I've been reading many Fiji news stories about the dilemma between tradition and conservation regarding the Macuata turtle-catching for the recent Methodist Conference, and here is a story from a village in Kadavu where the women chant to call turtles. I have a tape recording of the chant from the time I was researching Fijian music. The people of Koro and Mali Islands also have turtle calling chants.
adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillian Gilliland
THE TURTLES OF NAMUANA (a legend of Fiji)
Long ago, in the lovely village of Namuana on an island of Fiji, there lived the beautiful Princess Tinaicoboga. She was the wife of the chief and was as kind as she was beautiful. The people of the village loved and admired their princess and their chief. All was peaceful and prosperous in the land, and the people thanked their gods for the sea surrounding them and for the plentiful fish that fed them.
The chief and his wife had one daughter, Raudalice, who often joined her mother in the water. Sometimes they would wade out to the coral reefs, and there, giggling like children, they would capture fish that swam among the reefs of their island, known as Kadavu. Some days they climbed the cliffs beyond their village. There they could see the waters surrounding their land, and they could watch the village warriors paddling their canoes out to sea.
The two women usually stayed close to shore, but one day they waded farther than usual. The day was beautiful, and the fish were thick and fast in the reefs. The mother and daughter hardly noticed how far they had gone when the wind to the east of the rocky shore began to pick up. The sound of the wind muffled the sound of the men in the distance, so the women never noticed them at all.
There was a large canoe filled with fishermen from the village of Nabukelevu on the far side of the island. The men had spied the women from afar, and when they spotted them, they began to paddle fast toward them. They took care not to splash their paddles, so the women never heard a sound.
When the fishermen were close, they leaped out of their canoes, and without warning, they seized the princess and her daughter. They quickly bound their hands and feet with vines from the sea and tossed them into the bottom of their canoe. Then they began paddling as fast as they could toward their own village.
"Please, let us go," Tinaicoboga begged, while her daughter wept. "My father will be heartbroken," cried Raudalice. "Free us at once."
The warriors laughed at the women's tears and pleas. They were thinking only of their own strength and power and of the ransom they would ask of the chief of Namuana. "He will want his wife and daughter back," they said to each other, "and just think of the great treasure he will pay for them."
And so they paddled on, faster and faster.
But the gods were not pleased with the fishermen's greed and cruelty. Suddenly the sky turned black, the wind began to howl, and the once-calm sea began to churn. The fishermen fought with all their strength to keep their canoe from turning over. The waves poured over the bow and the wind tossed the canoe this way and that. As the raging current dragged the paddles from the men's aching hands, they cursed the gods.
They were so busy fighting to save their own lives and their canoe that they never noticed what was happening to the two women trapped at their feet. When they did at last look down, they saw that the bodies that had once been women had turned into two giant sea turtles.
"The gods are punishing us," the men called. "Throw the turtles overboard." Fearing the fury of the gods, the men lifted up the turtles and tossed them into the heaving waves.
The turtles slipped easily and comfortably into the water. The moment they were safely beneath the surface, the sea grew calm, the wind grew still, and the clouds scuttled away, leaving a bright blue sky above.
Drenched and exhausted, the fishermen of Nabukelevu paddled home and never spoke of their disaster at sea or of their crime.
Forever afterward, Tinaicoboga and Raudalice lived in the waters of that bay. Always they remained turtles, rescued and blessed by the gods, and guarded the village of Namuana, as did their descendants.
Even today in Namuana, the women of the village, dressed in mourning clothes and carrying sacred clubs, walk to the shore. There they stand and chant to their beloved turtles.
"Rise to the surface so we may see you, Raudalice," they chant. "Rise to enjoy the sun and our prayers, Tinaicoboga. Let us praise you."
As the women chant, the giant turtles rise to the surface of the bright blue waters of this beautiful bay beneath the cliffs of Kadavu.
But sometimes they do not rise, and the people say that whenever someone from Nabukelevu is present, the turtles stay beneath the water, for they recognize their enemies, and sea turtles never forget those who have done them wrong.