At one point in Mangareva in the reign of a king named Ohokehu there was a tribe named the Ati-Kura that were attacked by enemies. A woman from the Ati-Kura with her newborn son were captured by the enemies who were about to kill both the mother and her infant. At the last moment the mother cried out a lie to her assassins, “I am an Ati-Kura and I shall die, but my baby’s father is not my husband! His father is from your tribe.” The enemies believed the lie. They took the infant to care for him and they killed the mother.
In Polynesia there are certain themes that are repeated over and over. I can think of four stories about how Maui stole fire from his ancestor. I can count four stories about lost sons who claim the rights of their father. Four stories about how Kae rode on a whale and then killed the whale. Five stories about treachery. Two stories about mothers who try to eat their children. Three stories about mothers who cut themselves open to deliver their babies – and then die. Seven stories about brothers or cousins who fought. Two stories about Maui snaring the sun, three stories about Maui fishing up the land.
But there is one theme that is repeated over and over and over. That theme is about people who die to save another. It is hard for me to count how many of these stories that I have heard of. I tell you its too many.
A lot of times I am sad when I think of these things. But I am also happy too, in a way. It is something that is worth knowing. I think that any Polynesian must have a few people among their ancestors who did very great and tragic things so that their families would survive. We can honor the great things that they did just by knowing that they did it. If we are going to list the things that Polynesian children should be taught I would say that they must be taught about the sacrifices that their ancestors made. That should come first of all.
Revised: March 26, 1997
Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff