Nafanua Goddess of War

Nafanua Le Atua Fafine O Taua

Taluai ‘o lenei atua fafine o taua e_a’afia tele i ni taua i vā o ‘āiga ma itūmālō, ‘o le mea lea e tatau ai ona tātou mālamalama e uiga ‘i ā te ia.
I le talaga o gafa, (itūlau 79), sā tātou iloa ai ‘o Nāfanua ‘o le āfafine o Saveasi’uleo, ma e tagafa mai ai le Tonumaipe’a Sauo’āiga, pei ona sā tā’ua taluai. Sā nofo Nāfanua i Faleālupo, le nu’u J.o iai ‘Auva’a ma Tupa’i, le atali’i o Tonumaipe’a Sauo’āiga, ‘o ana ositaulaga ma ‘ilāmutu ma tafa’i lātou te tau’aveina ma fa’ataunu’uina ana fuafuaga. ‘0 Tonumaipe’a ma lona ‘āiga sā nofo sāuni e fai pea le finagalo o le atua fafine i so_’o se taimi ma so ‘o se poloa’iga lava e tu’uina atu ‘i ā ‘ilātou, ui atu ‘i ā ‘Auva’a ma Tupa’i.

‘0 ia lava onapō sā tele fo’i ni isi atua o taua i Sāmoa; ‘a ‘o le tele o ‘ilātou e fa’aaloalogia i nā ‘o se itūmālō. ‘Ina ‘ia fa’ailoa ’ilātou i ni isi, ‘e fa’apea e ulu atu ‘i ni manu, manulele po ‘o ni i’a. ‘E fa’apea fo’i le Fe’e, ‘o le atuaotaua o_Ā’ana ma Vaimauga. ‘0 tausaga ta’itasi.’e fai ai se ‘aiga e le itūmālō o Ā’ana e fa’amamalu ai le Fe e. 0 tagata o le Vaimauga,’e tusa ‘o le 10 maila ‘i uta o Apia, i ‘auvai o le Vaisigano, sa lātou fa’atūina ai se mālumalu ma’a e fai talosaga ai mo lenei atua. 0 lo’o vā’aia ai pea ni vāega o lenei malumalu i aso nei. ‘E lauiloa i 1e igoa ‘o “Fale o Fe’e” ‘0 1e matu’u, sā ‘avea ma atua o taua o Manono; 1e Tupualgase, sā fa’amamaluina i Rtua. Pei fo’i o A’ana.’e iai lava ni aso fa apitoa e fai ai ni ā lātou ifoga ‘1 lenei atuaotaua. 0 lea faiga ai e ta ua o le Amo a fltua ‘i le TupualSgase,” ‘o le ifoga a Atua i le Tupualegase.

Na ‘o ni fa’aa’oa’oga nei. ‘0 1e meamoni lava,’e tofu 1e itūmālō ma_ ona fa’alupega ma lona atuaotaua, peita’i pei ona fa’aalia, ‘o atua ‘uma na
e le taualoa i Sāmoa ‘ātoa.

‘0 Nāfanua, ‘e 1e fa’atusatusaina ‘o 1e atua-o-tāua fa’al eatunu’u ‘ātoa. ‘0 lona mamalu na māfua mai ana fesoasoani sā ia tu’uina atu ‘i ni ana ‘aumea- mamae i ā lātou fetaua’iga. ‘0 le mea lea, fe pei ‘o lenei, i 1e taua i Te vā o Sālega ma Faleālupo i Savai’i. Sā manumālō pea lava Sāleaa, ‘e tusa ma 1e aga’ifanua a Sāmoa, sā tāusia a lātou pāgotā (tagata o_taua), ‘e 1e gata ‘i le fa’atauemu ‘a e fa’aopoopo atu fo’i ‘1 ai ma ni ‘ypu fāifai ma fa’atonu ‘ilār tou e fa’agāoioi i ni gāoioiga matatutupa ma le mātagā.

