Vikings of the Sunrise
20. The Base of the Triangle
20. The Base of the Triangle
The heavens are swinging
And touching the earth.
The eighth and last trail from central Havai‘i turns west toward the setting sun and leads to the important island groups of Samoa and Tonga, set in the middle of the base of the Polynesian triangle. These two groups, because of their size and large population, dominated the west and developed local features in their culture that differ greatly from those of the islands on the seven trails we have hitherto explored. Samoa and Tonga have been alluded to in literature as central Polynesia and nuclear Polynesia. Neither geographically nor culturally are they central or nuclear. They form the centre of distribution for a western Polynesian area.
Included in the western area are the atoll group of Toke-lau and the atoll of Pukapuka, lying respectively north and northeast of Samoa. East of Tonga is Niue, or Savage Island, where I once spent six months as relieving medical officer. The peaceable and industrious people of Niue object strongly to having their island called Savage Island just because an ancestor threw a spear at Captain James Cook. The spear missed—and why should an individual failure be perpetuated page 293 on the descendants of a bad marksman? In the ocean stretch between Tonga and Samoa lie Niuatobutabu (Keppel Island) and Niuafou, colonies of Tonga. Niuafou is popularly known as Tin-can Island after the one-time method of floating the mail ashore from passing liners in a sealed kerosene tin. The tin represented western civilization, but the swimmer who guided the mail ashore through the sharks was a Polynesian. West and north of Samoa are the volcanic islands of Futuna, Alofi, Uvea, and the atolls of the Ellice Islands. Farther west still are a number of islands in Melanesia, already referred to as marginal islands, where the Polynesian language is spoken.
The volcanic islands of Samoa are divided into two groups: Western or British Samoa now administered under mandate from the League of Nations, and Eastern or American Samoa in possession of the United States. Western Samoa includes the large islands of Upolu and Savai‘i with the small islands of Manono and Apolima in the straits between them. Eastern Samoa consists of the large island of Tutuila with Aunu‘u off its coast and the Manu‘a archipelago of Ofu, Olosega, and Tau. Tau rises to 3000 feet and is the largest and most easterly island in Manu‘a. Allusions to Manu‘a in myth and legend refer to Tau.
My first field work for Bishop Museum was in 1927 on Tutuila and Aunu‘u with A. F. Judd and Bruce Cartwright. After my colleagues returned to Honolulu, I visited the Manu‘a islands, Upolu and Savai‘i. My study was concentrated on material culture. The social organization of the Manu‘a had previously been studied by Margaret Mead, whose work was published by Bishop Museum.
Before dealing with mythology, let us allude briefly to the Samoan dialect. The k is replaced by the glottal stop represented page 294 by an inverted comma in the written word; g represents the ng sound, and s and f take the place of the h in other dialects. Of the interchangeable consonants, v and l are used instead of w and r.
The Samoan cosmogony commences with Leai (Nothing), which corresponds to the Kore (Void) of New Zealand. This is followed by personified rocks, winds, clouds, and heavens, and culminates in Tagaloa. Tagaloa-lagi (Tagaloa-of-the-heavens) existed in space but he did not know how or whence he came. He threw down stones that became various islands of the Samoan group. Before the lands consolidated, he sent down his daughter in the form of a snipe (tuli), but she could find no resting place. She made further visits at his command and successively reported spray, lumpy places, water breaking, land above surface, and finally a dry place where she could rest. Later she reported the extending surface of land and the growth of a vine. Had she taken back a sprig of the vine, the affinity with the dove that Noah sent out from the ark would have been more striking. The vines withered, rotted, and swarmed with maggots and worms which grew into men and women. Some myths say that the evolution from worms took place on Manu‘a.
Influenced by mythology and local legends, the Samoan regards himself as truly autochthonous. At a kava ceremony in Tau, I was welcomed by a talking chief in the stilted phrases of his office. In my reply, I alluded to the common origin of the Polynesians somewhere in Asia and the wonderful voyages our ancestors had made in peopling Polynesia.
The talking chief replied, ‘We thank you for your interesting speech. The Polynesians may have come from Asia, but the Samoans, no. We originated in Samoa.’
He looked around with an air of infallibility, and his page 295 fellow scholars grunted their approval. In self-defence, I became a fundamentalist.
