Niukapu

Niukapu

During the time of King Taufaahau there was a chief in Tonga named Niukapu. For some reason Taufaahau wanted to kill Niukapu. The only way that Niukapu could save himself was to flee to a fale hufanga, a sanctuary house. These houses were actually temples that were dedicated to gods. Because of the sacredness of these houses one could not simply go into the house to capture a fugitive who was staying in that house.

Niukapu first fled to two fale hufangas that ‘leaked’, that is, the houses were not sacred enough that Niukapu felt certain that no one would enter to kill him. So Niukapu fled those two houses and tried to go to the fale hufanga of a god named Taufa-i-tahi. This house was more sacred than the first two because it was dedicated to a god that Taufaahau had a certain respect or love for.

Because Taufaahau knew that Niukapu was going to try to enter the fale hufanga of Taufa-i-tahi he sent guards to stand outside the house and wait for the arrival of Niukapu. When Niukapu came he saw the guards waiting for him. This is what Niukapu did, he picked up some firewood and boldly walked up to the guards. They saw him coming with a load of firewood and assumed that he must be a servant and they let him enter.

Once inside he was safe, but Taufaahau still tried to get him. The fale hufanga was maintained by a priest named Kautai who served the god Taufa-i-tahi. Naturally Kautai wanted the fale hufanga to remain sacred and that meant that Niukapu should also remain safe.

Because Taufaahau still wanted the life of Niukapu he sent offerings to the fale hufanga. The first offering was someone’s finger that had been cut off. When Kautai the priest saw the finger he cut off someone else’s finger and sent that back to Taufaahau as a counter-offering. Next Taufaahau had someone killed and the body was sent to Kautai the priest. When Kautai saw this he wept because he knew that he had to give Kautai to Taufaahau. This is because he could not come up with a counter-offering that would be greater than Taufaahau’s offering.

The daughter of Kautai came forward and said, “Niukapu does not have to die. Kill me and I will be the counter offering.” She was immediately killed and her body was sent to Taufaahau as a counter offering. When Taufaahau saw her body he gave up trying to get Niukapu because he knew that he could not come up with an offering greater than the daughter of Kautai because she was the very life of Kautai.

From then on Niukapu was safe to go without being harmed. He thanked Kautai and told Kautai, “I have koloa (treasures; mats, clothing, etc.). Tell me what you want and I will give it to you.” Kautai said, “I do not want your koloa. But let me drink your kava.”

The descendants of Niukapu have a place in the kava circle. When the kava is served to them, the descendants of Kautai have the right to come forward and drink the kava of Niukapu.

I see two messages in these stories. A man’s power is sometimes because of the women that he associates with. In the case of Kautai, it was his daughter. For others it is because of their mother, their sisters, their wives or their aunts. Any man who is disrespectful to women is disrespectful to his own power.

The second message is that the descendants of Kautai have a great honor because they have the right to drink the kava of Niukapu. They have done nothing to obtain this honor, other than to have been born as descendants of Kautai. We are like them, we have rights, honors and heritages that have come down to us from our ancestors, palangi or Polynesian. But these rights, honors and heritages are not really ours, we have to go and earn them for ourselves. We have to show by the goodness of our lives that we have a right to this mana (power).

Reference:
Winslow, Edward Gifford, Tongan Society

Revised: February 22, 1996

Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff