Volume 56 1947 > Volume 56, No. 3 > Tradition of Sanalala: some notes on Samoan folklore, by J. D. Freeman, p 295-317
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IN January, 1945, when returning to New Zealand from service in South East Asia, I was fortunate in being able to examine a number of Samoan MSS. held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia. Of special interest were the papers of Samuel Wilson, and the diary of the Rev. Charles Hardie—for both Hardie and Wilson recorded, and at a very early period, traditional material which permits of insight into the role of legend in ancient Samoa society.

The social structure of ancient Samoa was based on the lineage system—the various lineages varying in span proportionately to the number of generations accepted as having intervened between their living members and the founding ancestor from whom they traced their descent. A maximal lineage was primarily defined by reference to the remotest agnatic ancestor of the group, and was organized internally on hierarchical and segmentary principles. Each of these maximal lineages exercised more or less complete political autonomy—in other words, there was no system of centralized political authority. In western Samoa, however, there did emerge, by process of inter-marriage and conquest, a. political institution which became known as the tafa'ifā, and which though far from ever becoming dominant throughout the whole Samoan group, was, nevertheless, an important attempt at the establishment of centralized political authority. Much of the interest of the material recorded by Wilson and Hardie lies in the fact that it refers to one,

In this paper the writer has followed the practice of indicating the nasal “ng” sound by the letter g in all Samoan words. There is precedent for this in a number of authorities, but the editors are unwilling to adopt it as a standard method of connoting this sound, since in other areas, notably New Zealand, the use of “ng” is too firmly established to uproot. Fiji uses the g for the simple nasal, but q for the hard nasal. There is obvious need for uniformity.

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Sanalālā, who is looked upon by the Samoans, as having been largely responsible for the uniting by ties of kinship of the powerful maximal lineages—whose alliance led directly to the founding of the tafa'ifā.

Our knowledge of the historical processes which culminated in the establishment of the tafa'ifa is derived principally from the work of Dr. Augustin Kramer, although von Bulow, Stuebel and others have also made noteworthy contributions. Kramer, like other ethnographers of the period (his research was accomplished mainly during the years 1897-99) was obsessed with the aim of obtaining the “correct” versions of the various genealogies and traditions he collected, and he tended to fail to recognize the sociological importance of the varients which he admits existed in different parts of Samoa. The extent to which Kramer's historical reconstruction (based as it is upon verbally transmitted tradition) may be accepted as reliable is open to grave question; indeed in the account which follows it will be seen that there is much that is undeniably myth (e.g., the intervention of the goddess Nafanua); but for our present purpose, the important point sociologically is that the “historical” events I am about to relate were, and still are, commonly accepted dogma in Samoa.


One of the most prominent of the maximal lineages of Samoa is the Sa Malietoa. 1 This great lineage (which Kramer, writing in 1900, traced back for 32 generations) did not gain the name Sa Malietoa until about the 13th century A.D. 2 when Tuna and Fata, the sons of Leatiogie (13th in the line), led the Samoans in driving out the Tongan invaders from Upolu and Savai'i. It is claimed that Tuna and Fata quarrelled violently over possession of the new name, and that it was finally given as a title to their elder brother, Savea. Sanalālā's decisive role in Samoan political history had its beginning in his marriage to Gatoai-tele, the daughter of Malietoa La'auli, for according to Kramer's reckoning (12, pp. 242-43) Malietoa La'auli, was the great-grandson of the first to hold the Malietoa title: - 297 Malietoa Savea. Gatoaitele proved barren, and so Sanalālā married Gasoloaiaoolelagi, her younger sister. Three children resulted from this marriage Lalovimamā, a boy, and two girls Vaetamasoa and Leatougaugaatuitoga.

These three children of Sanalālā, were by their marriages to unite with the Sa Malietoa (in terms of kinship) three other prominent maximal lineages of western Samoa: the Sa Tui Atua, the Sa Tui A'ana and the Sa Tonumaipe'a. And here is essential to point out that such alliances between lineages are deliberately contracted in Samoan society—for it is only by realization of this fact that Sanalālā's actively important role becomes fully apparent.

Lalovimamā became the husband of Sefa'atauemana (of the Tui Atua line), and their eldest son, Mata'utia became heir to the title of Tui Atua. Vaetamasoa, the eldest daughter, became the wife of Tagaloa Selaginatō (of the Tui A'ana line), and their son became the famous Tui A'ana Tamālelagi. Leatougaugaatuitoga, the second daughter, married Tonumaipe'a Sauoāiga, and their daughter Levalasi 3 became, in Kramer's words, “one of the most celebrated women in Samoa,” and exercised a profound effect on Samoan history.

It will be observed that Tui A'ana Tamālelagi, Tui Atua Mata'utia and Levalasi are all first cousins, and the grandchildren of Sanalālā.

According to tradition, soon after Tui A'ana Tamālelagi and Tui Atua Mata'utia claimed their titles, strife became widespread on the island of Upolu, and Levalasi, their cousin, was sent to Savai'i to entreat the help of Nafanua, 4 the goddess of war, and ancestress of the Tonumape'a line, to which Levalasi now belonged. Nafanua consented to give her help to both of Levalasi's cousins, and both were triumphant in the battles which followed; but Nafanua then took the two titles Tui A'ana and Tui Atua for herself. War followed in the district of Sagana, a few miles to the west of the present port of Apia, where the historic villages of Malie and Afega are situated. Here again Nafanua intervened and was victorious, and by way of recompense took the title of Gatoaitele (the name of Sanalālā's first wife). A similar - 298 conflict broke out in Safata, on the south coast of Upolu, and once more Nafanua's assistance is said to have been the deciding factor in the victory of the descendants of Sanalālā. This time Nafanua took the title of Tamasoali'i 5 as reward.