‘0 le tasi aso, sā lātpu fa’amālosia Tāi’i, ‘o se tulāfalq o Faleālupo, e ‘a’e ‘i luga o se niu ‘a e ū ‘i lalo lopa ulu. Sā taumafai le tulāfale e fa’amālilie 1e mana’o o ona fa’ao’o-$a1a,peita’i, ‘a ‘o ‘a’e ‘o ia i lea tū- laga, sā- selasela tetele ma māpuea, sā āga’i ‘ina leo tele lava. ‘0 le leo tele o lana mapu-sela na lagona mai i Pulotu, 1e ‘āiga o Nāfanua. ‘Ina ‘ua iloa mai_e Nāfanua ‘o se tasi o ana ‘aumea ‘ua pagātia, sā tonu loa i ā te ia’o le’ā malaga mai e laga 1e to’ilalo o ana uō mai 1en$i sāuāga tele.

Sā ia fa’atonu lana ositāulaga ‘o ‘Auva’a e alu ‘i ā Tonumaipe’a ma poloa’i e fa’asa’oloto nei tagata puapuagātia. Sā faia lava e pei ona fina- galo ai. Sā fa’asa’olotoina e Sauo’āiga tag^ta Faleālupo, ‘a ‘o Nāfanua lava sā ia maua taui lelei ‘uma.

‘0 le mea na tupu, pei ona ta’ua i luga, na pogai mai ai le muāgagana: “‘Ua logo i ā Pulotu le mapu a Tāi’i.”

‘Ona ‘o le fesoasoani a Nāfanua na tu’uina atu’i lenei fa ‘alavelave, ma isi fo’i fa’alavelave fa’apea, sS Seflalau loa le mālosi o Nāfanua, e matutua, e lāiti, maualuga ma 1e maualalo, sā lātou maofa ‘uma ’i ā te ia uatogi e lua sā ia ‘auina atu ‘i le taua, sā fiafia tele ‘i ai ma sā iay- iloa tele fo’i, ‘o igoa o ia lā’au’ ‘o Fa’auliulitō ma Fesilafa’i! Ua ola i fa1e_le lā’au a Nāfanua.” ‘E fa’apea le tala, ‘ina ‘uamae a ona gaosi nei la’au e Nāfanua, sā ia alu loa ‘i totonu o le fale o lana leofale o Matuna ma fasioti lana fānau e to’alua, ta’itasi ma le uatogi. ‘E foliga fo i i ai le alaga’upu e fai pe ‘5 maua ni i’a i se ’upega fou: “‘Ua ola le upega – ua lelei le ‘upega; ‘ua maua ai ni i’a.

Nafanua Goddess of War

Editor’s Note: Nafanua, the Upolu goddess of war and indeed peace, is a figure of such extraordinary importance in the cultural and literary history of the Samoas, we depart from the usual (1980) format here to offer a singular, contemporary and more comprehensive re-telling of Nafanua’s story written this year by Estlin Miller (see our introduction and attributions for her other work herein). The original translation and story appear afterward on this page.

Estlin writes:

