Folau ʻa Kae/en

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The story cycle around Kae and Sinilau is a well known entity in Polynesian mythology, found back on several places (see notes). This article describes the Tongan version, of which the main source is an old poem (Ko e folau ʻa Kae – The voyage of Kae) published in 1876, and some other, incomplete manuscripts.

Kae is the Tongan version of the Sāmoan word ʻae, meaning "shit", of which not only a heap features in the story, but its use also made directly clear to the native listeners that Kae is the anti-hero in the epos.

The third player Longopoa in this respect is an outsider.

Loʻau[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

It started all with Loʻau from Haʻamea, one of the many Loʻau known in Tongan history. He ran a famous navigation school on an artificial lake (lepa) near Fualu,[1] and his boat was either a tongiaki (an old sailing boat of Tongan design) or a kalia (a better, more modern design originating from Fiji).

One day Loʻau got tired of people taunting him all the time when he would go for a real trip. So he had his big canoe dragged to the sea and told his matāpule Kae and Longopoa, to accompany him to some nearby islands. So they went. But when they passed Haʻapai, Loʻau told to 'sail on past the shore'. The same thing happened at Vavaʻu and then Niuatoputapu, and then Sāmoa, and then Niuafoʻou, and then ʻUvea, and then Futuna.[2] No one knew that Loʻau had already decided silently from the beginning to go beyond the horizon and not to return. He wanted to go to the land of the talking puko trees, probably Pulotu.

The ship steered on downwards (i.e. south or west in Tongan navigation sense). They came at a white sea; they came at a floating pumice sea; they came at a slimy sea.[3] Then they reached the horizon at the end of the sky. There is a hole in the sky and a great whirlpool in the ocean, because of the waters going in when there is ebb in Tonga, and coming out at flood. There was also a reef with a pandanus tree and a large rock. The mast of the ship got stuck in the branches of the tree and was to be freed. It was done with a push, and that push caused the ship either to disappear in the whirlpool or through the opening in the sky, lost in space, never to be seen back anymore.

Kae and Longopoa did not await this happening. They had agreed to desert this foolish trip and they made it back to the reef, Kae clinging to the tree, and Longopoa to the stone.

Kae[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

When it got dark and the flood current came out again, Kae suggested Longopoa that they better found a way to escape from the island, everybody for himself. He plunged in the sea and swam away. At midnight he landed on a sandy island; (other sources tell: many days later). He saw 8 dead whales on the shores and hundreds on neiufi fish, or (according to others) less whales but 2 huge man eating sharks, luckily also dead. It was the lair of the kanivatu a giant bird (like the roc), which was known to be a man eater too. Kae wisely hid for the night between two of the whales. The bird returned to his nest in the morning. When it was preening its feathers, Kae emerged and clung to one of its legs (or the feathers of its breast according to some, or of its wing according to some). At midday the bird flew away over the ocean, with his passenger, and when Kae saw they were over land, he let go. The place were he landed was on the coralsand beach of ʻAkana (Aʻana in Sāmoan), the western part of ʻUpolu. He was friendly received by the high chief of the area, Sinilau, who gave him status, more than he ever had gotten in Tonga, but not enough to enter the kava circle.[4] So Kae stayed in Sāmoa for some time. But then he was seized by a longing for Tonga to tell about all the wonderful things he had seen, and he announced to Sinilau that he wanted to go. Sinilau agreed and presented him with a farewell gift. He would be allowed to ride on the back of his twin whales.

Tonga and Tununga[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

Sinilau's aunt[5] had a daughter who one day ate a piece of whalemeat, which was leftover in the house. She got pregnant and bore a twin, who were named Tonga and Tununga-tofuaʻa (tofuaʻa whale).[6] They were whales. Sinilau spoke: "Go well Kae, just tell the whales whereto to go. But leave them in deep water at the weathercoast. And when you have reached your home, before you go to your relatives, prepare a bunch of coconuts, scented oil, some unpainted tapa and a floormat, give it to them to return to me." Which was a very modest request, and Kae agreed.