All four titles were now in the hands of Nafanua, the goddess of the Tonumaipe'a line of Savai'i, however, she offered them, through her taulāitu, or shaman, Tupa'i, to her descendant Levalasi. Levalasi accepted Nafanua's offer, and married her cross-cousin Tui Atua Mata'utia; but there were no children. Levalasi then adopted Salamasina, the daughter of her other noble cousin Tui A'ana Tamālelagi by Vaetoeifaga (the daughter of the Tui Tonga—the high chief of the Tongan islands). Salamasina became Levalasi's favourite, and because of her affection for the young girl, Levalasi subsequently placed in Salamasina's hands all her own power and authority, and most important of all, gave to Salamasina the tafa'ifā: the four great titles of Tui A'ana, Tui Atua, Gatoaitele and Tamasoali'i. 6


Let us now return to Wilson's account of the traditional history of Sanalālā. Samuel Wilson is an interesting figure, for he was certainly the first to record systematically Samoan folklore. His father was Charles Wilson, formerly a journeyman baker, one of the pioneer missionaries of the London Missionary Society which he joined in 1798. He arrived in Tahiti on July 10th, 1801, and remained in the Society islands until the year 1809, when he left for the Colony, arriving at Port Jackson on 17th February, 1810. in Sydney Charles Wilson married Charlotte Burnett (this was his first wife) and returned to Moorea with her in 1812 (?). He had four children by her (two boys and two girls) before her death in August, 1818. in 1820 Charles Wilson went on another trip to Sydney, taking with him his - 299 two sons (the girls he left in the islands). He obtained for himself a second wife, and returned to the Society islands, reaching Matavai on 28th April, 1821. It is mentioned that Samuel was then about 10 years of age. It thus appears that Samuel was born in 1811 (or thereabouts)—either immediately before Wilson and his wife left Port Jackson, or, on the voyage down to Moorea, or, immediately on arrival in the islands. From 1826 until 1832 he resided in the Colony 7 whither he was sent at the age of fifteen, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Dr. Lang, and during that period was “... most sedulously engaged in the acquisition of the Latin, Greek and French languages, and other branches of study connected with his views as a preacher of the Gospel.” In December, 1832, he returned to Tahiti in the H.M.S. Challenger (Capt. C. H. Fremantle) and during the following year undertook missionary work in the districts of Mahina and Haururu and at the “seaport town of Papeete,” and accompanied John Williams on a voyage of inspection among the Hervey islands. Early in 1834, in a letter to the Directors of the London Missionary Society Samuel Wilson declined the offer of a passage to England, and the opportunity to study there, largely on the grounds of his suspicion that the English climate would not agree with his constitution, and a few months later, on April 15th, 1834, at a meeting in Tahiti he was received as a “Brother Missionary,” and appointed to the Navigator islands. Wilson set sail for Samoa from Raiatea on August 18th, 1835, accompanying the Rev. George Piatt. En route they called at Mangaia, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and passing Manu'a, Tutuila and Upolu, landed at the island of Manono on September 16th, 1835. Their primary object was to prepare the way for the first body of permanent missionaries, who were known to be arriving from England. After a brief visit to Upolu (where they were met by Malietoa Vai'inupo) Platt and Wilson crossed to Savai'i, and settled down at Sapapali'i.

Here they remained until. January 5th, 1836, when they set out on a journey around the island of Upolu. From Falelatai they travelled eastward along the south coast to Aleipata, and returned by the north coast—visiting most of the settlements. The whole journey took one month. - 300 Crossing again to Sapapali'i, Platt and Wilson continued their work there until March 11th, 1836, when they commenced a second journey, 8 this time around the island of Savai'i—along the north coast to Falealupo, and back to Sapapali'i by the south coast (arriving on March 28th, 1836).

In April, 1836, Samuel Wilson made an unsuccessful attempt to reach Tutuila. On June 8th, 1836, the Dunottar Castle arrived in Apia with the first party of L.M.S. missionaries appointed to the group: Messrs. Heath, Hardie, Mills, Macdonald, Murray and Barnden, and two days later Platt and Wilson joined them there. Platt returned to Tahiti in the Dunottar Castle (leaving Apia on July 5th, 1836), but Wilson stayed on, and after spending some weeks in Tutuila, was appointed to Sagana in the Tuamasaga district of Upolu, where Malietoa Vai'inupo was wont to spend most of his time.

According to Murray (13, p. 40) Platt and Wilson had prepared a few hymns, a spelling book and catechism—all in the Samoan language, and Wilson, himself had translated the Gospel of St. Mark. There can be little doubt, that Wilson became remarkably competent in the Samoan language. Having been born and brought up in the Society islands he knew Tahitian well, which must have been a great initial advantage; and then too he had had the benefit of some years of formal linguistic study in New South Wales. Platt, in his Journal, notes that when they visited the settlement of Vailele, on the island of Upolu, during January, 1836, the natives wished Mr. Wilson to stop there; Platt comments: “He is quite a favourite wherever he goes, on account of his youthful appearance, and superior attainments in the language.”

There is evidence that Wilson was strongly attracted to the Samoan way of life, for when the Rev. George Platt paid his second visit to Samoa in March, 1837, he found Wilson at Sagana, “living entirely in the native style.” He was improving his knowledge of the native language, but Platt thought that if Wilson paid a little more attention to exteriors, “his piety would be more highly esteemed.”

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By early 1837 Wilson had become a confidant of Malie-toa Vai'inupō, for a few weeks after Platt's visit he took it upon himself to address to the Rev. William Ellis, the Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society, the following letter (MSS. 5)—a document of remarkable historical interest:

Upolu, Samoa, 9 April, 1837.

Honoured and Dear Sir,

The departure of a whaler from the port of Apia affords the opportunity of writing you this private communication. Having obtained a very great acquaintance with the Samoan language and the best historical and political information of the islands from Malietoa, the king, I have suggested to him the propriety of writing a letter to his Majesty the King of England to put the Samoan Islands under the protection of the British flag and to solicit that a ship of war may occasionally touch here to acknowledge the native government, to afford protection to British interests, and to settle disputes between foreigners and the natives.