Before the Eastern and Western regions of the Samoan island Savai’i were united,
chiefs fought over the land in order to gain more power and respect. Typically in the legend
of this Samoan war goddess, it was Chief Sili Liloma’iava who led the Lea’ea-Sasa’e warriors
of the East, with the goal of claiming all of Savai’i for himself. After a great battle, Chief
Liloma’iava overwhelmed the Lea’ea-Sisifo warriors of the West and won. He enslaved the
warriors and villagers alike, forcing them into manual labor. It is sometimes disputed whether
or not the Lea’ea-Sasa’e warriors and Lea’ea-Sisifo warriors were actually one army who
overtook the island’s people under the Chief, but many retellings separate them into East and
West.
After enslaving the people of the West, the Chief thought up a punishment that would
both humiliate his prisoners and prove his strength. He forced them to climb coconut trees
feet first; a task which certainly seems capable of embarrassing those who could not do it,
and displayed how much control the Chief truly had over the land and its people. One of the
men the Chief captured was Tai’i, Nafanua’s uncle, who lived in the captured village of
Falealupo. Chief Liloma’iava ordered Tai’i to climb the coconut tree feet first, just as he
punished his other captives, not knowing who he was or to whom he was related. As Tai’i
climbed the tree, his exhaustion and humiliation grew and grew until he let out a sigh. Even
in his state, Tai’i’s voice was strong; so strong that it was heard in every corner of Savai’i. It
even reached the depths of the spirit world, Pulotu, where Saveasi’uleo, God of Pulotu, heard
his brother’s sighs. The injustice of his brother’s suffering filled Saveasi’uleo with rage, and
with a thunderous sound that shook the ground, he woke up his daughter, Nafanua.
“My daughter!” He said, “You must go to the land of the living and right the wrong
done to our people. First, go to the Toa tree and cut it down. From the wood, build four
weapons that you will take with you into battle.”
Nafanua found the Toa tree, which only grows in Pulotu, stretched out the palm of her
hand, and felled the tree. She then began the difficult task of building her weapons from its
wood. She made four total, each of unique design. The first, her primary weapon, was Ta
Fesilafa’i, a wide hook with three jagged teeth near its base. The next, called Fa’auli’ulito,
was an unassuming plain stick which narrows at the base and has a rounded, thick, wide edge
at its top. The third was a weapon meant to bring peace at the end of battle, called Ulimasao,
and was shaped like a canoe paddle with a sharp tip. The final weapon was Fa’amategataua,
a lethal weapon that was made to kill anything, even immortals. It was shaped like a wide
spear, with teeth numbering five to seven near its base. With these weapons in her possession,
and imbued with spirits from the Toa tree, Nafanua was prepared to seek justice for her
people. But before she left for her journey, her father made a final request.
“You may fight your enemies and drive them from the west, but when you reach
Fualuga, you must stop, because that is where your family lives,” he said. With this in mind,
Nafanua rode to the shores of Falealupo. Not only did her uncle come from Falealupo, but the

village also rested nearest the entrance to Pulotu. The journey was long and difficult, and as
soon as Nafanua arrived, she lay down and slept on the beach.
A couple named Matuna and Matuna were walking on the beach and happened upon
Nafanua sleeping. They approached quietly and carefully – Nafanua was a sight to see! They
were immediately cautious, because they knew that Nafanua was sleeping at the door of
Pulotu. Was she a human? Was she a ghost? Nafanua woke up and saw Matuna and Matuna
staring at her curiously.
“Who are you?” asked Matuna.
“My name is Nafanua. I am the daughter of Saveasi’uleo, the god of the spirit world,
and I have come to help my people,” Nafanua answered.
Matuna and Matuna fell to their knees with a cry, “You have come to save our lives!
But pray, tell us, where is your army? All our able men have been taken.”
“I don’t need an army, because I come with weapons from Pulotu,” Nafanua
responded.
“Let us help you, then!” Matuna and Matuna pleaded. Nafanua thought about it, and
finally agreed. She presented Matuna and Matuna with Fa’auli’ulito, the club-like weapon,
and brought the hook (Ta Fesilafa’i) for herself. Then, she gave the couple a warning.
“You will stay on one side of the road, while I will fight from the other side. Do not
cross to my side, because I will not be able to distinguish you from our enemies. If your
enemies ask for mercy, then you will show mercy,” she said to them. Interestingly, Nafanua’s
weapon of choice, Ta Fesilafa’i, can be translated to “to strike with courtesy.”
With their weapons ready, Matuna and Matuna followed Nafanua into battle against
Chief Liloma’iava’s soldiers. Day after day, warriors of Chief Liloma’iava came, while
Nafanua and the couple fought side by side from across the road. It wasn’t long before the
enemy soldiers realized that Nafanua was no ordinary human, nor was her weapon that of an
ordinary soldier. She fought tirelessly, methodically, killing her enemies with ease. She
always showed mercy to those who surrendered.
One day, in the middle of the battle, Matuna and Matuna forgot Nafanua’s warning.
Matuna and Matuna were chasing a soldier who grew tired and begged for his life. The
couple were overwhelmed by the voice of the spirits in the weapon Nafanua had given them,
spirits which encouraged them to seek revenge against Chief Liloma’iava and his men, who
had taken everything from them. In pursuit of the fleeing soldier, Matuna and Matuna crossed

