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Nafanua is a titled woman known throughout Samoa as a goddess of war. She was bestowed the title because she was highly respected by her family and village council and very dependable. As a goddess of war, it was her responsibility to protect her family and save her village from enemies. Her village was located on the western side of the island of Savai’i.
During Nafanua’s time, there was a war between the eastern and western sides of Savai’i as each side was competing for the land and title of the entire island. In the Samoan culture, land is very important because there are more people than inhabitable land. A family is more prestigious if they own a lot of land; and the family members (especially males) receive greater titles. Because of this tradition, Lilomaiava, the High Chief from the eastern side of Savai’i, tried to conquer the whole island. During this war, if High Chief Lilomaiava caught anyone from the east side on the west side, he would force the person to climb a coconut tree feet first, with head down as a punishment. He did this to show his power to the whole island that he planned to conquer.
One of the villagers that high chief Lilomaiava caught was Ta'i'i (the uncle of Nafanua), and the older brother of Saveasi’uleo. Ta’i'i was punished and was forced to climb the coconut tree feet first. As he was climbing the coconut tree, he let out a huge sigh because the climb was difficult. Ta'i'i's sighs were overheard by Saveasi'uleo and Nafanua. This made Savesi’uleo angry; consequently he told Nafanua to cut down the Toa tree. The wood from the tree was to be used to make weapons to drive away the High Chief Lilomaiava and his army. Immediately Nafanua cut down the Toa tree and left it there to dry. A few days later, she went back to the area where the Toa tree was cut and discovered that the tree attracted lots of Pule (seashells). "E gase toa ae ola pule". Literally this means that the shells are living but the Toa tree is dead. But metaphorically speaking, although we have great strength and power as human beings, we do not succeed if we do not have wisdom to make a good, solid decision. It takes courage to make wise decisions.
Later on down the line the war ended because Nafanua’s tiputa(shirt) was blown upward by the wind revealing her breasts. Up to this time the men did not know she was a woman. When they discovered that she was a woman, they decided to end the war. They felt humiliated because there was only one woman among several men fighting the war. This concludes the story about the Goddess of War, Nafanua, who was famous throughout Samoa, especially on the island of Savai'i.
In Samoa, the village of Falealupo on the island of Savai'i is the home of Nafanua. Often chiefs from distant villages and islands would come to Falealupo to seek Nafanua's blessings before beginning any military adventure. In 1989, the Chiefs and Orators of Falealupo bestowed the title of Nafanua on ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox for his conservation efforts in protecting the Samoan rainforest. The title was formally registered with the Samoan Lands and Title Court.
Falealupo is also the site of the entryway into the spirit world Pulotu.
- Nafanua Volcano, an active underwater volcanic cone in American Samoa
- Nafanua, the name of a Pacific class patrol boat operated by the Samoa Police Department. It was provided to Samoa by the Australian Government as part of the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
- Nafanua, the name of the Congrational Christian Church of Samoa - Avondale, Auckland, New Zealand.
- , Coming of Age in American Anthropology: Margaret Mead and Paradise by Malo Pau'po Isaia, p. 39
- Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rain Forest.1997. P. A. Cox. W.H. Freeman, New York