I am, Honoured and Dear Sir, Yours sincerely,

Wilson was still at Sagana in August, 1838, when the Rev. W. Mills, of Apia, made his report on the district; and Captain Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Commander of the United States Exploring Expedition which surveyed Upolu in October, 1839, reported the presence of Wilson at Sagana, during his visit there to Malietoa, Wilson being in charge of a school of about fifty scholars. Wilkes (19) writes: “Mr. Wilson was an excellent interpreter, and with his aid I had a long talk with the old chief.”

Samuel Wilson finally left Samoa in the Camden, in November, 1839. Ten months previously the L.M.S. missionaries in Samoa had protested against Wilson becoming permanently connected with the Samoan mission, and after his departure it was learned that he had been a party to” licentious conduct.” Wilson's papers show that he was in New South Wales in 1840—but what happened to him after that year I have been unable to determine.


The fact of Samuel Wilson's long residence at Sagana, and his intimate friendship with Malietoa Vai'inupō is of - 302 major importance when an attempt is made to assess the legends 9 which Wilson had recorded. Wilson's own claim to have received, “the best historical and political information of the islands” from Malietoa Vai'inupō himself, affords us valuable evidence of the context of the legend which follows—evidence which is usually lacking for material recorded at so early a period. Malietoa Vai'inupō was himself the holder of the tafa'ifā, and the “traditional history” of Sanalālā as given by Wilson, may be taken as the version “officially” accepted. Wilson almost certainly recorded it during the period 1837-39.

The legend of Sanalālā as it is set down in Wilson's papers appears to be a direct translation from a Samoan text, for the style strongly suggests this and further, the manuscript is teeming with the corrections and amendations one would expect in such a case. Unfortunately the Samoan version is not included in the Mitchell Library collection. What follows then is the legend of Sanalālā exactly as it appears in Wilson's manuscript (MSS. 6):


