The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Two South Pacific Folk-Tales


MR. LORIMER-FISON, who is well known to students of anthropology, and is joint author with Mr. Howitt of Kamilaroi and Kurnai, and has lived many years in Fiji, has kindly sent me two folk-tales which he obtained from the natives, and which he considers as bearing some resemblance to our favourite nursery stories of "Jack and the Giants" and "Jack and the Bean-stalk"; be this as it may, they will prove both interesting and useful to story-comparers:

"The hero of the first tale was the son of a Tongan chief by one of his inferior wives. During a sea voyage a sudden whirlwind carried away the mast and sail of the canoe, and the chief ordered his crew to paddle back to land. After paddling nearly all day they became exhausted, and could do no more. The chief ordered the future hero's mother to be killed for them to eat; but she jumped overboard with her infant, and came up between the canoe and the outrigger, where she was concealed by the deck, supporting herself on the steering-oar, which had dropped into the sea in the confusion caused by her escape. Here she remained till darkness set in, and then floated quietly away, holding her child on the blade of the steer-oar. The great sea-birds swooped down upon them as they drifted, and, in spite of all her efforts, one of them struck the child and tore out one of his eyes. Hence he was afterwards known by the name of Matandua, "The One-eyed." They drifted to the island of Fiji, where they were found on the beach by an old man. The poor mother was lying dead on the sand, holding the living child to her bosom. The old man took Matandua home to his wife, and they brought him up as their own son. When he came to manhood they told him his history so far as they knew it, and his mother appeared to him in a dream, confirming the tale, and directing him to return to Tonga. So he set sail in a small canoe, and his mother flew before him in the shape of a little green bird, showing him the course. When he reached Tonga, he found that an enormous giant had killed most of the men, and taken for his own purposes all the women who were worth appropriating. The green bird led Matandua to the place in the forest where the few survivors had concealed themselves, and he found them in wretched case, afraid to stir abroad in quest of food because of the giant. Matandua at once set out to destroy the monster, to whom warning had been given of his approach by a great bat, which was the giant's familiar. The giant issued forth, and the fight began. Matandua's mother had revealed to him in a dream that the giant was only vulnerable in one part of his body, namely, behind his knee. Matandua struck him there, avoiding his return blows by nimble movements, until at last the giant fell; whereupon the women came out and helped to strangle him with a long rope. Thus Tonga was delivered, and Matandua, being the only survivor of the chief's lineage, became the chief of the land.

"The Bean-stalk legend is still clearer: A Tongan lady granted her love to Tui Langi (King of the Sky), and had a son by him. When the child grew up into boyhood, the other boys reproached him for being 'without a father.' He went weeping to his mother, who comforted him by the story of his birth. When he heard this he set out in search of his father. At night he stuck his walking-stick of noko-noko (casuarina) into the sand, and lay down to sleep beside it. When he awoke in the early dawn he found it grown into a tree, the upper branches of which penetrated into the sky. He climbed the tree up to Langi, where he found his father, to whom he introduced himself as his son. Afterwards he came down again at Kandavu, in Fiji, by what means the legend does not say; but it is noteworthy that he appeared there in company with two men, 'whose faces were white.' It is possible that this may be a reminiscence of the arrival at Kandavu of two escaped convicts from Norfolk Island, who might have picked up some vagabond Tongan on the way. Supposing them to have been wrecked on the Kandavu reef, the Tongan might have concocted the tale of the Sky King to save himself from the usual fate of those whom the gods gave to the Fijians from the sea.

"This Fijian Jack was called at first Rávu rávu mai lángi ("The Slayer from the Sky"), a name which he earned by attacking the local gods and killing them by one blow of his fist. He went from island to island, thus establishing his superiority, until he settled at Lakemba, in East Fiji, having previously married Audi Máta kámi kamitha, the daughter of Ndengei, the great serpent-god of the Kauvandra, Navitilevu. His son was called Táliaitupóu, whom he made chief in his stead after some years, and then returned to Langi and took the chieftainship there.

"These myths are not purely Fijian. Lukemba, where I got them, is strongly tinged with Tongan colours, and that part of the group is a sort of hybrid Polynesian, instead of Melanesian, as is Fiji proper. It would therefore be erroneous to give the legends as Fijian. I may add that, even if my suggestion as to the coming of Rávu to Kandavu be correct, the fact that he 'concocted' the legend would not mean that be invented it: that is not at all likely. But if he knew of a similar myth in his native land, it is likely enough that he might adapt it to his own case, and make himself the hero of it."

I have not leisure at present to offer any comments upon these two Fijian folk-tales, farther than to observe that in the first the hero's successful encounter with the giant belongs rather to the St. George-and-the-Dragon cycle than to the northern legends from which our nursery tale of the renowned Jack was derived, while the single vulnerable spot in the giant's body at once recalls that of Achilles; and that the second tale is undoubtedly near akin to European stories of the wonderful bean-stalk.

Mr. Fison mentions in conclusion that the Fijians have also the Deluge legend; a curious tradition called "The Beginning of the Pigs," being an account of how pigs first came to Fiji; another, of the exchange of mosquitoes for kekeo (edible shell-fish); another, entitled "The Beginning of Death," in which occur a Speaking Tree and a Fountain of Life (but this, he remarks, is evidently from Tonga); a legend of the Island of the Blest, which vanishes as mortals approach it; and many other myths, legends, and traditions which are exceedingly interesting. It is to be hoped that Mr. Fison will ere long publish his collection of Fijian folk-tales, which could hardly fail to prove both valuable to students and entertaining to ordinary readers.