Kae had the trip of his life. Too soon he was back at Tongatapu, at Poloʻa, where the tidal flats start, and it was just low tide. He left the whales in shallow water a speeded to Haʻamea. He told his relatives what had happened, and then shouted out to all his friends from Fatai and Matafonua and Lakepa and so on, that they came with knives and spears and axes to slaughter those whales on the beach. Tununga was killed, cut in pieces, the meat was distributed to all the chiefs of the different districts, and eaten by the people of the whole island. But Tonga was able to escape. A depression in the middle of the tidal flats, a fishing pool is still visible as a result of its struggle to get away.

Sinilau's revenge[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

Sinilau was extremily displeased about Kae's behaviour, when Tonga told him what had happened, after he had arrived at ʻAkana; with his back full with spears, and without the promised items. Sinilau called all the gods of Sāmoa to a council and ordered them to assemble at both Hunga Haʻapai and Hunga Tonga. There they would have to cut coconut tree leaves to plait some baskets out of it.[7] "Then tonight go around", Sinilau said, "and collect the dung of all the people who partook in the meal. From Muifonua to ʻEua to Fangaleʻounga to Hihifo district (Tongatapu) to Nāpua.[8] Finally put Kae on top of the shit and bring everything back to me." So it was done, and Kae was brought into Sinilau's boatshed, he even did not wake up.

Night was awaiting the dawn, a rooster crowed. "That stupid rooster", Kae mumbled half asleep, "he just crows like Sinilau's rooster. At daylight I shall kill it and eat it." He thought he was still at home on Tongatapu. But when daylight had come he saw that he was there no longer but in a certain boatshed in Sāmoa. And a stern Sinilau with a royal turban on his head sat at the entrance. Kae had nothing to say.

Sinilau threw him out, to the waiting gods, who fell on him and ate him. Although others say that Sinialu threw him in a pre-dug grave, noting that Kae was not worth more, once a commoner, always a commoner.

Meanwhile a big kava bowl was brought and all the parts and shit the gods had collected in Tonga was thrown in, and see after having left it to itself for a while, suddenly Tunungatofuaʻa came back to life. He was only missing one tooth, as the Tongans had brought that[9] as a gift to the Tuʻi Tonga in Muʻa, which had made it even for the gods untouchable. Sinilau suggested that Tununga should not try to smile too much.

Longopoa[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

Meanwhile we still have Longopoa left behind on his rock at the end of the world. Once Kae had left his pandanus tree, the other hesitated a while, but then finally he swam away too. He reached a small deserted island where only a puko tree grew. But it was a magic tree, it talked. And when Longopoa cried that he was hungry, the tree instructed him to make and light a ʻumu, and then to break off one of its branches and to roast it. When at the end he opened the oven, see it was full with roasted pig, fowl, yams and so forth. He ate his belly full and slept.

But next day he cried again: he wanted to go back home, to Tonga. The tree then told him that tonight the gods would go fishing. He should ask them to let him go with them, and he would carry their bag for them. "Make a hole in the basket so that the fish drops out and it does not fill too swiftly. Because once the basket is full, the gods will stop. But if not, they will go on and on. And when you reach your home island, crow like a rooster so the gods will think the night is over. Now also break off another branch of me and take it with you. As soon as you come home and while it is still night, plant it. A young puko tree will grow out of it, and provide you and your people with food as I did yesterday. Do not go to see your relatives first, because if you plant this branch after the day has dawned, it will grow to just an ordinary tree."

So the friendly puko tree said, and so it happened. The gods fished and fished, and when they reached Sāmoa they were surprised to hear from their new carrier that the basket was not yet full. And at Niuatoputapu still not full. Next they reached Tonga. Longopoa jumped overboard, ran ashore and crowed like a rooster. The gods made themselves scarce. Overjubilant Longopoa directly went to see his family. Only when the new day had come he remembered the love of the puko tree. But then it was too late, the blessings were spoilt and the puko trees of nowadays produce no food whatsoever.