I said, ‘The good book that I have seen you carrying to church three times on Sundays says that the first parents of mankind were Adam and Eve, who were created in the Garden of Eden.’
In no way disturbed, the oracle replied, ‘That may be but the Samoans were created here in Manu‘a.’
A trifle exasperated, I said, ‘Ah, I must be in the Garden of Eden.’
I took the silence which followed to be a sign of affirmation.
Returning to Tagaloa, we have a series of Tagaloa-of-the-heavens, Tagaloa-originator-of-man, Tagaloa-the-explorer, and Tagaloa-dweller-in-lands. The sequence is an excellent illustration of the Polynesian cryptic form of historical narrative that time has converted into myth. Tagaloa or a descendant of Tagaloa came from a distant horizon, metaphorically alluded to as the heavens (lagi), on an exploring expedition and settled in the land of Samoa. He first touched earth at Tau in Manu‘a and came in contact with the first settlers. The chiefly stock of Samoa descended from Tagaloa, and their historians disposed of the prestige of the first settlers by making them the lowly descendants of worms. In the course of time, the human voyager was regarded as a god who descended directly from the heavens. Hence the Samoans considered themselves as originating in Samoa.
The mythical form of historical narrative states that the first chiefly house was built on Tau and named Fale-ula. Owing to the first settlement of the Tagaloa family in Manu‘a, those small islands have enjoyed honour out of all proportion to their size and population. The Tui Mahu‘a, or ranking chief of Manu‘a, received precedence over many page 296 chiefs ruling over larger districts. Nothing annoys the people of the larger island of Tutuila more than to be reminded of the Manu‘a myth that Tagaloa made Tutuila as an afterthought to provide a stepping stone between Manu‘a and western Samoa.
Turning to western Samoa, we find that a descendant of the Tagaloa family, named Pili, established himself in Upolu. He is credited with great power, for he divided Upolu into three districts which he gave to three of his sons, whose names were given to the districts. He gave the western part and the spear to Ana, the middle portion and the fly whisk to Saga, and the eastern end and the planting stick to Tua. The spear represented war, the fly whisk oratory, and the planting stick horticulture. In his last exhortation to his sons, he said, ‘When you wish to fight, fight; when you wish to talk, talk; and when you wish to work, work.’
Genealogies place Pili in the year 1000 a.d. but a great deal of human activity must have taken place in Samoa before that uncertain date.
Samoan myths contain some stories concerning the hero Maui. He occurs as Maui-ti‘iti‘i-a-talaga, which we recognize as the New Zealand form of the name. In Samoa, however, Talaga is the father, whereas in New Zealand Taraga is the mother. Maui obtained fire in the Underworld from Mafui‘e but his exploits in fishing up islands were replaced by the stone-throwing activities of Tagaloa.
Turning to traditions, we find that there are no tales of long sea voyages. Percy Smith believed that the Polynesians reached Samoa in about 450 a.d. Whenever it was, the Samoans have been so long in residence that, like the Tahiti-ans, the records of the first ancestors who came by ship have been overlaid by the mass of succeeding events. The theory page 297 of local origin from worms is a mythical substitute for forgotten human history.
In place of voyagers by canoe, there are myths of longdistance swimming. An ancestor named Ui swam from the Tokelau group to Tau, a distance of over 300 miles. I was shown the rock that represented his petrified body. Two women named Taema and Tilafaiga swam back to Samoa from Fiji, where they were supposed to have observed the Fijian custom of tattooing the women but not the men. Owing to their long immersion in the sea, they landed in Samoa shivering with cold and through chattering teeth they delivered the following inverted message:
When the men grow up, tattoo them.
When the women grow up, let them bear children.
Before leaving the realm of myth and legend, let us turn south to Tonga. The Tonga islands are composed of three groups: Vavau in the north, Tongatabu in the south, and Haapai between. Vavau has wooded hills rising to a height of between 500 and 600 feet and a landlocked harbour studded with islets. Haapai consists of several low-lying islands of which Lifuka is the most important. To the west of Haapai lie the volcanic cones of Kao and Tofua. Tongatabu, seat of the government, is low, but Eua rises to over 1000 feet.