onto Nafanua’s side of the road. In one swipe of her hook, Nafanua killed a group of soldiers,
and Matuna and Matuna were caught in her killing tide.
Nafanua continued to fight, and drove the enemy from the west up to the edge of
Fualuga where she stopped. She stood at the top of Mount Fualuga, looking down on her
enemies in the nearby village, but did not go any further. She remembered her father’s
warning about her uncle who lived in the village, and decided not to pursue those men who
had fled. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind came and lifted up the apana (shirt) Nafanua was
wearing, revealing her chest – the men were shocked! They’d thought they were fighting a
man, but the wind revealed Nafanua’s womanhood to them. The men ceased fighting out of
shame. They were humiliated, and so the war was won by Nafanua.
Using her weapon of peace, Nafanua freed all those that Chief Liloma’iava had
captured, and cries of joy soon filled the air as the people of Falealupo celebrated the victory
of their War Princess, Nafanua, who delivered their freedom. Out of gratitude for her heroic
efforts, the people of Falealupo granted her the title of the Goddess of War. Different versions
of Nafanua’s history include her becoming ali’i (chief/queen) and toa (warrior) of Samoa
from the Sā Tonumaipe’ā clan, who took four pāpā (district) titles, the leading ali’i titles of
Samoa.
In another variation, it is Nafanua who pleads with her father to avenge their family.
He bestows upon her the weapons and gives her the same instruction to go only as far as the
village Fualuga, which she obeys. When she meets Matuna and Matuna, she instructs them to
rally the villagers with news of her arrival, but when no one believes them, they offer
themselves to her cause instead. It is through her accomplishments in war and her ability to
free her people that she earned her title of Goddess of War.

SOURCES:

Nafanua


https://www.nps.gov/npsa/learn/historyculture/nafanua.htm
https://www.nps.gov/npsa/learn/historyculture/nafanua.htm
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sinavaia/ENG492/nafanuaweb_files/nafanuaweb.htm#_edn7

The version of the original 1980 text is provided here.

There were, at the time, many war gods in Samoa, but most of them we venerated only in one or the other district. To make themselves visible they were thought to be incorporated in some animal, bird or fish.

Nafanua is the name of one of the gods in the village on the island of Upolu. Among her roles was to determine truth and to administer justice. On finding people who steal, the chiefs and the villagers would gather together and take turns to plead for punishment on each person who has committed a crime or sin. If they all deny it and do not understand the testimony, they will 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’.

She was a goddess of war, as well, and of healing. While they were preparing for battle, everyone waited until they were blessed (sprinkled) with Nafanua’s oil. If they would win, then it was a good blessing (sprinkling). But if they lost, they would think that they have 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) will be cured quickly, but those with minimal gifts will prolong their suffering.

Nafanua comes from place in the district in the western side of Savai’i (Falealupo). 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 she (Nafanua) was born out of wedlock. Nafanua came from Pulotu, a village where traditional Samoan ways are not adhered to (everything is forgotten). In those days, the yoke of slavery was heavy for the people of Samoa. People in Samoa were forced to climb with their heads facing downwards while trying to collect coconuts using their toes. Nafanua happened to pass by, and there she saw a person who was very exhausted trying to climb with his feet pointing upwards. Nafanua yelled and sighed for the cruelty (abuse) done night and day. Nafanua told the person to come down, as she is going to raise them from their oppression. Hearing Nafanua’s words, the people came together and followed her into battle. The enemy was driven out, and Nafanua was the reason for freeing the district and restoring respect. She covered her chest so that the enemy would not see that she was woman. The war ended and Nafanua had won. Then she commanded all of the people to tie coconut leaves onto the trees to identify that they are forbidden, reserved strictly for her. Even to this day, the custom of tying coconut leaves to the trees is still done. Fruits of these trees are seldomly picked, but are left until required for special occasions.

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 was first discovered when a victorious Nafanua was met with a strong breeze which lifted her shirt and exposed her breasts to the 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.

Brother Fred Henry’s text from Lafai, pp. 68-70 is repeated here:

Nafanua The Goddess of War

As this famous goddess plays an important role in the following tribal wars, it will be well to know something more about her.

From the [geneological table] we see that Nafanua was the daughter of Savea Siuleo and an ancestor of Tonumaipea Sauoaiga, as has previously been mentioned. She lived in Falealupo where Auvaa of that place and Tupai, the son of Tonumaipea and his clan were only too anxious to oblige the dreaded goddess by promptly acting on her orders which were transmitted to them by Auvaa or Tupai.

