There are many tellings of the Creation Story in Pacific mythology. To celebrate my birthday (yay!), I’m sharing this piece from ‘When Water Burns’: the Creation Story – according to Telesa legend. If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of these fierce protectors of the earth, then this will answer your musings!
In the beginning there was darkness, a great expanse. Tangaloa-lagi moved upon the face of the darkness and after a time, the god grew tired and rested. And where the god stood, there grew up a rock. Then Tangaloa-lagi said to the rock, “Be thou split up” and hit the rock with one hand. It split open and the earth was brought forth on the one side and the sea was brought forth on the other. And the earth glowed red with fire and the sea enveloped it and water burned at its edges. Tangaloa-lagi reached down and took of earth and mixed it with water, fashioning it with godly hands to make Man. And then the god breathed life on that which had been made.
“Let the Spirit and the Heart and Will and Thought go on and join together inside the Man.”
And they joined together there and Man became intelligent. And Tangaloa-lagi joined Man to ele-ele the earth, through the creation of Woman who would be the fatu, the heart. ‘Fatu-ma-le-Ele-ele’ meaning Heart and Earth.
“Let Earth give nourishment to Man and let Man always treasure her as his heart beats with the red blood of life. Let Earth be the rock man stands on to give him strength. The trees that will shelter him. The waters that will sustain him. Let Earth’s fire be the heat that warms him. And in return, let Man be the protector. The guardian.”
But Tangaloa-lagi saw that as Man multiplied and replenished the earth, his heart grew cold and greed ate at it like the poison of the stonefish. Tangaloa-lagi saw that Man trampled the earth beneath his feet and bowed Woman to his will. Earth’s cries moved Tangaloa-lagi. So again the god of all, took pieces of earth and mixed them with water. But this time, Tangaloa-lagi breathed upon this creation with the raging winds of the expanse. Touched it with the jagged fire that rains from angry skies and made a telesa. She was beautiful. Her name was ‘telesa matagi.’ Sacred one of storms. Air.
Then Tangaloa-lagi cast a fiery net upon the waters and drew forth ocean’s might. The crashing wave. The surging tide that speaks to Masina the moon. And all the living things that swim and creep in the midnight blue depths. All this Tangaloa-lagi fashioned with godly hands into another. She was beautiful. Her name was ‘telesa vasa loloa.’ Sacred one of ocean. Water.
But Tangaloa-lagi was not satisfied. Listening to the cries of ele-ele, feeling of her pain as Man’s heart spurned her, rage filled the god of all things. Reaching deep within Earth’s core, to where molten rock flowed and life pulsed, Tangaloa-lagi brought forth fire and melded it with earth, cooled it with ocean and made ‘telesa fanua afi.’ Sacred one of earth. Fire. She was beautiful. She burned with all the strength of ele-ele. Her heart beat with the fire that would eclipse man’s. He that had betrayed Earth. He that was meant to be the heart but had instead chosen to be the destroyer.
Tangaloa-lagi looked upon what had been created and saw that it was good. “My daughters, yours is a godly trust, an eternal birthright. You will covenant to watch over ele-ele and fill the chasm left by an unfeeling Man and be her heart. You will speak with the voices of wind, water and fire. You will stir man up to a remembrance of his sacred partnership with earth.”
Then Tangaloa-lagi fashioned with godly hands – a carved talisman. The Covenant Bone. Whale bone interlocked with shark tooth. Boar’s tusk encrusted with shimmering iridescent oyster-shell, adorned with black pearl and gleaming river rock. The fierce razor-bite of the swordfish. The soulful deep green promise of jadestone. All these Tangaloa-lagi interwove to create a talisman of three distinct pieces, which was then washed in the blood of a god, imbuing it with the very essence of Tangaloa-lagi.
“The Covenant Bone will unite the three elements. It will allow the gifts of many to be woven as one, making it possible for the telesa who bears it to wield the gifts of her sisters into one supreme power. For it is only when there is harmony between earth’s gifts, that there can be peace. And life.”
Tangaloa-lagi looked upon telesa fanua-afi. “One day, when earth’s greatest dangers threaten – you will be the one to unite your sisters into one covenant. You will be the one chosen to reach out to embrace man once again as the heart. So that all will be as it should. ‘Fatu-ma-le-ele-ele’ You will give your fire so that Man may live. And he will give his heart so that earth may live.”
And thus did Tangaloa-lagi create telesa.
To watch over earth and be the heart that Man refused to be.