Wednesday 9 November 2022
Once upon a time, on the West Samoan island of Tutuila, by the village of Vaitogi, lived a woman called Fonoea, old and blind, with her little granddaughter. One day, having been neglected during a famine, she announced that she was going to commit suicide. But, she added, if they ever wanted to see her again, they should go to the cliffs and call for her. Of course, they took no notice. However, she got her granddaughter to lead her to the cliff, whence they both jumped in. At that point, she was turned into a large turtle, and the little girl into a small shark. The villagers were horrified, of course, but they remembered her promise, and so they called upon her in song to came back. And she did. Even since then, whenever they summon her, the turtle and shark will return.
That is a famous Samoan legend. You will easily find it if you do a web search, even on the Wikipedia. It was first recorded by a missionary in 1884, who treated it as a pagan superstition. But is it?
Wednesday 9 February 2022
"If this is 'all in the mind', then all I can say is the mind is a very fertile field." That was a comment made to me by a missionary in Papua New Guinea about some of the bizarre effects of sorcery and folk religions he had noticed in his work. Well, the mind is a very fertile field, and outside the western world it often manifests in strange culture bound syndromes. Koro, for example, is a mental disorder which causes Chinese and Southeast Asian men to imagine that their penises are retracting into their bodies. Malays run amok. In much of the Muslim world women find themselves possessed by what they call zar spirits, but the syndrome in not necessarily seen as pathological, because many of them make quite a bit of money out of it, just like spiritualists over here. Just the same, one wonders how far the 'fertile field' theory can be stressed before we wonder whether something alien has sprouted there.