By Angelynne Enoka

Samoa is well known for its tala o le vavau or legends; stories of events that occurred throughout the 3000 years of Samoan existence in Samoa. Many of the legends as told by the old storytellers are still visible in landmarks, some remembered as origin of Samoan names and proverbs. However, not many legends are still practised to date.

The revival of the I'a Eva legend in Pu'apu'a this year was a true test of Samoan traditional beliefs and what can be said as just another myth.

Samoan legend has it that chief Lemalu of Pu'apu'a was gifted the I'a Eva (mullets with the unusual red lips) in return for his generosity in hosting an old lady named Sau, originally from Tufutafoe.

The gift of the I'a Eva originated in Fiji, when chief Tui-Fiti (King of Fiji) sent for healers from around the Pacific to cure his daughter Sina's sickness.

Fine and Sau while crossing the island of Savaii (with their son Mata'ulufotu, a human head that was part demon, carried in a woven coconut bag) came across the Fijian scouts and offered to be taken to Fiji.

In approaching the harbour to reach the Tui-Fiti residence, all sailing crafts must detour to the next bay as it was protected by Sina's fish (the anaeoso or the leaping mullets). It is believed that the mullets
would jump along-side and into the boats, causing them to sink.

However on this journey from Samoa, Fine and Sau (on Mata'ulufotu's instruction) directed the Fijian crew to steer direct for the harbour. As the leaping mullets jump into the craft, Mata'ulufotu would swallow them up, hence allowing the sailing party to arrive safely to the amazement of the Tui-Fiti.

It was now time for Fine and Sau to prove the superiority of Samoan traditional healing or be killed if they fail. Again Mata'ulufotu came to the rescue and journeyed to the ninth cloud (lagi tuaiva) to the abode of the giant lady Fuluulualematoto. There he found the soul of Sina and returned it to earth where her lifeless body awaited.

Tui-Fiti was so overjoyed to have his daughter well again that he made the precious gift of Sina's fish (mullets with red lips) known as the I'a Eva to the couple Fine and Sau as a sign of gratitude. In spite of this, Sau killed her husband and son on the return journey to Samoa.

Arriving back in Samoa in the district of Amoa (where the villages of Lano, Puapua and Asaga lie), Sau tried to head back to her village of Tufutafoe. As dusk approached, she was in search of a place to stay overnight, and came across chief Ta'ala, but he refused to take her in. She continued on her way and came across chief Lemalu, who invited her to an evening meal and sleeping quarters for the night.

In the early morning, Sau woke Lemalu and instructed to fetch Ta'ala for a kava ceremony (ava). It is Samoan tradition to welcome guests with a 'ava ceremony' or for an 'ava ceremony' to be conducted prior to an important deliberation. So in return

Chief Lemalu Minute Uelese pointing at the direction of the reef look out for the I'a Eva when its the fishing season. (Photo: Rosa Puni)
Lemalu displaying how the underwater nets are weaved with the natural wood floaters.
(Photo: Rosa Puni)
Lemalu displaying the hand held net used to catch the mullets when leapping into the air. In the background is the underwater net.
(Photo: Rosa Puni)
A family affair with Lemalu's extended family practising at home on how the net is put out. (Photo: Rosa Puni)

for chief Lemalu's generosity, he was presented the mullets from Fiji with the unusual red lips known as the I'a Eva. And as punishment for not welcoming the old lady, Ta'ala will have to stand in the sun as the look out when it's time to fish for the I'a Eva.

So at certain times of the year, Lemalu and the people of Pu'apu'a will go out and catch shoals of fish using nets. This practise involves a lookout for the fish on the reef. Once sighted, Ta'ala will signal by waving his canoe paddle to alert Lemalu. As the Aitu o le I'a (god of the fish), Lemalu will go out to the reef and guide the fish into the bay, which is lined with nets in preparation for their arrival. The fish enter the bay and once they notice the nets, will start to jump, just as it was told in the legend.

As with all the legends of Samoa, the legend of the I'a Eva involves cultural rituals:

· Before going out to fish, Lemalu and the fishermen must conduct a 'ava' ceremony at dusk.

· No one is allowed to visit or leave Lemalu's maota (the chief's house) during the fishing season.

· The fish must be caught only as they leap into the air with hand nets.

· Women are not allowed to wear tops whilst helping the men fishing (e fai sulu ao'ao poo le fa'aaliali foi o fatafata o loomatutua)

· The consumption of fish from the first catch by women is forbidden.

The catching season is a time of festivity in the village of Pu'apu'a. At the end of the day the fish are divided and distributed according to Lemalu's instructions.

During September and October fishing this year, Lemalu and the people of Pu'apu'a did manage to catch fish on two occasions. The last time the legend of the I'a Eva was practised was over 40 years ago!

(I wish to acknowledge chief Lemalu Minute Uelese for the exclusive interview with as well as chief Mamea Emosi Puni of Pu'apu'a for his input)


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