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Nafanua is a famous Samoan Warrior Princess and a legend in Polynesian mythology.

According to Samoan mythology, Nafanua was the daughter of Saveasi'uleo, the Ali'i of Pulotu.[1] In one legend, Nafanua's mother was Tilafaiga the sister of Taema.

Example of Tiputa (Shirt), similar to the one worn by Nafanua during the wars


Nafanua is a titled woman known throughout Samoa as a Toa/ Toa Tama'ita'i or Warrior Princess. She was bestowed the title because she avenged her uncle as well as bringing peace to Savai'i through winning the wars. 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 or any culture for that matter, land is very important because there are more people than allotted land. A family is more prestigious if they own a lot of land; and the family members (especially males) receive greater titles and a bigger share of the land. 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 up-side-down, 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 prepare for war and 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.

Before leaving for battle Saveasi'uleo ordered Nafanua, "A pa'ia le pa i Fu'alaga, a'e le tuli au'a le Ali'i o Aiga". This translates to Nafanua being ordered to STOP the killing when she reaches the village of Fualaga. It wasn't until the wind blew strong enough to lift her tiputa(coverings) that her dad's order came to mind. She dropped to her knees and sighed a breathe of relief, up until this time the men did not know she was a woman. They felt humiliated because there was only one woman among several men fighting the war. There are a few different interpretations of some of the events, but Nafanua is widely accepted in Polynesia as one of the greatest warriors.


In Samoa, the village of Falealupo on the island of Savai'i is the home of Nafanua.[2] 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.[3] 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.[1]

It was in Falealupo that Malietoa Vainu'upo searched out for Nafanua. After years of war, Malietoa Vainu'upo wanted to unite Samoa once and for all to end the bloodshed. After many days, Nafanua prophesied onto Malietoa Vainu'upo, "Fa'atali i lagi se ao o lou ma'lo". The literal translation is "Wait on the heavens for a crown for your kingdom". In 1830, the missionary John Williams arrived on the shores (matani'u feagaimaleata) of Sapapali'i and brought the bible from his boat into the hands of Malietoa Vainu'upo. Thus, Malietoa Vainu'upo became known as "The King whom Samoa listens to". King Malietoa became one of the kings of Samoa and he was instrumental in uniting all of Samoa.

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  1. ^ a b [1], Coming of Age in American Anthropology: Margaret Mead and Paradise by Malo Pau'po Isaia, p. 39 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "test" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  2. ^
  3. ^ Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rain Forest.1997. P. A. Cox. W.H. Freeman, New York