How the Yam Saved Sina from Starvation


 Maugaoatule was a chief living in Asau, Savai’i. He was married to Tule, a lady from Falealupo. There was born unto them a girl whom they named Sina. When the girl was grown up, she went to the beach to fetch sea water. There she caught a little fish called lupo. When she returned with the salt water, she took the fish with her and put it in a coconut shell.

When the fish had grown too big, she put it in a food bowl. The fish got too large for the food bowl, so she placed it in a canoe. The fish still grew and soon the canoe could not hold it any more. So the girl went to a spur of land projecting into the sea near a place called Fatu. There she tied the fish by the tail and put it into the sea.

When the fish was very large, Sina said to her parents, "Alas, my fish is getting dangerous. Before long somebody will get hurt. Perhaps it would be well to kill it." Her parents replied, "Alright, do so lest anyone get hurt. However, if your fish is struck and rises on the hither side, take it to the Fale-Tagaloa and give it to Safune and Taulauniu for their high chief Tagaloa. If the fish rises on the thither side, give it to Tapu and Leali’ifano in Fale-fa’aea. Should they decide to cut up the fish, there is one part you must ask for yourself .. the entrails."

So Sina went and caught the fish with a hook. It jumped on the far side and Sina took it up to Fale-fa’aea for Tapu and Leali’ifano. The fish was cut up and Sina took for herself only the entrails.

Sina then married Fogamanusina. They had a daughter whom they named Sina-ma-tinae, because of the fish’s entrails. Sina-ma-tinae married Lea, a Fagaloa chief. They had three boys and a girl. The boys were named Pili, Fuialao and Ma’oma’o; the girl was named Sina.

When Sina was of age, Tuifiti, the king of Fiji, courted her and she married him. Then Tuifiti and Sina prepared to travel to Fiji. Sina took her brother Pili (he was a lizard) and packed him into her tobacco basket, where she kept him during the voyage. Ma’oma’o and Fuialaeo (they were birds) stayed behind. The ship went on and on and finally the food supply was exhausted. Tuifiti and his crew wanted to eat, so Tuifiti said, "Pass me Sina that she may serve for our kava snack." Sina wept, but she had forgotten that her brother was in the basket. Pili spoke up and asked, "Sina, why are you crying?" He told her to look in the starboard side of the hold. She examined the starboard side of the hold and found a quantity of food. Tuifiti and his crew were pleased.

The boat proceeded and once more the food came to an end. Again Tuifiti and his crew decided to devour Sina. Pili spoke up and told her to search the outrigger side of the canoe. There, too, they found food in plenty. Fitiapa’au and his chiefs were appeased again. Now, doubts arose in Tuifiti and he said to Sina, "Sina, you must be a sorceress to be able to make things out of nothing." Sina felt ashamed and did not reply, but she reached slowly into her tobacco basket and dropped her brother Pili into the sea. Pili swam while the boat proceeded and reached Fiji. While Pili swam, he expressed this wish, "If I could only see a piece of wood floating about, so that I might cling to it." He looked and saw a beam. He clung to it and felt safe.

Sina was ill-treated by Tuifiti. He made her live in the cookhouse near the beach and went back to his concubines in Talau. The boys Fuialaeo and Ma’oma’o lived idly in Samoa; however, they often thought lovingly of their eldest brother and their dear sister Sina. Then the boys flew up in the sky and looked to the seaward and landward, to the west and to the east. Looking again to seaward, a little, black speck presented itself to their gaze. So, the boys swooped down and hovered above the beam. They talked together. Pili called up from below, "Say, what about making less noise?" Ma’oma’o said, "Ah, that is the eldest of the family down there. Then Pili told his brothers how he had been ill-treated by their sister. Ma’oma’o then said, "Let us decide to return to Samoa." But Pili objected, "No, let us proceed to Fiji. Let us go despite the bad treatment I have had at the hands of Sina. She has been ill-used by Tuifiti. Let us go inland on the mountain ridge and live there."

So, the boys picked up Pili and flew off with him till they reached the mountain ridge of Fiji. Pili then said to his brothers, "My friends, go and prepare plenty of plantations. There is going to be a great famine in Fiji." The boys got busy working in the fields until everything was mature.

Then Pili spoke to the plants in the field, "Let us see, which of you is willing to grow towards the sea where Sina lives, so that she may be led here?" The papaya tree answered, "I am the one; when I am ripe, I am red and beautiful and Sina will be pleased with me." Pili replied, "You are of no use. You are red when you are ripe, but you decay quickly." The mountain plantain then said, "I am the one; when I am ripe I am yellow and beautiful." And thus spoke the banana, the breadfruit, the sugarcane, the taro and all the other plants of the field. But Pili said, "You are all useless. You look beautiful, but in time of need you are of little help; you rot too quickly."

At last the palai yam spoke, "I am the one; when I grow, my root creeps on and on and thus I shall finally reach Sina. Even the trees and rocks in my way cannot keep my foot from pushing forward." Pili then said, "I now know that you are superior to all the other plants; therefore, the job is yours."

Immediately the yam pushed its root toward the beach and finally reached Sina's cookhouse. There it climbed on high close to the place where the tubers are scraped. When Sina went to the cookhouse see saw the yam, She broke off a piece and cooked herself a meal for that day. Henceforward she daily broke off a small piece to eat, until she reached the mountain crest where she found her brothers. She was filled with joy when she saw them; but, remembering her unkindness towards her eldest brother, she wept, for it was he who had saved her during the voyage when Tuifiti and his "winged Fijians’ had decreed her death.

It is from Sina that is derived the proverbial saying of the Samoans, "Follow the direction of Sina's broken yam." It's meaning is, "Don’t be discouraged; keep on trying."

Sina then lived with her brothers in Samoa. One day Pili said to Ma'oma'o and Fuialaeo, "Boys, go and prepare some food, because Sina wants to eat; but don't cook any breadfruit, lest Sina ask for it. Remember that this is what our mother died of. The boys went and prepared the meal, but they disregarded their brother’s orders and cooked breadfruit. Sina desired the breadfruit and the boys gave it to her. Pili came along while the girl was eating the breadfruit. Then Pili lost his temper and gave the boys a beating. He struck Ma’oma’o on the hip which henceforth grew crooked; then he chased him off. He squeezed Fuialaeo's neck and it was lengthened for ever after; then he chased him away, too.

Before Sina had gone to Fiji and was still living in Samoa, she used to go with her mother Sina-ma-tinae to draw water in the spring called Laloala’a. One day Sina-ma-tinae sent the girl to Laloala’a to draw water by herself, whilst she stayed behind to cook breadfruit. When the breadfruit was cooked, the old lady got impatient and would not wait for Sina. In her greediness she swallowed a piece of breadfruit whole and burned herself. She writhed in pain. As a result of her ravenousness she died. When Sina returned with the water, she found her mother dead. The girl cried and beat her body. We now have the proverb: "When Sina came, Tinae was already burnt. The meaning of it is, "When trouble arises, don’t be late."

Sina then wandered toward the east, Between Samauga and Safotu her coconut calabashes broke and a spring bubbled up. It is called "Sina’s Spring". Sina then sang the following dirge:

Sina ma Tinae!

I, Sina I Fa’ananau

Dipped water to refresh you,

But you were neither relieved nor refreshed.

The tide was low and the rocks were uncovered;

There was no squall to bring a cooling shower;

Only a few drops fell from the heavens.

Besides, the path was difficult;

It was covered with sharp stones.

The sun was scorching hot.

That is why I was late,

Alas, my poor mother.


George Thurman, 1999