“Fale’s Voyage in the Whale”- Tonga

This month’s Pacific Islands legend comes from Tonga. It comes from the book Tales form the South Seas. Enjoy this adventurous story…

Fale’s Voyage in the Whale

On the island of Niue there lived long ago a woman called Fale who was a very clever maker of pretty patterns on the native bark-cloth. This cloth is made by pounding and pasting together wetted layers of the bark of a tree. She used to sit on a rock on the seashore, marking the designs on a cloth with the sharp edge of a shell. She carried several shells for this purpose in a fold of her girdle.

While Fale sat there hard at work one day, a great sperm whale came cruising close in along the coast. He swam slowly into the bay on the margin of which Fale was working, and he blew out a cloud of spray through his blowhole, and beat the water loudly with his great powerful tail and fins.

Fale looked up from her bark-cloth and she made fun of the whale for his noisiness. “What a big rough-headed fellow you are,” she said.

When the whale heard this, he was angry and he determined to punish the woman for her impudence; for was he not the king of whales? He went out to sea down into the deep water, so that Fale thought that he had gone. But he was only waiting his time, and he came up again soon after and lay very quietly on the surface of the water, and watched for Fale.

Presently she put down her cloth, and taking her basket and a pronged spear she walked out on to the coral reef to fish.

The whale swam silently in, and when Fale turned away from the sea, he suddenly stretched out his long fin and seized her. He put her in his great mouth and swallowed her, and then he turned and swam out and plunged deep into the silent, dark ocean.

Fale was not killed when the whale swallowed her. She was taken right down into the monster’s stomach, but she remained alive. In the dark cavern she did not fear, but pondered on how to escape from the whale. At last she thought of the shells with which she had been working at the bark-cloth. She still had some of these in the folds of her girdle.

Fale's Voyage in the Whale (Tonga)

“Fale’s Voyage in the Whale,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2019.

Taking the sharpest of the shells, Fale began to cut away at the soft sides of her prison. She cut and slashed away, making the cuts deeper and deeper, and she wondered how thick the sides of the wall could be. The great whale soon began to feel the pain, and he writhed and turned about and made for the surface. Then he swam swiftly towards an island in the distance.

Fale went on cutting her way through the whale. Presently she felt the creature stop. She continued to cut away with her shells, and at last she saw the daylight again. On crawling out of the opening she had made, she saw that the whole had stranded on the sandy beach of an island, and that it was dead.

Fale wondered whatever this island could be, and how far she had come from her home. Being very cold after her strange and gloomy voyage, she sat on the beach in the hot sun to warm herself.

Soon she heard loud voices, and looking about she saw many people running along the beach towards her. They had come to seize the whale and cut it up for food. Great was their amazement to see a strange woman sitting there, and it was greater still when they heard her story. Her tongue and theirs were much alike. They told her that the island on which she had landed was Tonga, which lies about three hundred miles from Niue.

The people treated Fale with great kindness and gave her of their best, for they greatly admired her courage in cutting her way out of the whale. So she lived all the rest of her days in Tonga. The little children loved to listen to the tale of adventure, and they would dash into the sea and play at being whales.

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