Notes[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

  1. This lake has now silted up, but parts of the depression can still be seen west of Fatai, towards Matangiake and Nafualu (where Siaʻatoutai theological college is); that is south of the tidal flats of Poloʻa in the Hihifo district on Tongatapu. Not to be confused with Fualu in Pea.
  2. These islands are towards the north. They are not on a straight track, but did (do) represent increasing far distances in the Tongan mind.
  3. Did Loʻau try to reach New Zealand, but was he drifting towards Antarctica, coming through snow, icebergs and a sea full of krill?
  4. Probably he got a matai title, but not a aliʻi, only a tūlafale and maybe even not that.
  5. mehekitanga
  6. Named Tonga and Sāmoa by other informants, Tonga being the one who would be killed.
  7. That was the first time this type of basket was made, the faka-hunga (in the Hunga way), and they are still used nowadays (for cleaner purposes).
  8. Quite much more than Haʻamea only.
  9. whaletooth ivory (lei) was in Tonga as valuable and royal as gold in Western culture.

Translations[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

The voyage of Kae[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

Vessel was built in Haʻamea,
hoisted sail inland and loaded;
the vessel that took cargo in a pool.
«This land is tiresome,
let each person prepare his own things
for us to voyage to the talking puko tree,
leave Tongatapu and run before the wind.»

Haʻapai was sighted,
Vavaʻu was sighted,
reported the navigators.
Shook the head Loʻau, «No,
the lies of the navigators,
let us take these friends,
and leave (them) at the horizon.»

And steered down their vessel,
and arrived at the white sea,
and the floating pumice sea,
and the slimy sea that was foretold.
«Stand to sea and ward off!
Why are you crying?
Is it not the treachery of the navigators
whereby we win all be lost!»

Turning place of voyagers is the great pandanus tree
there became entangled their mast.
Longopoa and Kae climbed;
They swarmed into its branches
and they pushed the vessel free.
It was lost through the sky opening
into the land of space.
That was the cause of the loss of the vessel.

Longopoa and Kae, two gods,
those two men were clever,
well done was their meditation. 
«Come, let us await the flooding tide,
and we two swim in it
each seeking a land of his own.»

Came up Kae from his swim,
landing at the island of Kanivatu,
sandy with no reef.
Aground were eight whales
and neiufi fish about a hundred.
«My murder, what a waste,
I may be caught by the bird Kanivatu.»

Slept Kae between two whales,
returned the bird from its fishing.
Lay under (it) Kae and laughed:
«Was there ever such a bird enormous
I wish that I might seize it for my token
to let Tonga know one thing.»

Preparing the break of dawn
preening and stretching,
preparing to fly, fluttering.
Kae holding on its breast,
fished the bird over mid-ocean,
While hanging the big man,
glancing down to the coral sand,
falling with a thud at ʻAkana.
And went to get his morning kava
with Sinilau, who befriended him,
and gave him social standing.
But Kae did not sit in the kava ring.

Fish of Sāmoa were fed,
the longoʻuli and the whale,
in a small muddy water hole which they unsettled.
(Whale) caught by Sāmoa and divided,
And brought was its shoulder
and hung in the house 1oft.
The adopted daughter of Sinilau's father's sister
swallowed it at a mouthful,
and wept away pregnant;
gave birth to twin (whales),
Tonga and Tununga-tofuaʻa.

Dwelt there Kae but wished to go,
and he asked Sinilau:
«To bring the twins alike
for me to ride on,
and I will tell Tongatapu,
that the yoke of Sinilau's
is wonderfully strong.»

Then spoke Sinilau,
«Tununga and Tonga, you go on an errand;
take Kae to Tongatapu
but remember to return for me.
Stand up and go.
Bring a bunch of coconuts and scented oil
and uncolored tapa and coconut mats,
and leave satiated for our voyage,
returning for me to come.»

Vavaʻu glided by;
Haʻapai glided by;
appeared Tongatapu at the prow:
«Tununga and Tonga, to the shallow water,
while I go to Haʻamea and tell
that I have come with the twins,
Tonga and Tununga-tofuaʻa.»

Landed Kae and kept shouting:
«Come all Haʻamea and see,
collect your weeding sticks,
bamboo lances, and come in a mass,
for us to drag out my vesse1.»

And escaped Tonga and told
sat Sinilau and greeted,
«Oh Tonga, where is Tununga?»
«Observe you my back;
it is thick with lances.
Were we two not chal1enged? 
And Tununga was overtaken,
but Tonga escaped because cunning.»

Sat Sinilau and complained:
«Sāmoa, collect the gods,
and assemble at Hunga and Hunga,
and plait a basket first,
the large double basket,
with handles threaded double,
made long fore and aft,
and call it a Hunga basket.»