On the northern side of Savai'i, at a small inland village called Paia, in the district of Safotu, dwelt the family of Samausautele. He had been drifted to sea from one of the islands to the westward, and was fortunate in making the island of Savai'i, where he landed and settled among the Samoan people. He married a daughter of one of the chiefs in the above village of Paia, who gave birth to a son, whom he called Taumatamū.
When Taumatamū was grown up to be a young man, he left home on a journey to the southern side of the island to a small village called Vaivai, in the district of Tufu. There he met with Mualepuso, the daughter of Mapusua, of whom be became enamoured, and to whom he was afterwards married. He remained with his wife's relations till the birth of their first child, shortly after which, Taumatamū set out to return home accompanied by his wife and child. They were benighted on their journey and lodged in a village called Fogāpoa, about thirty miles distant from the place to which they were travelling. Here he found Fitimaupaloga, the chieftainess of the Tongan Islands, with a large party of her people, who had come to Samoa in search of a husband for herself among its chiefs. - 303 The large sailing canoe was moored by ironwood anchor a short distance from the beach, and the sails were spread out on the beach to dry. All the houses in the village being occupied by the strangers, and the Samoan custom forbidding two travelling parties lodging in one village at the same time, Taumatamū, with his wife and attendants, was obliged to pass the night in the open air on the sea beach, and slept on the mat sail of the Tongan canoe. At early dawn they left on their journey, but in the haste and hurry of departure, the child was left behind concealed in the foldings of the mat, and fast asleep. Mualepuso had gone on before with her men and women attendants, carrying the baggage of the party; while the chief, followed by the beautiful youths, formed a distinct party behind, who unencumbered with the women and attendants, excited the admiration of spectators in the various villages through which they passed. At length the two parties met each other at Amoa, where, on leaving their last lodging, they had agreed to spend the night. Here it was for the first time, that the father and mother discovered their loss, for when Taumatamū observed to his wife that he thought she had taken care of the child, she merely replied, “Well who was to know that, I thought indeed, that you would bring him along with you.” Taumatamū immediately made all the haste he could back to Fogāpoa, but how great was his surprise to find that the Tongan canoe was making sail, and about leaving on its voyage back to Tonga. This was the moment when the intensity of a parent's feeling showed itself as he thus addressed the chieftainess, “O Lady, though I dare not presume to call out after your sacred vessel, yet you will allow me to say that my beloved child has been taken on board, his mother having left him folded up in the mat sails of your vessel.” “And who art thou?” enquires the chieftainess. “O Lady, I am Taumatamū,” replies the chief, “and it is my child you are taking with you.” “Go home then,” rejoined the chieftainess, “this child shall be mine. I shall adopt him and call him Samoa-na-galo (or, the Samoa that was lost).”
At this Fitimaupaloga gave orders for setting sail, and the steersman accordingly proceeded to guide the swift canoe, when it swept over the still lagoon into the open sea beyond the reef. They were soon out of sight of Samoa, and in the course of their voyage to Tonga came across a floating island called Ape, where the party landed and spent one night on this solitary island. In the morning preparations were made for embarking aboard the canoe, with a view of continuing the voyage home. Again was the child unfortunate in being left behind, but under less favourable circumstances than before. Here, he was left alone on a desert island which floated about in the open ocean, and so young as to he incapable of providing for his support.
The spot where the child was left was near a small stream of water, on the bank of which a wild orange grew. The only animal to be seen was a lizard, which occupied a secret recess among the roots of this tree, and the child being under the - 304 guardian care of the family divinity of the Tongan chieftainess, the lizard was influenced by it to repair daily to where the child was sitting, and bask beside him in the sunny rays. The kind attentions of the Sa, as the lizard was called, soon engaged the affections of the child, and from that moment, he considered him in the light of a protector. He accordingly resolved, in memory of such kindness, to call himself Sa-na-alāla (or the Watching Lizard). The spot where he had erected his leafy hut was near the mouth of the stream. Here the boy used to observe the wild oranges borne down by the current, whirling about in the rippling waves. At the sight of this, he instituted a game ever since known as the whirling orange, as it consists in giving a similar motion to what it has when agitated by the whirling water when borne down this way in flood time. At other times, Sanalālā used to find amusement in watching the manner in which the tulī ran and skipped along the shore, leaving the imprints of its little feet in the sands. In imitation of this, he instituted a game which was a kind of running skip similar to that of the above bird, and is called “musa a le tuli” (or, “hop of the tulī”).
In the meantime the canoe of the chieftainess had arrived in Tonga. Not long after, looking one morning to the east, she saw a beautiful small island which her imagination immediately converted into a symbol of the child who had been left behind on the desert island. Orders were accordingly given to prepare the canoe to go in search of him, and in the event of his being found to return with him to Tonga. The canoe accordingly put to sea, and after cruising for four days it reached the Land of the Ape. The child on being discovered was quite naked, but a crimson colour was suffused over his entire person. Having taken him aboard, the canoe returned to Tonga where the child resided with the chieftainess, who became enamoured of him on account of his great beauty, and finally married him. Shortly afterwards she gave birth to a son. When she enquired of Samoa-na-galo, his father, what name would he wish his son to be called, he replied that having no guardian divinity himself, he considered Le Sa, the Lizard, his only protector, and to commemorate the kind attention he had received from it, he would wish his child to be called Sanalālā (or, the Watching Lizard).
In course of time a second child was born, and the chieftainess repeated her former question to her husband. When the young chieftain recalled to mind the spot where he remained in temporary exile, and the wild orange tree whose branches hung down and swept the surface of the stream, he replied, “Let this, my second born be called La-tu-i-vai (or, Branches in the Water). The third child happened to be a daughter, and was called Vae-o-tama-soali'i, the origin of which name is not given in the tradition. The fourth also was a daughter who received from its mother the name of Ato-ga'au-a-T'ui-Toga—The Basket of Tui Tonga, alluding to the custom of the royal families in those islands being provided with baskets into which were thrown - 305 fragments of food after eating. These were considered sacred and no person dared to take any portion of their contents, being impressed with the fear of the anger of the tutelary divinities of the chief.
When the two boys, Sanalālā and Latuivai, had grown to manhood they amused themselves in sailing canoes in the lagoons by which the islands are surrounded. The sails of Latuivai's canoe were made of tapa, and that of his brother Sanalālā, of mats. One day as the two canoes were sailing in a race, they were overtaken by a sudden gale and were both overset. The canoe of Latuivai borne down with the weight of its tapa sails, sank, and could not be righted, while that of his brother, with its light mat sails was easily righted, and soon again riding over the stormy billows in the open sea. The wind blew fiercely from the west, in which direction his native island lay, and the heavy seas were foaming around his vessel. To return was impossible; the attempt would be certain destruction. The only chance of safety, therefore, remaining for Sanalālā, was to guide his canoe as well as he could before the gale. In this he happily succeeded, and eventually reached Samoa, where the first land he made was the island of Upolu. Arriving abreast a point at Siumu, the canoe was becalmed—in commemoration of which the point was named Aganoa (or Motionless). The canoe then pursued its way and in approaching too near the coast got on a sand bank where it remained until the return flow of the tide. When the water was sufficiently high to float her again, the place was accordingly named Palalaua (or Stranded); and here it was Sanalālā first exhibited the game mentioned in the forgoing part of the tradition, as instituted by his father Samoanagalo, in the island of Ape. Passing Siumu, the canoe sailed along the next district of Safata, when it fell becalmed, and from that circumstance the opposite shore was called Māninoa (or Calm). Having at length got a breeze it reached the western extremity of Safata, at a point called Tafitoala, where a chief of the name of Ale resided. Here Sanalālā landed, and introduced himself to the people with his other remaining game, whirling orange. After this, he proceeded on his journey by land, while the canoe held on its way along the shore.
There was a lady Manu'a, who was pacing the grass on the lawn; she was old and as gentle as a dove. Then came the chief and placed his hands upon the back of her shoulders. The tears of the chief flowed; he thought and thought again of his mother at Tonga; very much like her was this lady. Like as water flows through the punctured leaf were the tears of the chief. Then upwards spake the lady, “O man, who art thou indeed, now weeping over me?” “Alas, O lady, I weep indeed with thinking; for truly you chieftainess are my mother at Tonga. I am Sanalālā.” In consequence of which, the heralds departed at the same time to all the sides of Safata. The lady wished to adopt him for her child. Assembling were Safata, and the - 306 Alataua, and the tribes of Tunu and Fono, and they were met together. The royal address of the lady, the Manu'a went forth to them: “O Alataua, listen ye to me; let now be no more sacred, but let the chief there present with you royally sit at the Manu'a. May you be united.” 10

The point which strikes one most strongly on reading the legend of Sanalālā—is the extent to which mythological material is interwoven with what purports to be an account of the doings of historical personages. This aspect of the legend is an illustration of the well-established function of myth in strengthening tradition, and endowing it with added value and prestige. Further, the marked genealogical framework of the legend is worthy of comment. In ancient Samoa this “traditional history” of Sanalālā was certainly of considerable pragmatic importance—the role of Sanalālā in creation of the tafa'ifa has already been stressed— and one can readily discern the sanctions, in terms of both myth and genealogy, which the legend embodied.


In the second half of this paper I want to record and discuss two versions of a song which, like Wilson's legend, is concerned with Sanalālā. The two versions, recorded by Hardie and (probably) Wilson, both of whom arrived in Samoa before 1837, are interesting in providing corroborative evidence on the form of an ancient Samoan song, and in demonstrating, by their accompanying translations into English, the extent to which “competent” translators can vary in their rendering of native texts.

