Sangone the Turtle and the Royal Mats

A long time ago, a man called Lekapai lived in Samoa. In his garden, he grew breadfruit, plantains, bananas, yam, taro and many other kinds of ruit and vegetables.

Then, as time went on, there was a great hurricane, and his plantation was almost ruined. After it was over, Lekapai set to work to replant his gardens. But alas, there was another hurricane the next year, and the next, so that three food crops were destroyed one after the other. Poor Lekapai became disheartened and after pondering what he should do, said to his relatives: “I shall go and try to find out where the wind lives, and ask why he seeks out and destroys my plantation.”

So Lekapai launched his boat and sailed south towards Tonga where the wind comes from. After he had journeyed for several days he saw a ig rock ahead of him. When he drew near to it, he could not find a landing place anywhere. So he sprang up, grasped the branch of a white-flowered pandanus tree, and managed to clamber ashore. He then saw a narrow pathway and followed it, down and down under the ground. On and on he went, and presently, looking ahead, he saw a woman facing him. They say that she was a very beautiful woman. “Where do you come from?” she asked him, “and how did you find your way down here?”

“I have come,” answered Lekapai, “to try to find out where the wind lives–the wind that keeps on destroying my garden.”

“You have come to the right place,” replied the woman. “The winds are my children. And if you wish to see them, come with me and I will call them.”

“Thank you,” said Lekapai, “for making my journey worthwhile.”

They went on a little further, and the woman called out: “Let the strong north wind blow this way!” And immediately it began to blow, becoming stronger and stronger.

“Let the whirlwind come!” the woman commanded. And the whirlwind began to sweep round and round.

“Let the gale come!” the woman called. And the coconut palms began swaying and snapping, and all around them trees of all kinds came crashing down.

“Let the hurricane come!” the woman called out. And once again the wind blew: and this time it was so strong that Lekapai could no longer stand against it, and the earth began to split, and great rocks began to fly. Lekapai was afraid and begged the woman to tell the winds to forbear and rest. “I don’t want to see any more,” he said"I am nearly dead with fear. I do not mind about my gardens, I only wish to return home safely to Samoa."

So the woman spoke again. “Go away and rest,” she said. At once the strong wind eased off, the sun shone again, and the breeze that now blew was warm and pleasant.

They then came back and went to the woman’s home, and she told Lekapai that her name was Hina. “And mine is Lekapai,” he said. Then Hina said: “Stay here for a while and when my mother goes, she will take you with her.”

A few days passed, and Lekapai asked again to go back to his own country. “Then go and get some coconuts to take with you,” said Hina. So he went and picked them.

When Lekapai came back, Hina was sitting there with a turtle beside her. “This is my mother, who is now a turtle,” she said, “and will take you with her.” If you should want a drink while you are out on the ocean, do not break your coconut on the turtle’s head, but on its back. And when you reach Samoa," she added, “go and bring a piece of tapa cloth, and a bottle of oil, and a large coconut leaf, and give them to the turtle to bring back. Her name is Sangone, the sacred turtle. Do not betray her or evil will surely befall you and your family.”

Then then said goodbye, and Lekapai mounted on the turtle’s back, and Sangone swam with him out to sea. Soon Lekapai became thirsty, and not believing the truth of Hina’s story or caring to obey her, he took a coconut and broke it on the turtle’s head. When they reached Samoa, he took the turtle ashore, killed it and cut it up and divided it among his relatives; and the shell of the turtle they buried secretly beside a candelenut tree where no one could find it. Then, noticing that a boy named Lafaipana had observed them Lekapai called to him to come. When the boy came running across, Lekapai put out his hand and laid it on Lafaipana’s head, and said: “So that you may not reveal my secret, you will be Little Lafaipana: slow be your growth, and small your stature! And the day that Sangone the Turtle is found, you will die!”

So Lafaipana grew very slowly; and he soon forgot the threat about his death. For he was but a boy and death has no meaning for children.

