Sacred to: Hina (Tahitian Moon goddess), Lakshmi (Hindu goddess of well-bring and wealth)
Myth 1: Samoans believed that a coconut tree, called the ~Tree of Leosia of the Watcher, ~ grew at the entrance to Pulotu, the World of Spirits
Myth 2: According to the Maoris, the coconut sprung from the head of the eel-god Tuna who had been sacrificed to redeem mankind. Unripe nuts represented heaven and the underworld
Myth 3: According to a legend from Tahiti, the first coconut came from the head of an eel named Tuna. When the moon goddess Hina fell in love with the eel, her brother, Maui, killed it and told her to plant the head in the ground. However, Hina left the head beside a stream and forgot about it. When she remembered Maui’s instructions and returned to search for the head, she found that it had grown into a coconut tree.
Myth 4: Some Sri Lankans say that the coconut tree sprung from the head of where an astrologer was buried. Others say that it originated from where the head of a horrible monster had been buried.
Myth 5: The Dyaks of Borneo transfer the souls of their newborns to coconut shells to protect them for the first year of life. Fijians believe that the fate of the child is tied to the coconut tree so they plant a new tree when a baby is born. Coconut shells are used to bury the afterbirth in the Philippines.
Other Notes: The nuts are an essential part of Hindu religious ceremonies such as weddings. They symbolize complete usefulness, selfless service, prosperity and generosity.
In northern India, it is the fruit of the “Tree of Life,” where coconuts are kept by priests to dispense as a fertility symbol to women who wish to conceive.
On the other hand, in Bali, women are forbidden to touch coconut palms for fear of draining the fertility of the tree into the woman.
In New Guinea, it is believed that the palm sprouted from the head of the first man to die.
Hainuwele – A Coconut Creation Myth
This creation myth comes from the Maluku Islands in Indonesia and tells the story of Hainuwele, the coconut-girl.
A long time ago a man named Ameta, out hunting, came on a wild boar. Trying to escape, the boar was drowned in a lake. On its tusk Ameta found a coconut. That night he dreamed of the coconut and was commanded to plant it, which he did the next morning.
In three days a coconut palm sprang up, and three days later it flowered. Ameta climbed it to cut some flowers and make a drink from them. But he cut his finger and the blood dropped on a flower. Nine days later he found a girl-child on the flower. Ameta took her and wrapped her in coconut fronds. In three days the child became a marriageable girl, and he named her Hainuwele (‘coconut branch’).
Hainuwele had a strange gift – she could excrete valuable objects – jewels and precious metals. During the great Maro festival Hainuwele stood in the middle of the dancing place and for nine nights she distributed gifts to the dancers. But on the ninth day the men decided that her talent meant she was a witch. They dug a grave in the middle of the dancing place and threw Hainuwele into it during the dance. The grave was filled in and men danced on it.
The next morning, seeing that Hainuwele did not come home, Ameta divined that she had been murdered. He found the body, disinterred it, and cut it into pieces, which he buried in various places, except the arms.
The buried pieces gave birth to plants previously unknown, especially to tubers, which since then are the chief food of human beings.
Ameta took Hainuwele’s arms to another Goddess, Satene. Satene drew a spiral with nine turns on a dancing ground and placed herself at the centre of it. From Hainuwele’s arms she made a door, and summoned the dancers. ‘Since you have killed,’ she said, ‘I will no longer live here. I shall leave this very day. Now you will have to come to me through this door.’ Those who were able to pass through it remained human beings. The others were changed into animals (pigs, birds, fish) or spirits. Satene announced that after her going men would meet her only after their death, and she vanished from the surface of the Earth.
Sina and the Eel – A Legend in Samoan Mythology
On the island of Savai’i in Samoa, one version of the legend tells of a beautiful girl called Sina who had a small pet Tuna. When the Tuna grew, it fell in love with Sina. This made the girl afraid. She tried to run away, but the Tuna followed her. Sina finally sought refuge in a village, and thinking that she had escaped, went to the village pool to get water.
However, when Sina looked into the pool, she saw the Tuna staring up at her.
Angry, she cried ‘You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!’ or in the Samoan language, ‘E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!’ Village chiefs came and killed the Tuna. As the Tuna was dying, it asked Sina to plant its head in the ground. Sina followed the Tuna’s request, and planted its head in the ground. A coconut tree grew from the ground. When the husk is removed from a coconut, there are three round marks which appear like the face of the Tuna with two eyes and a mouth. One of the marks is pierced for drinking the coconut, and hence when Sina takes a drink, she is kissing the Tuna.
In Samoa, the fresh spring pool Mata o le Alelo in the small village of Matavai, Safune, is associated with the legend of Sina and the Eel. The pool is named after Sina’s words to the Tuna in the legend. The pool is open to visitors.