The first of the two versions, I discovered in the Rev. Charles Hardie's Diary, in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Hardie arrived in Samoa on June 8th, 1836, and was appointed to Sapapali'i, on the island of Savai'i—a village notable as one of the ancestral homes of the Sa Malietoa. Hardie remained in Samoa for eighteen years, becoming a capable Samoan scholar, and developing an attitude towards native folk-lore unusual in a missionary of his period. In his diary (MSS. 1), at the conclusion of his notes on a legend entitled “O le Gafa o le La,” Hardie writes: - 307

There is one observation that may be made in reference to this and my other Polynesian researches. When a traveller describes in his own style the traditions of any country, we have only his version of them, and cannot form a correct opinion of their attainments, natural and acquired, from a course so questionable and liable to so many false impressions. The philosophy of the manners, customs and institutions of idolatry is more satisfactory to us when derived from the very words and legends of the natives themselves. For these reasons I have been at great pains to discover and commit to writing from the recitation of the orators, their original traditions, and from these compositions, made beyond the memory of man and reach of history, every reader is qualified to form opinions and receive impressions as if he were in contact with the natives of Polynesia. I am persuaded that every judicious person will perceive the advantage of the course I have adopted.

The actual day-by-day entries in Hardie's diary extend from July 28th, 1836, to April 27th, 1837, while the remainder of the volume is mainly devoted to the study of Samoan folk-lore. In 1844 Hardie was appointed to the position of joint-principal of the L.M.S. educational institution at Malua, Upolu; judging from his diary it would seem certain that he recorded the song under discussion before he left Sapapali'i, that is, at some time during the period 1836-1843. I record first then, the Samoan text and English translation of the “Solo a Fitimaupologa i e Sanalālā,” exactly as they appear in Hardie's diary (MSS. 1):

Solo a Fitimaupologa i le Sanalālā.
O le Fa'aali'i.
The Song of Fitimaupologa to her
Absent Son, Le Sanalālā.
A Song of the Chief.

Subject: Fitimaupologa was chieftainess of the Friendly islands. Her son Sanalālā was driven to sea in his canoe. Some time after she had received intelligence that he had safely reached Samoa, a group of islands about 400 miles to the east. One morning at day-break, looking eastward, she saw a cloud rising in the direction of those islands tinged with the early rays of the sun, and which reminding her of her absent child gave rise to the composition of this song, expressive of her grief at this loss.

1. O le ata lo'ua sa tafa
O i gafea i le ata
O le faga Oneata?
O le faga o i ai la'u tama,
5. O la'u tama sa fa'amole manava,
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O la'u tama loto māsei, loto lasi,
Liua ni loto ia gatasi
Ua le tai ou te loi matai
Lau tama se fa'afiti tamai
10. Lo'u loto ma lou loto ma lou afa tuai.
Ou te le moe i lo'u mamasi,
Na usu po togafiti i Nuia
Ma Uea mamapu e le matagi
O la'u tama na sili i Samoa,
15. Na tala mai ua musu i Foga'a.
O ni tiale e fa'atatea i vasa
I ave e fesilafa'i,
Ua loa lava lota i Samoa nei.
O le ata lo'ua sa tafea
20. O i gafea o le ata
O le faga Oneata?


1. See the morning cloud arise
Where in that crimson cloud
Is Oneata's lovely bay?
The bay where is my child,
5. My child makes my heart breathless,
My beloved child wanders from his home,
He is a child of many hearts;
But let our two hearts be united into one
And be the ocean tide my tears
10. Thy heart with my heart in the dear embrace.
Sleep I cannot through my painful grief
In the dark morning went the fleet
To Nuia and Uea of the whistling winds
But my child had drifted far away to Samoa,
15. And they say he is playing at Foga'a.
O! that he were like the lily-flower
Whose fragrance on the ocean borne
Delights the passing voyager,
Long time have I been in Samoa.
See the morning cloud arises
20. Where in that crimson cloud
Is Oneata's lovely bay.


Following his translation Hardie has set down in his diary a series of brief notes which are of great interest both for the ethnographical information they contain, and the evidence which they give of the context and function of the “Solo a Fitimaupologa”—and of fa'aali'i, in general. Here then are Hardie's notes: - 309

The poetry of this song is exceedingly beautiful in the original. It was sung by the chiefs only and not permitted to the common people. There are many songs of this kind in the Samoan. They are called fa'aali'i, or royal, as they refer to subjects connected with the traditional history of the royal family—or families. While the chief sang the words, he played also on a wooden instrument of the same name, fa'aali'i, which produced a sharp shrill sound. The chiefs only, played on this instrument, and it was considered the most excellent music the natives possessed. It was formed of a long piece of sonorous wood split lengthwise and fastened at the ends with cinet. Small sticks were used to strike out the sounds, and during the intervals between the tunes, the performers twirled them in various directions about their persons, and to do it well was considered a great accomplishment. 11
Sanalālā. The literal meaning of this name is the Waiting Lizard, because, when exposed alone upon an island this animal is said to have waited upon him. This person was drifted from Tonga to Samoa, and married into the royal family of those islands, and from this circumstance is derived their alliance with the Tongese.
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Oneata. The bay of Oneata lies on the south side of Upolu where the Sanalālā lived. It is one of the capital towns in the political division of the island.
Nuia and Uea. These are two small islands lying half-way between the Friendly and Navigators' Islands. (Uea is Wallis Island; Nuia is Keppel's Island on the charts). The native voyagers sight them or touch at them in their canoes on their passage to and fro. They are inhabited by a race similar to the Tongese, but though speaking the same language, are under a separate government. Tonga may be about 200 miles distant from Nuia, and has embraced Christianity, Uea is now of the Roman Catholic religion.
Foga'a. Foga'a was the royal residence of Malietoa Faiga, or the Great, where he held his court. It is situated on the north side of Upolu, in Le Tuamasaga, the middle political division of the island.
Playing or Musa. This means literally hopping, and denotes a game brought by the father of Sanalālā to Tonga. When standing on the brink of the river in Api, his father, Samoagalo, saw the curlew hopping along the sand, and imitated it, and thus invented the game. Fitimaupologa alluded to the circumstance in the song.
The Lily, or Tiale. In the evening after the sea breeze dies away a delightful air blows off the land and wafts to sea, some distance beyond the reef, the perfumes of the flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs. The balmy odour inhaled by the passing voyagers in their canoes is extremely agreeable. This reminds one of Sir William Jone's description of the fragrant gale of Araby the blest: Milton's Paradise Lost, Book IV:
“As when to them who sail
Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow
Sabean odours from the spicy shore
Of Araby the Blest.”
The words in the original are highly poetical, and when sung with a plaintive cadence are extremely affecting.
Line 18. This line appears to be uttered by the son who had been a long time at Samoa, and pathetically intimates his desire to return to his native land. The transition from the sentiments delivered by the mother to the wish expressed by her son is strongly poetical.


