Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People
The Story of Lau-foli
The Story of Lau-foli
“A long time ago there lived in this island a man named Laufoli who was famed in his day for his skill, and the adventures he met with. He was a tall man, a warrior, and a chief in his generation. He was possessed of a staff which was his constant companion, and with which he performed some astonishing deeds—it was in fact a magic staff. It frequently occurred that the high tops of the Pandanus trees were found cut off, but for a long time no one could ascertain how this was done, or who did it. Finally it was discovered that Laufoli struck off the tops of these trees with his staff. On one occasion a party of Tongans came to Niuē (not necessarily from Tonga), and they were surprised at seeing the Pandanus trees without tops. “What has been done to the trees?” asked they. “Laufoli has cut them off,” was the reply. The chief of the Tongans was so taken with Laufoli that he persuaded him to accompany the visitors on their return to their own country. Before departing in the large war canoe, Laufoli carefully wrapped up his staff in the leaves of the tefifi plant and concealed it in the canoe; and so they departed for Tonga.
On arrival in their own country, the Tongans decided to put Laufoli's powers to the test. They first asked him to cut down a species of banana called a hulahula.* Laufoli dispatched one of the Tongans to the canoe to fetch his staff; but after searching he could not find it, so returned with a paddle. Then Lau-foli himself went down, and after carefully unfolding the tefifi leaves in which the staff was wrapped, he ascended to cut down the banana. But a piece of iron (lapatoa) had been inserted in the core of the banana, so Laufoli failed at his first attempt. He then took the staff in his left hand and with one blow cut down the banana together with the iron core, “and the Tongans turned pale with astonishment.”†
† Lapatoa is the word used for iron in Niuē. In another account the word toa is used, and this is probably correct, for the toa or iron wood tree (Casuarina) grows on all the groups near Niuē, i.e. Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, &c., but not on Niuē itself.
The Tongans having failed to foil Lau-foli, now proposed another test of his powers. They took him to a wide chasm and told him to jump it, expecting to see him fall and be killed; but Laufoli succeeded in jumping the chasm in safety.*
The Tongans now decided on another test of Laufoli's powers. They sent him to a certain cave in which dwelt Toloa-kai-tangata, or Toloa-the-cannibal. When Lau-foli got there, Toloa was absent, but his wife was at home. Lau-foli asked her, “Where is Toloa gone?” The woman replied, “He has been gone a long time, fishing.” Said Lau-foli, “At what time will he return?” To this the reply was, “When the rain falls, and the heavens thunder, will he arrive with his back-load of human-flesh.” Lau-foli said, “The man smells!” As Toloa came back he looked, and saw Lau-foli waiting at his cave; he stepped forward, smiling in glee on beholding a victim for a feast. but Lau-foli struck at his feet with his weapon, and cut off both of them, and then his hands. Then the cannibal begged of Lau-foli to spare his life, promising that he would never return to man-eating again. Lau-foli said to him, “Put out your tongue!” Which he did; and then Lau-foli cut it out and burnt it in the fire. Thus died Toloa-kai-tagata, and the Tongans were able to live in safety.
After three nights, the Tongans arranged that Lau-foli should ascend a certain mountain, and attack the people living there. So he ascended, and as he did so the people on top rolled down great stones, which he avoided by stepping on one side, but continued the ascent all the time. When smaller stones came rolling down he straddled his legs and let them pass, but he continued to ascend. At last he arrived on top, and then with a sweep of his weapon towards the north he upset all the people in that direction; then he turned to the south, to the east, and to the west, and did likewise. Then all those left alive begged of him to spare their lives, which Lau-foli agreed to.
Lau-foli now descended, and remained with the Tongans until he was an old man. He married the king's daughter and had three children born to him, after which he abandoned his wife. This angered the Tongans, who all cried out: “Exile him! Kill him! Exile him !” For this reason Lau-foli returned to Niuē.”
The story then goes on to describe the death of Lau-foli, who fell or jumped into a ti-oven, and there perished. The account will be found later on in the original and translation.
* In one of the songs about Lau-foli's deeds, this jump of his is said to be over the tapi vai afi, which I can only translate as over “the crest of fiery water,” which may mean a volcanic vent.
This, however, was not always so, for there are plenty of signs that indicate frequent visits of “Tongans” on warlike expeditions. It is highly probable that the Tonga, or Vavau people, were amongst these warlike visitors, for they are celebrated all through Polynesian history for the extent of their voyages and their wars with other islands.
At a later date than the adventures of Lau-foli occurred the incident of the Ana-Tonga. This place is a cave in the great longitudinal chasm that lies on the east side of Niuē. From the Niuē account, it appears that an invasion of Tongans took place, much to the alarm of the local people, who finally decided to attempt by stratagem what they could not perform by open fighting. A path was made leading from the coast, right up to the deepest part of the chasm—now about 35 feet deep—and here a bridge of slight branches was thrown across and covered with earth, whilst the Niuē people waited below. The Tongans advanced, and as soon as a good many of them got on the bridge of course it gave way and they were precipitated into the chasm, where, according to Niuē story, all the party were killed. But the story is an absurdity. The chasm where bridged is only about ten feet across, and therefore but few people could stand on the bridge. No doubt there is foundation for the story, but clearly the whole party could not have been killed as the Niuē story says.†
We hear of one Nini-fale, a woman, who in former days led a party from Tonga and settled on the coast near where Tama-kau-toga village is now situated. There are at the present time living in Niuē greatgrandchildren of some Tonga women who were captured during a Tongan raid on Niuē. Moreover, Mr. Lawes informed me that a few years ago might be seen not far from Liku the rotting remains of a large Tongan canoe.
* Since the above was written, a volcanic outburst has again occurred in Savai‘i.
† Since writing this story, I have seen Mr. Basil Thompson's “Savage Island, an Account of a Sojourn in Niuē and Tonga,” Johu Murray, London, 1902 in which is the tongan account of this affair, which occurred under the chief Kau-ulu fonua fifteen generations ago, or about the year 1525. The Tongans claim to be the victors, as is natural.