«And you assemble at Land's End
and carry it and fi11 from ʻEua,
and fi11 at Fangaleʻounga,
and fi11 at all Hihifo,
and lastly fil1 at Napua,
and put Kae on the top.»
And then went the gods,
but forgot the (whale's) tooth at Muʻa.

«Sinilau, here we are;
we have brought this man,»
Stood at once (Sinilau) and gave thanks.
«Leave him there as you have brought him;
you go, but return in the early morning;
Wait till day, then we will inquire,
why he came to betray.»

Crowed the cocks-like old friends,
(Thought Kae,) «Cocks have voices like
the pair at Sinilau's.»
Then expressed a wish he was there,
whereas he was lying at (Sinilau's) boat shed.
At early morn he looked out,
and saw sitting there Sinilau with his turban.

(Said Sinilau,) «This petty chief is a fool,
especially after my telling him
lest my mother be sterile.
With all respect to Tongatapu,
Kae (is) a commoner from a swamped vessel.
Is dug his grave in the green.»
Then he was brought and sat with legs crossed,
while he was cursed.

Bring the trough and make clear (the water).
sat (up in it) Tununga and chirped
but he lacked one tooth.
«What is that to conceal!
I will arrange when at peace,
while Kae is seeking a body.»

The explanation[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

Loʻau was a chief who dwelt at Haʻamea, and he built a vessel to sail in his pool, that pool the depression of which can still be seen at Fatai. There was a lot of talk and derision by the people, because the vessel was not dragged to the sea. «Why sail it in at pool ?» And Loʻau told his people to prepare provisions to load for the voyage, to see the big talking puko tree, and all the wonderful things at Pulotu (the residence of the gods). And they did so; and when they sighted Haʻapai and Vavaʻu, the navigators advised that they call in, because the canoe was not suitable for a long voyage. But Loʻau would not listen, so they went on.

Loʻau refused, and they continued their voyage to the horizon. By-and-bye they reached the shallow sea, and came next the floating pumice-stone sea. After that they came to the place, which traditions say, was the slimy sea. There they lowered the sail, and jumped into the sea, and dragged the vessel, till they reached the big pandanus tree, that stood at the edge of the world. The mast got entangled in its branches, so the two men Kae and Longopoa jumped and clung to its branches. And the sky had a hole in it at this place, and when they gave the vessel a strong shove it glided through, and was lost with Loʻau and his friends.

Then the two men decided to swim, when the tide came in, each seeking his own land. This they did, and after many days Kae landed at an island, where dwelt the Kanivatu, an enormous bird, whose size was terrifying. The man was disheartened when he saw the state of the island, for aground were eight whales and countless neiufi (fish). It was not that that made him afraid, but he feared lest the Kanivatu should come, as it was a man-eater.

That night he slept between two whales, and when the Kanivatu came he hid under the whale, and though he was surprised at the size of the tremendous bird, he thought, and it appeared to him, that was the means for him to return to earth. So one day while the bird was fluttering to fly, he caught hold of its breast, but the bird took no notice of him; he felt to the bird just like a flea. Kae was taken about by the bird, but he held on, as it was midocean, but when he saw that they were near land he let go and he fell in Sāmoa, at the place called ʻAkana.

The chief of the place, Sinilau, was kind to him, and made him his friend. And had Kae wished to stay he would have been all right. But the man was restless to return to Tonga, to tell of all the wonderful things he had seen. There were two whales belonging to Sinilau, Tonga and Tunungatofuaʻa; they were twins, and though they were whales their mother was a relative of Sinilau's. Sinilau told the whales to come and take Kae to Tongatapu, and to return. And it was arranged that the people of Sāmoa were to bring presents, so that the man should not return empty handed, who had sojourned with Sinilau. So Kae got on the two fishes and voyaged to Tonga.

But Kae was not grateful for all of Sinilau's kindness. He decided to kill the two fishes. So he told them to go into the shallow water so that they would be aground, while he collected the people. Then they went down and speared them, and poor Tununga was killed, but Tonga was cautious and escaped. Then Kae commanded them to cut up the whale that was caught, and he divided it out to all the chiefs from the different districts, and they cooked and ate it.