Another version of the lament of Fitimaupologa was recorded in 1905 by J. E. Newell, as one of a series of translations from the MSS. of the Rev. George Pratt. It appeared in O le Sulu Samoa—a monthly paper, in the vernacular published by the London Missionary Society, at Malua, in - 311 Western Samoa. Pratt, who became the greatest of all scholars of the Samoan language, arrived in Samoa from Tahiti in 1839. He spent almost the whole of his forty years in Samoa, at Matautu, on the north coast of Savai'i. His outstanding contribution to Polynesian studies was his Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, which first appeared in 1862, but he also collected and published a certain amount of Samoan folk-lore. The version of the “Solo a Fitimaupologa” recorded by Newell in 1905, was taken from Pratt's MSS. collection—after his death. There is no clear indication exactly when Pratt set down his version of the lament, but there is strong evidence that he obtained it from Samuel Wilson himself. Pratt arrived in Samoa in the Camden on October 26th, 1839, about a month before Samuel Wilson's departure. Pratt was certainly acquainted with Wilson; for he mentions (16, p. 447 seq.) that he obtained from Wilson the legend “A Genealogy of the Sun” which was published by the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1889. At the head of Newell's translation of the “Solo a Fitimaupologa,” there appears a brief explanatory note which Newell attributes to, “the late Mr. S. Wilson, of Safotu.” There can be little doubt that this refers to Samuel Wilson himself, for in a letter dated Matautu, April 1st, 1840 (MSS. 4), Pratt criticizes Wilson's conduct among the natives of Safune—a village only a few miles to the west of Safotu. It seems probable, therefore, that towards the end of his stay in Samoa, Samuel Wilson was for a time living on the north coast of Savai'i, somewhere in the vicinity of Safotu and Safune. If the note published by Newell, is thus attributed to Samuel Wilson, it would follow that the Samoan text of the “Solo” in his too. The fact of Wilson's interest in Sanalālā (which is demonstrated by Wilson's version of legend which comprises the first part of the present paper) is additional evidence for this hypothesis.

If my hypothesis is accepted, it means that the text printed below is valuable as another version of the “Solo a Fitimaupologa” recorded at an extremely early period (i.e., during, or before 1839).

The Rev. J. E. Newell, whose translation and notes follow the Samoan text, arrived in Samoa in 1881, and worked there for the thirty years before his death while on - 312 furlough in Germany in 1910. Newell was a very able scholar of the Samoan language, and edited the fourth edition of Pratt's Grammar and Dictionary.

Set out below then, is the Samoan text from Pratt's MSS. collection, followed by Newell's translation and notes:

1. O le ata lo 'ua sa tafa,
O i gafea o le ata?
O le faga Oneata
O le faga o i ai lau tama.
5. O la'u tama se fa'amole-manava,
O la'u tama loto māsei, loto lasi;
Liua ni loto ia gatasi,
Na le tai ou te loimata ai
La'u tama se fa'afiti tăma'i.
10. Lou loto ma lo'u loto ma lou afa tuai
Ou te le moe i lou mamasi
Na usu po togafiti i Niua
Ma Uea mamapu e le matagi
O lau tama na sili i Samoa.
15. Na tala mai na musa i Foga'a
O ni tiale e fa'atatea i vasa
I ave e fa'asilafa'i.
Ua loa lava lota loto ia Samoa nei
O le ata lo 'ua sa tafa.
20. O i gafea o le ata?
O le faga Oneata;
O le faga o i ai lau tama.


“Fitimaupologa was a chieftaincss of Tonga. Her son was driven out to sea in his canoe, and reached Samoa. One morning she noticed at the break of day a cloud which reminded her of her son, and caused her to compose this song to his memory.” (Note by the late Mr. S. Wilson of Safotu.)

1. The day dawn cloud which I saw, is breaking!
Whereabouts is the emblem (ata) (of my son)?
There in Oneata bay,
There in the bay is your son.
5 My boy, for whom one languishes,
My child of the ungrateful heart, many hearted;
Let the hearts be changed and become united,
And let the ocean tide be my tears
For my child, one rejects the bad tidings.
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10. My heart, thy heart, and thy old sinnet (fastenings),
I cannot sleep for the grief that thou has caused,
I started at dawn to seek remedies in Niua
And Uea, but the wind checked (my attempt).
Your child has been sought in Samoa.
15. The story was told that he frolics in Foga'a,
Gardenia flowers strewn on the ocean
Take these to direct you.
Long has my heart been in Samoa here.
The day dawn cloud which I saw, is breaking!
20. Whereabouts is the emblem (ata) (of my son)?
There in Oneata bay,
There in the bay is your son.


Line 1. Like many other solos, this one is difficult to translate on account of the frequent and perplexing ellipses. One such occurs here in the verse which becomes the refrain of the Solo. Most probably we have here the three principal verbal particles of the language, lo—lo'o; 'ua (perfect tense); sa (definite past tense). If that is correct then the verb “tafa” should be thrice rendered: “See! the dawn of day is breaking, has broken, (which I saw) had broken!” (The rosy morning cloud which broke when my boy went out to sea, breaks forth now, has grown into the form I remember so well that fateful morning.)
Line 2. I am disposed to think there is a play on words in this line, and that the lady looks upon the cloud as the emblem of her son; and also that this song gave rise to the name of the bay, “Oneata” just as the party that drifted from Atafumea gave the name to the tulafale “Tuiatafu” and “Auimatagi.”
Line 4. I have not felt justified in amending the text, but possibly we ought to have “la'u tama” in this line.
Line 9. “Fa'afiti tăma'i,” the accent on tăma'i” is my own. It quite likely should be tăma'i, especially as the next line may contain an allusion to the lashings of the boy's canoe, and the allusion may be to disaster.
Line 10. “Lou afa tuai” may be a reference to the anchor of the canoe which broke and the boy drifted out to sea.
Line 16. The tiale is the pua flower which easily floats on the water.
Line 17. “Ia ave” for “in ave e fai ma fa'asilafa'i.”

A comparison of the two Samoan texts—that of Hardie, and that of Wilson—shows that there are fourteen minor variations; variations mostly in prepositions and pronouns. Varying use of the personal pronouns lo'u (my), and lou (your) in the texts has given rise to several important differences in the two translations (cf., line 10 and 11 in - 314 each version). There is, however, a good correspondence between the two Samoan texts, especially when it is remembered that they are separate versions—recorded independently both in place and time, of a purely verbal tradition. Their chief value is in clearly establishing the structure of an ancient Samoan song form—a form furthermore, the context and function of which is plainly indicated in Hardie's notes. It is, for example, valuable to know that there was a specific song form—the fa'aali'i—devoted to the traditional histories of the foremost maximal lineages of ancient Samoa, and that the performance of these fa'aali'i was strictly limited to those of chiefly rank.


From an ethnographical point of view, one of the most interesting aspects of the material recorded by Wilson and Hardie, is the additional evidence which it affords of the extent and nature of the intercourse between Tonga and Samoa in pre-European times. Sanalālā. (according to tradition) was the son of Samoagalo, a Samoan, and Fitimaupologa—a Tongan “chieftainess”; and Sanalālā's grandson, Tui A'ana Tamālelagi married Vaetoeifaga, a daughter of the Tui Tonga, and their child Salamasina, became recognized as the first tafa'ifd of the Samoan islands. In his translation, Wilson mentions that Fitimaupologa had voyaged to Samoa with a large party of Tongans, “in search of a husband for herself among its chiefs.” This and other evidence, 12 suggests that intermarriage between the chiefly lineages of Samoa and Tonga was no rare occurrence—and probably even a recognized institution in ancient times.

Hardie's notes on the “Solo a Fitimaupologa,” contain valuable information as to the course followed by the double sailing canoes of former times in their voyages between Tonga and Samoa. During the early years of Hardie's residence in Samoa frequent voyages were made to Samoa by Tongan canoes, 13 and Hardie had full opportunity to - 315 become acquainted with the route they followed. 14 We may, therefore, accept as reliable Hardie's statement that the native voyagers were in the habit of calling at Niuatopu-topu, or Keppel's island (lat. 15° 57′ S.; long. 173° 48′ W.), and Uvea, or Wallis island (lat. 13 19' S.; long. 176° 10′ W.), a fact of significance for the proper understanding of Western Polynesia as a culture-area.

The recorded history of Fonuafo'au, or Falcon island is remarkable. In 1867 H.M.S. Falcon reported a shoal in about lat. 20° 20′ S., long. 175° 20′ W., in the Tongan group. In 1877 smoke was reported by H.M.S. Sappho to be rising from the sea at this spot. In 1885 a volcanic island rose from the sea there, as the result of a submarine eruption on October 14th, and was reported by the Janet Nichol, a passing steamer, to be 2 miles long and about 250 feet high. In the following year the U.S.S. Mohican passed it, and then its length was calculated to be 1.4 miles and its height 165 feet. In 1887 a French man-of-war reported its height to be 290 feet. In 1889, a thorough examination was made by H.M. Surveying-ship Egeria and the island was then 1.1 miles long, 0.9 miles wide, and 153 feet high. In 1890 the island was being rapidly reduced by the sea. In December, 1894, the island was about 1¼ miles in diameter, and about 50 feet high at the southern end. In 1898 the island was reported as being only a reef, barely awash. In 1900 it had re-emerged slightly as a black hump protruding some 9 feet above the waves, but by 1913 it was reported to have disappeared altogether. In 1921 when the site was visited by H.M.S. Veronica, there was discoloured water, with a very heavy swell and a continuous break at the south-west corner. On October 4th, 1927, the island was reported to be erupting again, and when observed three days later it was 1, 730 yards long north and south, 1, 430 yards broad east and west, and 305 feet high. In May, 1928, the island was annexed by the Government of Tonga, and was then roughly circular, about 2 miles across, and 365 feet high at its greatest elevation. In October, 1928, it was reported to be about 405 feet high, and in October, 1930, to be about 475 feet high. In 1936 its maximum height was only about 200 feet. In 1938 the volcanic activity had apparently subsided, and the island was about 1½ miles long, rather fiat, and only about 30 feet high. In November, 1940, its maximum height was estimated as 20-30 feet. Falcon is not the only volcanic island in the Tongan group. Others include Tofua to the north of Falcon island, and Late. To the north-east of Tofua, lies the Metis shoal, which appears once to have emerged from the sea in the same manner as Falcon island. An islet 29 feet high was reported there by the Metis in 1875, and when passed by the H.M.S. Sappho in 1878 it was about 200 yards long and 110 feet high, volanic action having added to its size; quantities of white smoke were being emitted - 316 from it. It is said to have been still active in 1886, and in 1890 its height was given as 151 feet. But in 1898 it had a depth of two fathoms over it. Niuafo'ou, lying 211 miles to the north-west of Vava'u is also volcanic. Eruptions within historic times have taken place there about 1840, and in 1853, 1867, 1886, 1912, 1929, 1935 and 1943.


I am indebted to the Trustees of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia, and to the Directors of the London Missionary Society, Livingstone House, London, for permission to reproduce excerpts from the MSS. listed below; and I should like to express my thanks to the library staffs of both of these institutions for the manner in which they have facilitated my research work.