There were at that time many war gods in Samoa, but most of them we venerated only in one or the other district. To make themselves visible they were thought to be incorporated in some animal, bird or fish. So was the Fe’e (octopus) the war god of A’ana and Vaimauga. Every year a great feast was organized by A’ana in honour of the Fe’e; it was called “o le tapu o Aana i le Fe’e”. The Vaimauga people had erected some 10 miles inland of Apia, on the banks of the Vaisigano, a stone temple in honour of the same deity. The ruins of this temple, the only one in Samoa, are still to be seen. It is known by the name of “Fale o le Fe’e”, the house of the octopus. The Matuu (heron) was the war god of Manono, the Tupualegase (Jupiter) was venerated in Atua. Like in A’ana, certain days of the year were set aside to worship this war god. The feast was called “Ole amo o Atua i le Tupualegase,” the worship of Jupiter by this district of Atua.

These are only a few examples. In fact, every district and sub district had its own war god, but, as already stated, these gods were not recognized by the whole of Samoa.

Nafanua, on the contrary, was a national war god. Her fame as such originated in the assistance she had given to her friends in their local feuds. So, for instance, in the war between Salega and Falealupo, both on Savai’i, Salega had been victorious and according to the Samoan custom, they treated their vanquished enemies not only with contempt but heaped ridicule upon them by making them perform all kinds of foolish actions.

One day, they forced Tai’i, a talking chief of Falealupo, to climb up a coconut tree with his heels foremost. The poor fellow did his best to satisfy his tormentors, but while climbing up he was panting louder and louder. The sound of his panting was so loud, that it reached Pulotu, the home of Nafanua. Noticing that one of her friends was in difficulty, Nafanua there and then resolved to deliver the villagers from their cruel fate.

She told her priest Auva’a to go to Tonumaipea and order him to liberate the unlucky people. This he did. The Falealupo people were rescued by Sauoaiga, but Nafanua got the credit for it.

From the above event the orators derive the proverb: “Ua logo Pulotu le mapu a Tai’i” – the groaning of Tai’i reached Pulotu.

Because of the assistance Nafanua had given in this and similar cases, her fame spread far and so it is no wonder that young and old, high and low, stood in great awe of her. The two clubs, which she sent to the party favoured by her, were well known and called Faauliulito and Fesilafa’i.

“Ua ola i fale le laau a Nafanua” – the club of Nafanua has become effective. ‘Ola’ – means to be alive, to become effective, useful. It is said that when Nafanua had these clubs made she wanted to test them, and so she first went with them into the dwelling of her housekeeper Matuna and killed her two children, one with each club. A similar phrase is used when the first fish have been caught in a new net: “Ua ola le Upega” – the net is good, it will serve its purpose.

When some young warriors got too anxious to start a fight the chiefs would say: “Talisoa le i’a a Nafanua” – wait till Nafanua helps us in the war. I’a, fish, is also a euphemistic term for war. So, “Pe iai se i’a i lau ola?” means – “Whom have you killed?”The literal meaning is, “Is there a fish in your basket?” Talisoa is a contraction of “faatali ma fesoasoanii.e. – wait and help.

 

Note: Here, Brother Fred Henry refers to the wars of succession during 1500-1550 (1) The war in A’ana, (2) between Afega and Malie, (3) in Atua and (4) in Safata. As a result of victory in all four, Nafanua possessed the four titles to all of Samoa, establishing a hegemony in favor of Tamalelagi and the Tonumaipea.

She is also famous for her magnificent clubs, which are invariably deadly. Both Lafai and HTC Fofo Sunia referred to the gruesome manner by which she tested 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 club,s 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 the key to the acceptance of the white European missionaries as gods (“heavenly bursters and sailing gods”) in the person of Rev. John Williams who arrived at Savai’i in 1830. Many years before Malietoa had asked Nafanua if it was his time to rule, since Nafanua would know who would be victorious in the upcoming battle. She replied neither yes nor no, prophetically and enigmatically, “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, thus igniting the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the islands.

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