Post 43 — The Turtle and the Shark

kathyon rocks“Get off of me!” shouted Carolyn as she pushed her little sister off her lap. The children were crammed into the Datsun, the backs of their legs sticking to the plastic seats. In those pre-seatbelt days, Karen usually rode in the front on her mother’s lap but today she had insisted on riding with her sisters. There was enough room for three pre-pubescent Broquet butts in the back, but all four would not fit. Karen smirked as she climbed over the tangle of legs trying to find the lap to snuggle in that would most annoy the owner. She eventually ended up lying across all three of her older sisters with her feet sticking out of the window, giggling the entire time, while her mother in the front ignored the chaos behind her and just appreciated not having a sweaty child on her.

The afternoon air was oppressive with potential rain as the family headed for the village of Vaitogi. Their first trip had been the day they arrived on the island; it had been the site of the welcoming fiafia where they had glimpsed how different life would be in this new culture. Today’s visit was by invitation of their friend Siaumau, whose father was the chief of Vaitogi; they were hoping to witness a Samoan legend come to life right before their eyes.

The legend of the Turtle and the Shark is a Polynesian fable that has more than one back story but always leads to the same ending; the swimming appearance of two sea creatures who don’t usually hang out together. One narrative involves a grandmother and granddaughter who were rejected by their families and threw themselves into the ocean to cast their fates upon the waves. The other story tells of a young couple who are in despair after the husband is targeted to be dinner by a cannibalistic king. The couple cannot bear to be separated so they plunge into the sea and are reunited as the shark and the turtle.

Both stories involve jumping off a cliff to your death so neither are a particularly feel-good tale, but the happy result is that the two get to spend eternity surfing together.

The lava rock cliffs were slippery and sharp as the Broquet children watched the children of Vaitogi gather at the edge overlooking the sea. The legend also stressed that the song must be sung by descendents from Vaitogi – it wasn’t going to work if some interlopers from Fogagogo showed up. The villagers seemed unconcerned about which legend was supposed to be true—the end result was simply to get the two sea creatures to surface. The Samoan children began singing a sweet melody that was half song, half chant, calling the duo and the Broquets moved close to the edge, squinting their eyes against the stinging salt spray.

We went out to Vaitogi last Sunday to see the shark and the turtle, but fate and the weather didn’t co-operate. The seas were very rough, and though Siaumau and his villagers managed to call up several small sharks (only six or seven footers – it doesn’t take much to make a snob, does it?), we didn’t see our friend the turtle. The sharks came up about a hundred feet from shore so we couldn’t see them too clearly. Naturally, we all pointed at them excitedly before we were solemnly informed that if you point, they won’t come up. That sounded like an angle to me, but damnit, what bothers me is that right after we all pointed, the stupid sharks left and we saw nothing but waves after that. Oh, well, it was a nice day and Siaumau loaded us down with coconuts, papaya, and sugar cane for the trip home. I took some pictures of his house and his family, and if we ever get them developed, I’ll send them out.


Since the sharks had left in a huff after being pointed at, the children entertained themselves by poking around in the tidal pools that formed in the uneven surface. Kathy posed on the rocks while her father took pictures, gritting her teeth as the lava dug into her knees but never once letting the discomfort travel to her blazing smile.

The lava cliff also boasted one of the biggest blowholes on the island, and Karen had to be physically restrained from leaning over it to see what was inside. Seconds later, a geyser of water shot straight up in the air with the force of a cannon, startling and soaking everyone and causing Karen to rethink her curiosity for at least two minutes.

4 Comments to “Post 43 — The Turtle and the Shark”

  1. The animation is beautiful…that is the song I was talking about.


  2. This is one of my favorite legends of Samoa! I remember one of our visits, and being told not to point our fingers at the Turtle and the Shark, as that would remind them of the troubles they had left behind and they would not returned when summoned by the Viatogi villagers.


  3. Hi “Chrissie” Broquet,

    I went to Fia Iloa with you and here you are having written about the Turtle and the Shark just when
    I’m trying to understand the story better.

    Take care,

    Dan Aga


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