"Turtle and Shark" is a U-shaped cove on the American Samoan island of Tutuila. It's set between Vaitogi Beach to the north and a basalt cliff to the south.

"For more than 95 years, 'Turtle and Shark' has been widely regarded in American Samoa as the scene of the climactic event of the Turtle and Shark legend (O Le Tala I Le Laumei Ma Le Malie), one of the most famous stories in Samoan oral literature. Villagers from nearby Vaitogi continue to reenact an important aspect of the legend at Turtle and Shark by performing a ritual song intended to summon the legendary animals to the ocean surface, and visitors are frequently amazed to see one or both of these creatures emerge from the sea in apparent response to this call.

Many versions of the Turtle and Shark legend have been recorded over the years… One of the earliest published versions of the story was documented by the missionary George Turner in 1884, although he did not name the village or island where the story is set, and described the supernatural animals as two turtles, rather than a turtle and a shark:

A story is told of a woman (Fonuea) and her child (Salofa), who in a time of great scarcity were neglected by the family. One day they cooked some wild yams, but never offered her a share. She was vexed, asked the child to follow her, and when they reached a precipice on the rocky coast, seized the child and jumped over. It is said they were changed into turtles, and afterwards came in that form at the call of the people of the village. (Turner 1884)." –National Park Service

Over time the myth changed so that the mother and child turned into a turtle and shark. Then they swam and swam and eventually reached the village of Vaitogi. On the beach there they transformed back into people. They were welcomed in by High Chief Letuli and his people and they were fed. Eventually the mother and her daughter (or sometimes it's a granddaughter) heard the call of the sea and decided to return there in their aquatic forms. They told the villagers they would stay in the waters off the shore and they gave them this song, promising to come when it's sung. Villagers still sing the song and have said they often see the Turtle and Shark. When they see the turtle or the shark, they say, "Lalelei, lalelei, lalelei!" ("Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!")

Laumei Faiaga - Samoan Children's Songs - Samoa - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World  - Intro Image

Notes

*Ti is a tall palm-like plant with elongated leaves. Its leaves are used to make "titi" ceremonial skirts which are worn as an overgarment (like a hula shirt).

May commented on Facebook, "I remember my mom telling me a story similar to this one. But it was grandmother and granddaughter who were both from Vaitogi and that there was famine in the village. So they both sacrificed themselves and turned into a shark and turtle so that the village may have food. (It was something like that). I loved it when my mom would tell us stories and legends of Samoa."

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Comments

There are different versions of the song. This one is well-known.

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The video below starts in the middle of the song. They start from the beginning again at 0:30. Before that they spot a turtle and say, "Lalelei, lalelei, lalelei!" (English: "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!")

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The lady in the video below repeats:

Laumei faiaga, faasusu si au tama
Aumai se lauti o laulelei, e lavalava le laumei.


English Translation:

Careless turtle, milk your baby
Bring the ti* leaves, to dress the turtle.


*See Song Notes.
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Thanks and Acknowledgements

Image: National Park Service