom from Heaven!”) Malietoa decided the coming of the white missionaries signaled “his time” and embraced them in a new alliance, thus igniting and accelerating the rapid spread of that version of Christianity throughout the islands.

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