By-and-bye Tonga reached Sāmoa, and Sinilau was surprised that he was by himself. Then Tonga told him of the treachery that had been done, and how his twin sibling was killed; and how he was nearly caught and his back was like a spear house. Sinilau was very angry, and assembled all the gods of Sāmoa, and he told them to go and plait baskets and collect all the excrement from the places where they had eaten Tununga, and to see that they brought back Kae. And they did so, and they found the man while asleep, and brought him and put him into the canoe shed of Sinilau's.

The cock crowed and awakened Kae, who said, «That sounds just like the voice of Sinilau's cock in Sāmoa,» which he had often heard, and then he wished he was in Sāmoa again; however, he was already there but he thought that he was in Tongatapu. When it was day Kae was very much surprised to see Sinilau sitting at the door of the canoe shed.

It was grievous the reproof he gave Kae for his ingratitude; and Kae was then brought to the graveyard. And all the people assembled on the green and cursed him, then killed him, and buried him. That was the end of Kae the ungrateful.

But that was not the end of the poor whale, that he deceived; because a big tub was brought and the pieces that were found were put into it, and suddenly poor Tununga squeaked, and was alive. But the annoying part was that one of his teeth was forgotten at Muʻa, because Kae had taken it to the Tuʻi Tonga; but Sinilau said it would be all right, and if he did not open his mouth too wide no one would know.

A variant[fatuʻi vahe | edit source]

And they sailed on and reached Niua, and still they went on, and sighted Sāmoa, and still they went on; and they sailed on, and on till they reached the white sea; and they sailed on, and reached the floating pumice-stone sea; and still they sailed on, and reached the slimy sea; they jumped into the sea and dragged the canoe, and cried. Then Loʻau said: «We will not stop our voyage. Why are you crying, is it not through your treachery, that we will be lost?»

And they voyaged on and on, till they reached the enormous pandanus tree, the turning place of all voyagers; and there their mast got entangled, and two men jumped from the canoe to the big pandanus tree, and pushed the canoe from the tree, which is said to have caused the canoe to enter the hole, and that was the reason of the loss of the vessel; but the two men that jumped into the tree were saved. They agreed to wait till the tide came in, then they would swim.

And Kae swam, and reached an island; where lived a bird called Kanivatu. Kae landed and found there eight whales and Kae slept between two whales. Then came the bird in its flight, and stood one leg on one whale, and the other leg on the other whale, and slept over Kae, and Kae slept and laughed, for he felt confident. And when day was nearly breaking he heard the flutter of the bird before springing into the air and flying. Kae rushed and clung to its breast, and the bird flew to midocean, with Kae clinging to its breast, and Kae looked down, and saw some sand, and he let go and fell on to the sand. When he got up he found that it was Sāmoa, and the land he had fallen on was ʻAkana. Then he went for morning kava to Sinilau's and Sinilau made him one of his attendants (not a matapule).

The fish that were fed at Sāmoa were the longoʻuli and the whale, and they were taken to a pool as playthings, and (the whale) was caught by another district and cut up, and its shoulder was taken and hung up in the house loft. The wife of Sinilau went there and saw it hanging, she rushed to it and swallowed it, and went away pregnant. Then she gave birth to the twins (whales) Tonga and Tunungatofuaʻa.

Kae dwelt there but wished to go to Tonga, so he asked Sinilau to give him the two whales for transport. So Sinilau told the two whales to go and take Kae to Tonga. And Sinilau instructed the two whales: «Go you to Tonga, and bring with you a bunch of coconuts, and scented oil, also native cloth and mats, and leave satiated for the voyage; when you return then I will go.»

When they reached Tonga, Kae was ungrateful to the two whales and instructed his friends to go down and spear them; Tununga was killed, but Tonga escaped. And Tonga returning to Sāmoa found Sinilau waiting for him, and Sinilau asked Tonga, «Where is Tununga?» So Tonga told him they were intercepted and Tununga was caught and killed.

Sinilau sat down and complained, and he assembled the gods of Sāmoa, and commanded that they gather at Hunga and Hunga (two islands near Tongatapu), and for them to stay there and plait baskets, and for them to go first to Land's End, and first collect from ʻEua and then collect from Fangaleʻounga, and then collect from Hihifo, and collect lastly from Napua, and then put Kae on the top. Flag of Tonga.svg FOKI