In 1912, my wife and I passed through the Tongan islands on our way to Niue. At Tongatabu, the Prime Minister, Tui Vakano, took me to call on King George Tubou II. He was six feet eight inches tall and a magnificent type of the Polynesian high chief. At Vavau, I met Tugi, the governor of the island. He is now Prime Minister and the husband of Queen Salote, who succeeded her father.
I had time to absorb only a little of the Tongan atmosphere. page 298 The Tongan dialect retains the consonants k and h that are absent from Samoan, but some words have the s sound. In some words b is used instead of p, as in tabu. The j is used to represent the sibilant ch sound before certain vowels. The modern field work in Tonga was conducted by E. W. Gifford and W. C. McKern, members of the Bayard Dominick Expedition sponsored by Bishop Museum. Useful information has also been supplied by the Reverend E. E. V. Collocott.
Tongan myths are contradictory, and I have made an arbitrary selection to provide an outline. Abandoning cosmogony and coming to the origin of the islands, we meet the Maui family of grandfather, son, and grandson in the persons of Maui-motua, Maui-atalaga, and Maui-kisikisi. The three came to Manuka (Manu‘a) in Samoa to obtain a magic hook from Tonga-who-fished-up-lands. Tonga is a substitution for Tagaloa. Tonga, though he was averse to parting with his magic hook, could not avoid the custom of allowing visitors to view his hooks and of selecting one as a present. The hooks were all made of pearl shell but the magic hook, on account of its dull colour and poor lashing, was the least attractive in the collection. Tonga spread out his whole kit of hooks, confident that Maui-kisikisi would select the wrong hook.
Maui-kisikisi, however, with the cunning attributed to him throughout Polynesia, had made love to the fickle wife of Tonga. She secretly told him the appearance of the magic hook and hence she was named Whisper-in-Manuka. Maui unerringly selected the right hook and, with his grandfather, father, the woman, and the hook, voyaged forth and fished up the islands forming the Tongan group. The following verse, translated by Collocott, records the episode:page 299
The canoe that came from Manuka
Was manned by a crew from the gods,
Maui-kisikisi the wise.
He brought the woman
Known as Whisper-in-Manuka.
He brought the wondrous hook,
He came and drew up lands,
And so Tonga and Eua were given (to mankind).
Other myths state that Maui also fished up Haapai, Vavau, and Naua. He stamped upon them and flattened out the fertile lands for cultivation.
An alternative theory of the creation of some of the islands follows the Samoan myth but substitutes the god Hikuleo for Tagaloa. Hikuleo dwelt in the west at Pulotu, but he seems to have visited the upper regions above Tonga, for the volcanic islands of Kao and Tofua were formed of ‘land stones’ thrown down by Hikuleo. The people of Vavau give credit for the fishing-up of their island to Tagaloa-lagi.
The heavens were arranged in ten stories. The first sky was so low that it touched the upper end of the stick with which Maui-motua spread out the heated stones of his cooking oven. Annoyed with the lowness of the ceiling, Maui-motua placed the lower end of his stick against the first sky and pushed it up out of the way. The charred end of the stick left marks on the sky. The myth is a western version of the tale of Ru-the-propper-up-of-the-sky.
The origin of the first human being in Tonga follows the Samoan myth of local creation from worms that developed from a rotting vine. The descendants of the worms were Kohai (Who), Koau (I), and Momo (Crumb) names which indicate the gropings of the human mind for a beginning. Kohai was said to be the first king of Tonga.page 300
As in Samoa, the Tagaloa family now enters the stage. Tagaloa Eitumatupua in the upper regions evinced an interest in mundane affairs. He descended to earth by an iron-wood tree that had its roots on an islet in the lagoon of Tongatabu and its branches against the sky. He saw the woman Ilaheva fishing nearby and, as was the wont of gods in dealing with the daughters of men, he appropriated her. In due course, Ilaheva gave birth to a male child whom Tagaloa named Ahoeitu (Day-has-dawned).
When he grew up, the boy Ahoeitu asked his mother who his father was and where he lived. Following his mother's instructions, he ascended into the sky by the ironwood tree and found his father on a mound netting wild pigeons. The recognition was mutual and parental acceptance immediate. Ahoeitu was slain by his jealous half-brothers, sons of a celestial mother, but his father restored him to life. Tagaloa sent Ahoeitu back to earth to rule over the Tongan islands as the first Tui Tonga (high chief) of a new dynasty. The descendants of worms seem to have raised no opposition, and the dynasty of Kohai ceased to function. Ahoeitu was of divine origin through his father and of earthly descent through his mother. The dynasty he inaugurated in about 950 a.d. ruled for thirty-five generations to end with Laufilitoga in 1865.
In Tonga and Samoa we find a complete absence of the concept of creation that spread out from central Polynesia. Atea and Papa, as primary parents, are unknown. The major gods—Tane, Tu, and Rongo—are absent, and their brother Tagaloa, though present, is not the son of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother. He functions more as a mythical ancestor from whom chiefly rank was inherited than as a god who was worshipped as such. The origin of man from worms takes the place of the creation of the first woman from page 301 earth by the god Tane. Tiki, who is associated with the first created woman in the other parts of Polynesia, is absent in the west. In Samoa and Tonga, there were district gods and lesser family gods. There were no great national gods that presided over special departments, such as forest, sea, agriculture, peace, and war.
The Tongan god Hikuleo and the Samoan Si‘uleo, unknown in the rest of Polynesia, dwelt at Pulotu in the west, whither the souls of the dead returned. The gods were represented by incarnations of living things and in the temples by inanimate objects. In Tonga, images were carved in wood; in Samoa, but one carved image is known. Stone images that form such a marked feature of the rest of Polynesia have not been recorded for the west.
The western temples were houses built on the same plan as dwelling houses set on a raised platform and surrounded by a fence. The paved stone marae with its raised stone platform is conspicuously absent. The Tongan and Samoan malae is the village green where purely social events were conducted. Long ritual chants and extended marae ceremonies were evidently unknown. People seeking benefit from the gods brought presents of food and goods before the house temple, where they sat on the ground while the priest took the material representative of the god out of its basket, unwrapped the bark-cloth covering, and exposed the shell, stone, or weapon to the faithful. In sickness, the relatives sometimes cut off a finger joint as an offering, which may be an attenuated form of human sacrifice. The Samoans have been referred to as the ‘godless Samoans’, and, from the lack of awe-inspiring ritual, the statement has some justification.
Samoa and Tonga became centres for the development and distribution of a western Polynesian culture. Bishop Museum page 302 field expeditions to Uvea and Futuna were conducted by E. G. Burrows, to Tokelau by Gordon Macgregor, to Puka-puka by Ernest and Pearl Beaglehole, and to the Lau Islands of Fiji by Laura Thompson. The traditions and culture of these smaller islands indicate that after an early settlement they were influenced by incursions from Samoa or Tonga. The Tongans were the more daring sailors and maintained communications with their nearer colonies. Many of the Tongan voyages are related in connection with the Tui Tonga dynasty, whose line serves as a chronology of historical events. The Tui Tonga had double voyaging canoes built for their own use, and these were placed under the direction of expert pilots who were also expert fishermen. The crews were selected not only for their physique but for their skill in games and the use of weapons.
In the reign of Momo, the tenth Tui Tonga who lived at the end of the twelfth century, the invasion of Samoa was commenced by the Tongans. The occupation of Samoa continued until the reign of Talakaifaiki, the fifteenth Tui Tonga, when the Samoan chiefs Tuna and Fata defeated the Tongan forces. The Tongans withdrew to their ships in orderly fashion while the Samoans watched the great war canoes hoist sail to depart. The double canoe of Talakaifaiki was the last to leave and, as it began to move, the Tongan leader, standing in the stern of his ship, shouted his meed of appreciation to his valiant opponents across the widening waters: ‘Malie tau, malie toa’ (Clean fight, brave warrior). The descendants of Tuna and Fata, who rule the district of Tuamasaga, assumed the title of Malie-toa from the above incident.
A voyage that intrigues the imagination is that of Kauulu-fonua to avenge the murder of his father Takalaua, the page 303 twenty-third Tui Tonga, who lived about the year 1450 a.d. He and his younger brothers followed the two murderers to Haapai, Vavau, Niuatobutabu, Niuafou, Futuna, and Uvea, where they captured them and brought them back to Tonga to be executed. Kauulufonua, a warrior as well as a king, went into a battle, leaving his back to be protected by the gods while he defended his front. He was wounded in the back and shouted above the stress of battle, ‘The gods are fools’.
Society was based on the general Polynesian system of rule by chiefs whose titles were hereditary in the male line. The people were grouped in families (aiga) allied in villages and districts. The chiefs were graded according to power over family groups, villages, and districts. Matters of importance were settled in councils (fono) and, as etiquette and procedure grew more complicated, the high chiefs delegated their administrative powers to lesser chiefs termed talking chiefs or orators. In Tonga, the Tui Tonga dynasty created the Tui Haa Takalaua title for a junior member of the family to conduct administrative functions. Later the Tui Haa Takalaua established the Tui Kanakupolu title for a younger brother to carry on administrative work. In the course of time, the Tui Kanakupolu absorbed the two senior titles but the power was retained by high chiefs.
In Tonga, the fono (council) was called together in order that the talking chiefs might announce the policy of the high chiefs. In Samoa, the talking chiefs attained such power that in the fono they practically dictated their policy to their superior chiefs. They influenced the succession of titles so that it was awarded to the son of the wife whose family group would give the talking chiefs the greatest reward in food and goods. In Samoa, the party in power was termed the pule (rule) and the party in opposition, the mau. In western page 304 Samoa today the government officials are termed the pule, and part of the native population opposed to the government forms the mau. The high chiefs of the rest of Polynesia, though they had orators and councillors, never allowed administrative powers to get out of their own hands.
An important social element in Samoa was the guest house. The architecture of the house is unique in that the roof has a convex curve from the ridgepole to the eaves and has rounded ends. The curve is produced by using pliable rafters and strutting them with a series of transverse beams to maintain the curve. The rounded ends are formed of oblique arches composed of short curved sections of wood fitted with locking joints. The status of a chief was indicated by the number of cross beams in his guest house. The higher the rank, the greater the number of beams and consequently the greater the height of the house and the greater the number of arches in the rounded ends. The walls were open in Samoa but the wall posts were important socially, for they formed backrests for both hosts and guests who were assigned to the posts which distinguished their rank. Feasts preceded by the kava drinking ceremony usually took place within the guest house, and all ranking chiefs had to have guest houses to maintain their dignity.
The guest houses were built by expert carpenters united in a guild, which had a mythical origin from a conference convened by the god Tagaloa to discuss how a house should be constructed. The assembled carpenters built the first house in the upper realms and afterwards repeated the pattern on earth in Manu‘a. The guild of builders which subsequently developed called themselves the Sa-Tagaloa (Family-of-Tagaloa). The guild formed societies in different islands and the societies in turn claimed origin from some charter page 305 member who had attended the first conference. My studies of the Samoan house were conducted under the auspices of the Aiga-sa-Sao (Family-of-Sao) of Manu‘a. I was invited to ascend the scaffolding and watch the ridgepole being lashed in position with sennit braid in the elaborate pattern termed le sumu o le ‘au’au. I was able to study houses in various stages of construction and to attend social functions connected with their construction. I received detailed instructions from master craftsmen, not only of the Family-of-Sao but also of the Family-of-Malama on Tutuila. It was Malama who advised Tagaloa that the appropriate timber for a chief's house was breadfruit wood. Hence it is that a child of chiefly descend may shame a commoner by saying, ‘Have you lived in a house made of breadfruit wood?’
Owing to the social necessity for a guest house that could be built only by expert carpenters, the Family-of-Tagaloa acquired great power. They organized a trade union and formulated the terms of contract. They demanded good food with fowl and pork at frequent intervals. They drank only kava and the liquid contents of coconuts during the hours of work and required constant attention from the family of the owner. Feasts with a liberal distribution of food took place at certain stages of construction. On the completion of the framework, the builders were given a feast and paid with fine mats, goods, and food. During building, if the standard of food fell off or some breach of etiquette was committed by the owner's family, the carpenters returned to their homes. Because of the trade union, no other carpenters would complete the house. Food supplies frequently gave out when the middle section and one rounded end of the house framework had been completed. The house owner made the best of a bad job by completing the thatching of page 306 the roof and closing the uncompleted end with thatch. The family went into residence until more food and goods were accumulated to re-employ the original carpenters. An incomplete house was termed a fale tala mutu, a house with a cutoff end. When walking through a village in Olosega with a master carpenter, I noticed a number of houses with but one rounded end. Turning to my companion, I asked, ‘Did all the pigs die out in Olosega?’ He looked at me in a somewhat embarrassed manner and then laughed so heartily that I required no verbal reply.