Many, many years passed and then the Tu’i Tonga heard a rumour of what had happened to Sangone the Turtle in Samoa. He gave orders for his younger brother, Fasi’apule, to go to Samoa and find, if possible, Sangone’s shell, and return it to Tonga. So Fasi’apule set out. When he reached Samoa, however, he could not find anyone who seemed old enough to remember where Sangone had been buried. So, after drinking kava with the Samoan people in accordance with the custom of the land, he gave them a riddle to solve. “Guess this one,” he said. “O that I might drink a clap-it-and-it-smokes!”

So they all began asking one another what he meant. Then finally, Lafaipana, now a very old man, told them to go and bring some tiny pieces of dried kava root which sends up dust like smoke when they are clapped between the hands. So they brought some and gave them to Fasi’apule; and at once he began to wonder whether there was an old person still living who had solved the answer to the riddle and who might know the secret of Sangone’s burial place.

The pieces of kava root were then pounded and mixed with water. They drank this, and Fasi’apule gave them aother riddle. “Guess this one,” he said. “A stalk fainting in the forest.”

So the people ran to Lafaipana and asked him what it meant. “Go and find a bunch of plantains that has fallen and ripened lying on the ground out in the forest,” he said.

So they searched and found one, and gave it to Fasi’apule. He was delighted, and gave them yet a third riddle to solve. “Guess this one! A leaf that tings. Guess that! A leaf that cries and makes a noise like a parrot!”

They asked Lafaipana again, and he told them to bake a fowl and wrap it in young taro leaves, which make a faint tinging sound when they are stripped. This they prepared and brought to Fasi’apule, and he gave them still another riddle. “Guess this one. Grunting and lying down.”

They ran and asked Lafaiapana, and he told them to bake a huge pig that was no longer able to stand, but just lay down grunting all the time. So they killed a great big pig and baked it, and took it along to Fasi’apule. Then Fasi’apule kenw that there was an old and wise person who could answer the riddle of Sangone’s hiding place.

So he asked the people who it was that had enabled them to solve his riddles. “It was Lafaipana,” they confessed. So he ordered them to bring him. When Lafaipana sat before him, Fasi’apule asked him whether he knew where Sangone the Turtle was buried. “I know the place,” he replied, “and I will lead you to it.”

So off they went, and Lafaipana directed them to the candlenut tree, where he had gone so many years before. They dug down, and found that he was right. And it is said that when Sangone’s shell was brought from the ground, it shone almost like a flame. As soon as it appeared Lafaipana cried out and fell dead. And they buried him with fine mats in the grave of Sangone.

Fasi’apule and his attendants then made preparations to return to Tonga. The Samoan chiefs, recognising the rightful ownership of the Tu’i Tonga, gave him two finely woven mats to accompany the shell of Sangone on its journey south to Nuku’alofa.

As soon as Fasi’apule arrived back in Tonga, he took the shell, as custom required, to give to his brother, the Tu’i Tonga. And the Samoan mat which he presented with it was called Hau ‘o Momo (the honour shown to Momo). The other mat, however, Fasi’apule took to a cave and no man knew where it was hidden.

As time went on, Fasi’apule became old and died. Shortly afterwards an elderly woman, on her way to the sea to get some salt water, saw the second Samoan mat spread out on top of a bush. So she folded it up and took it home with her and put it away.

Then one night, a matapule of the Tu’i Tonga dreamed that Fasi’apule came to him and told him that they should go and get the mat from the old woman: for it was a finely woven mat, the fellow of the one known as Hau ‘o Momo, and its name was Laumata ‘o Fainga’a (the eyelid of Fainga’a).

Messengers were sent ot retrieve the mat from the old woman, and she explained to them how she had found it. After that the care of the two fine mats became the responsiblity o the Tu’i Tonga and his people; and so these precious relics have been handed down, generation after generation, right up to the present day.

At the marriage of Queen Salote in 1918, her husband Uiliame Tungi wore ten fine mats wrapped round him, including those two historic mats brought long before from Samoa with the shell of Sangone the Turtle.

And at the joint wedding of the Queen’s two sons on the 10th June, 1947, Crown Prince Tungi wore the mat called Laumata ‘o Fainga’a, while his brother, Prince Tu’ipelehake, wore the one called Hau ‘o Momo.

The shell of Sangone is held by the Tupou College Museum.

Bain, Kenneth. The Friendly Islanders, a story of Queen Salote and her people (London, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1967)

Revised: March 28, 1999