  • 1. HARDIE, (REV.) CHARLES—Diary, MSS. A368, Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.
  • 2. HARDIE (REV.) CHARLES—Letters, London Missionary Society, Livingstone House, London.
  • 3. PLATT, (REV.) GEORGE—Journal, London Missionary Society, Livingstone House, London.
  • 4. PRATT (REV.) GEORGE—Letters, London Missionary Society, Livingstone House, London.
  • 5. WILSON, SAMUEL, —Letters, London Missionary Society, Livingstone House, London.
  • 6. WILSON, SAMUEL—Papers, MSS. A383, Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia.
  • 7. BUCK, PETER—“Samoan Material Culture.” B.P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, 75. Honolulu, Hawaii, 1930.
  • 8. BULOW, WILHELM VON—“Die Samoanische Schopfungesage,” International Archives für Ethnographie, Vol. 12, p. 144 seq., 1899.
  • 9. COLLOCOTT, E. E. V.—“An Experiment in Tongan History.” J.P.S., Vol. 33, pp. 166-184, 1924.
  • 10. ELLA (REV.) SAMUEL—“The War of Tonga and Samoa, and the Origin of the Name Malietoa.” J.P.S., Vol. 8, pp. 231-234, 1899.
  • 11. GIFFORD, E. W.—“Tongan Society.” B.P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, 61. Honolulu, Hawaii, 1929.
  • 12. KRAMER, AUGUSTIN—Die Samoa-Inseln. Stuttgart, 1901.
  • 13. MURRAY (REV.) A. W.—The Bible in the Pacific. London, 1888.
  • 14. NELSON, A. F.—“Legends of Samoa.” J.P.S., Vol. 34, pp. 124-145, 1925.
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  • 15. Pacific Island Pilot. 7th edition, Admiralty. London, 1943.
  • 16. PRATT (Rev.) George—“The Genealogy of the Sun—a Samoan Legend.” Report, Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. 1, pp. 447-63, 1889.
  • 17. PRATT (REV.) GEORGE—Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language. Malua, Samoa, 1911.
  • 18. STAIR (REV.) J.B.—Old Samoa, or Flotsam and Jetsam from the Pacific Ocean. London, 1897.
  • 19. WILKES, CHARLES—Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the Years 1838-1842. London, 1845.
1   Sa is a particle, signifying the lineage of, as Sa Malietoa, or Sa Tui Atua, etc.
2   cf., von Bulow, Collocott, Ella, Glifford, Kramer, Percy Smith, Stubel and Tregear.
3   Levalasi was also known as So'oa'elelagi.
4   This meant in effect the support of the powerful maximal lineage —Sa Tonumaipe'a of Savai'i.
5   For the origin of this name see Kramer (12, p. 254).
6   During the later half of the 19th century, the tafa'ifā became a subject of international importance. Germany, the United States, and Great Britain all became deeply involved in the internal politics of the Samoan Islands—and by supporting for varying reasons the rival claimants to the “kingship,” were drawn into serious dispute. The tafa'ifā was finally abolished by the German Government following the Tripartite Convention of 1899.
7   Sydney, N.S.W., Australia,
8   Platt's account of these two journeys in his manuscript journal (MSS. 3) contains much demographic data of first rate importance.
9   Pratt (16, p. 447) states, that he obtained the Samoan legend “The Genealogy of the Sun,” from Mr. Wilson, “who lived among the natives, and as a native got it from them.” Pratt thought Wilson had obtained this legend about the year 1835.
10   Varients of the tradition of Sanalālā are given bv Nelson (14, pp. 139-142) and Kramer (12, p. 253.).
11   This description by Hardie of the fa'aali'i, or wooded gong, effectively settles a minor point of contention concerning Samoan musical instruments. Stair (18, p. 135) writes: “O le nafa, the Samoan drum, or, as it was called, o le fa'aalii, was formed by hollowing out a part of a log, leaving a narrow longitudinal mouth. It is now rarely seen, but is closely copied in the logo, an instrument derived from Tonga, excepting that the Tongan instrument is longer. When beaten, the nafa was struck with two short sticks, the drum itself being laid on its side and bedded upon coconut-leaf mats, by which means contact with the ground was prevented, and a better sound produced. Formerly the use of the nafa was restricted to seven families, viz., those of Malietoa, Ama, Ale, Asi-o-lagi, Mata-afa, Lilomaiava, and Sa Peā.”
However, Buck (7, p. 557 seq.), in discussing the Samoan gong, states that no example of the nafa was seen during the time he was in Samoa in 1927, and difficulty was found in deciding whether the nafa was a true Samoan form. In referring to Stair's account, quoted above, Buck remarks that Stair “gives fa'aalii, as another name for nafa, but that the word should be fa'aali'i, which simply means to honour as a chief, and thus designated the purpose of the instrument and not the instrument itself.”
Buck is correct in drawing attention to Stair's omission of the glottal stop, or “break,” but it would seem clear, however, that fa'aali'i was an actual name of the instrument under discussion. Pratt (17, p. 72) also gives: fa'aali'i—a wooden drum, and quotes as an example, “Pe ni fa'aali'i tata?” (“Are those drums that are being played upon?”). Considering the evidence of Hardie, Pratt and Stair—all of whom arrived in Samoa before 1840, there would appear to be little doubt that the fa'aali'i was a genuine form of Samoan musical instrument.
12   cf., Collocott (9, p. 180 seq.); Gifford () etc.
13   I have been able to document fully this point from the MSS. journals and letters held by the London Missionary Society at Livingstone House, London. In a future paper I am planning to discuss at length such accounts as I have been able to collect of early canoe voyages in Western Polynesia.
14   The mention in Wilson's account of “a floating island called Ape,” is of interest. Despite the lack of any direct evidence, one is tempted to link this mythological belief with geographical fact. Is it perhaps possible that this tradition of “a floating island” somewhere between Samoa and Tonga, is a commemoration in folk-lore of Falcon Island, or the Metis Shoal—or some other such subaerial volcanic island of the area?