The guild of carpenters also made the better types of canoe. Specialization took place in adzing the planks to form projecting inner flanges along the edges. After the planks were fitted together, holes were bored through the inner flanges, and the lashings that were passed through them did not show on the outside of the hull. Elsewhere the lashings passed through holes pierced through the full thickness of the planks and thus showed on the outside of the hull. A triangular matting sail was used with the lateen rig in which the apex of the triangle was down at the bow. This rig contrasts with the triangular spritsail with its apex at the foot of the mast, such as was used elsewhere in Polynesia with the exception of Mangareva.
The Tongans specialized in stonework and made tombs for their kings. Some of the coral limestone blocks were quarried on near-by islands and transported across the water by double canoes. Telea, the twenty-ninth Tui Tonga, built the finest of the royal tombs in three tiers, and two of the four corners were unique in having L-shaped corner stones.
The famous trilithon in Tongatabu consists of two large uprights of coral limestone with a crossbar of the same material mortised in to their upper ends. The larger upright page 307 is 17 feet above ground, 14 feet wide at the base, 12 feet wide at the top, and 4 1/2 feet thick. The uprights are 12 1/2 feet apart and McKern, who gives the above measurements, estimates that the visible portions of each weigh between 30 and 40 tons. The material was cut from a cliff face near the site. The worked blocks were dragged over skids up an inclined earth ramp and lowered into position. The trili-thon was named Haamonga-a-Maui (Burden-of-Maui), the two uprights being likened to burdens supported on the ends of a carrying pole. It was built by Tuitatui, eleventh Tui Tonga, as a monument to his two sons. The form and size of the memorial are so unique that imaginative writers have advanced the theory that it was made by some archaic civilization that preceded the Tongans.
Another item in which the west differed from the rest of Polynesia was in the great importance given to kava, a beverage prepared from the root of the Piper methysticum. In Samoa and Tonga, no social event could take place without the preliminary serving of kava. The kava was served to chiefs from one bowl in their order of precedence with an elaborate ceremony that is absent elsewhere. Special round bowls with legs were made for the sole purpose of preparing kava. Every bowl has a suspensory lug on its outer surface below the rim, and this lug was always turned toward the person preparing the kava, except in the kava ceremony of the great Tui Tonga who enjoyed the royal privilege of having the suspensory lug turned toward him.
The following incident illustrates the method of indirection dearly loved by the Polynesians. After the death of the last Tui Tonga, two of the greatest supporting chiefs of the Tui Tonga dynasty came to George Tubou, who had been gathering the reins of temporal power into his hands, and page 308 informed him that they wished to make kava for him. They conducted him into the guest house and, seating themselves behind the kava bowl, proceeded to prepare the kava. George Tubou sat down opposite and waited. He looked casually across at his companions and saw what to a Tongan must have been a soul-stirring sight. The suspensory lug of the bowl was pointing toward him. The chiefs had not spoken, but the speechless bowl was announcing a king.
In the process of making cloth from the bark of the paper mulberry, the west differs from the rest of Polynesia. In the western area, the individual strips of bark were well scraped with shells, beaten into separate pieces of thin cloth, and pasted together to obtain the desired thickness and size. Designs were sometimes painted in freehand with vegetable dyes, but generally layers of thin cloth were placed over a tablet design, and the cloth was rubbed with a wiper dipped in dye to bring out the design on the underlying tablet. In the rest of Polynesia, the bark was washed instead of being scraped, soaked in water for over twenty hours, and the various strips were felted together in a continuous sheet by beating with grooved beaters which left a watermark on the cloth. The cloth was painted freehand or stamped with a design.
All Polynesia used a calendar of lunar months. Except in the western area, each island group had a list of thirty names for various stages of the moon from new moon to new moon. When a lunar month had only twenty-nine nights, one of the thirty names was dropped. Though a few local changes took place with regard to names, the similarity of the system is striking on all seven trails from central Polynesia, and its complete absence in the west is all the more remarkable. There the days of the month were counted numerically, sometimes in groups. In the rest of Polynesia, the New Year was page 309 ushered in by the morning or evening rising of the Pleiades, and the annual lunar cycle was corrected at intervals by intercalating a thirteenth month. No definite information exists as to how the calendar was corrected in the west.
Two social customs that prevail in Samoa and Tonga are not present in the rest of Polynesia. One is the brother-and-sister taboo which includes cousins bearing the same relationship term as brother and sister. After ten years of age, brothers and sisters were brought up in different houses and they ceased to play together. If one was in a house, the other might not enter or, at least, might not sit near by. This custom is incomprehensible elsewhere in Polynesia. In New Zealand, the marriage of cousins was encouraged to keep domestic conflicts within the family. In Hawai‘i brother-and-sister marriage was regarded as the highest form of chiefly alliance.
The other custom was the great respect paid by men to their sisters, particularly their elder sisters. In Tonga, the sister was regarded as superior in rank to the brother, and this superiority was shared by her children. In Samoa, the sister's children were sacred (tama sa) to their uncle's family, and they were feared because it was believed that their mother possessed magic powers that she would use if her children were offended. In Tonga, the sister's children were fahu to their uncle and his children, and the term meant that they could demand food and goods from them. A male fahu could appropriate even his uncle's wife. This custom contradicts the general Polynesian pattern of descent and prestige on the male line.
The differences between western and eastern Polynesia may be attributed to three causes: local development, diffusion from Fiji, and early separation from central Polynesia.page 310
Local development affected the arts and crafts, such as the building of houses and canoes and the making of bark cloth. Local variation is evident throughout Polynesia, which indicates that craftsmen and artists were not entirely inhibited by older patterns of technique. The Tagaloa guild of carpenters received inspiration from within and gave the credit to the god Tagaloa.
Diffusion from Fiji was responsible for the brother-and-sister taboo, widespread throughout Melanesia, and the power of the sister's children. This power is present in Fiji as the vasu custom, and it is evident that the Tongans adopted not only the custom but also the term under the Tongan form of fahu. The Fijian vasu is based on the Melanesian system of descent through the mother. The husband is practically a guest in his wife's household, and his children are provided for by his wife's brother. The husband, in turn, provides for his own sister's children. Such a system is as strange to the rest of Polynesia as it is to Europe and America. Intercourse with Fiji is also responsible for certain relationship terms particularly affecting relationship by marriage, and probably accounts for the social importance of kava. In material things, Fijian influence is seen in some of the head rests and weapons. James Hornell has pointed out that both Tongans and Samoans adopted the Fijian form of double canoe though in comparatively recent times. In the realm of myth, the Fijians provided the souls of the dead with a resting place at Pulotu, called Bulotu in Fiji and unknown in central and eastern Polynesia.
Early separation between the west and the centre accounts for differences in myth and religion. The widely spread Maui myth may be associated with the ‘descendants of worms’ or the pre-Tagaloans. An early communication between Samoa page 311 and Ra‘iatea must have existed to account for the spread of food plants and domestic animals with which we shall deal in the next chapter. The voyagers who came west to Samoa were evidently descendants of a deified Tagaloa to whom they attributed the creation of the Samoan islands. The Tagaloa group that remained in Ra‘iatea had to compromise with other groups by including their deified ancestors in a richer pantheon. At a later period in Ra‘iatea, the supporters of Ta‘aroa (Tagaloa) became influential enough to raise him to the position of a supreme deity but with a wealth of detail that is absent in Samoa. The Samoan Tagaloa and the Ra‘iatean Ta‘aroa have little in common beyond the name and the general idea of creation. Communication between the west and the centre must have ceased before the social assembly place termed marae was given a religious significance and before the priests at Opoa had systematized the theology of the Sky-father and Earth-mother, and of Tane, Tu, Rongo, and Tangaroa as departmental gods. Thus in Samoa and Tonga the malae remained the secular village green, but in Ra‘iatea the marae evolved into a sacred assembly place where men sought communion with powerful gods that were unknown in the western pantheon.
It may be argued that Tagaloa could have travelled east to the centre with the plants and animals, but my belief is that he accompanied the other great voyaging ancestors direct from Micronesia to central Polynesia. If the volcanic islands of Samoa and their great resources had been the first encountered after the long passage through atoll islands, they would have been the main centre of the development of Polynesian culture. The religious seminary of Opoa would have been in Samoa had the gods come that way.