A group of islanders stand at the tall cliffs overlooking the South Pacific Ocean and sing a song. And a little bit of magic happens.
The islanders, from the village of Vaitogi, in American Samoa, sing some ancient words and one by one, the sea turtles in the area will come to the surface of the ocean and raise their heads from the water as if in greeting.
Those lucky enough to see this spectacle are often rewarded with the sight of sharks also coming to the water’s surface at the sounds of the ancient song/chant.
That the sharks and turtles, natural enemies, would swim alongside each other is a modern day mystery steeped in ancient legend.
This amazing sight, now a major tourist attraction, is made all the more mysterious because the turtles and sharks never come to the surface unless the ancient song is sung by at least three islanders.
Many have tried, unsuccessfully, to entice the sea creatures to the surface by other means, giving new respect to the legend that inspired the song and the tradition.
There are different versions of the story, as is often the case with ancient legends handed down through generations.
One story involves a young couple who could not bear the thought of being separated, so threw themselves into the ocean.
THE TURTLE TALE
The most popular version tells of an old blind woman and her granddaughter, rejected by their relatives as a burden during a long famine.
When the grandmother, Fonuea, realised the family had left her and the young girl to starve, she asked her granddaughter to take her to the edge of the cliffs. Together, they dove into the water to leave their fate with the generous sea.
They immediately turned into a shark and a turtle and swam together to many islands, where they were repeatedly rejected.
Finally, after swimming miles and miles, they came upon Vaitogi, a village on the island of Tutuila, now part of American Samoa.
They left the water and transformed themselves back into human form. The villagers greeted them with friendliness and respect, offering them food and shelter.
They were offered a permanent home in the village. However, the grandmother realised her heart was now with the sea.
She told the chief that she and her granddaughter would return to the ocean, but stay close the island cliffs.
She gave him the words to a song and promised that she and her granddaughter would come to the surface to greet and entertain the villagers, in honour of their kindness, when the song was sung.
THE TURTLE SONG
As with the story, the words to the song vary, depending on who you speak to.
The words pictured below were handwritten for me by a lovely Samoan lady I know.
They translate to:
Turtle leave your baby in the lagoon
So you can dance and wiggle
So we can watch.
Turtle don’t be late to hide your baby
If there is a stick bed
Bring some tea leaves for the baby turtle
Bring up a beautiful turtle
But not all at once
Because you are beautiful individually
Traditionally, when the turtle and shark appear on the surface, the crowd would hail “Lalelei!” (“Beautiful!”), three times.
Turtles feature in the folklore of most coastal cultures. This is no surprise as marine turtles have lived in the oceans for over 100 million years.
They evolved before mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes, and lizards.
They symbolise things such as long life, wellness, fertility, union, family and harmony.
Turtles play a vital role in maintaining the health of our world’s oceans.
They transport essential nutrients from the ocean to beaches and help maintain productive coral reef ecosystems.
Pollution and changes to habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests and nesting beaches have placed all turtle in danger.
The biggest threats include entanglement in fishing gear, poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells, coastal development, plastic and other marine debris, global warming and ocean pollution.
Australia has some of the largest marine turtle nesting areas in the Indo-Pacific region and has the only nesting populations of the flatback turtle.
Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, six occur in Australian waters. They are protected by the Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and various State and Northern Territory legislation.
On the endangered list are the Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive ridley turtle and they could become extinct if threats to their survival continue.
The Green, Hawksbill and Flatback turtle are each listed as vulnerable.
These amazing creatures can live more than 100 years. One Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise was reported to have lived more than 200 years.
The oldest known sea turtle fossils date back about 150 million years.
Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica.
Turtles will live in almost any climate warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle.
Marine turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Hearing and sense of touch are both good and even the shell contains nerve endings.
Leatherback sea turtles can travel more than 10,000 miles every year and can weight up to 2000 pounds.
Green sea turtles can stay underwater for up to five hours. Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen. Up to nine minutes may elapse between heart beats.
Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through the skin on their neck and cloacal areas allowing them to remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time and enabling them to hibernate underwater.
WORLD TURTLE DAY
World Turtle Day is May 23 each year.
Its aim is to raise awareness of their plight and increase knowledge and respect for one of the earth’s oldest creatures.
How can you help? Spread the word about these beautiful creatures and how important they are to the world’s ecosystems.
If you have children in your life, let them know they can help the turtles by not littering and by reducing the amount of waste they use.
Celebrate World Turtle Day by making a fun craft project. You can find an easy project in my post, Easy Steps to Make a Terrific Turtle and her Hatchling.
My next Wacky Wednesday project features a beautiful turtle that is fun for children and adults to make.
Let me leave you with a question, shared by a six-year-old Samoan boy.
Q: What kind of pictures do turtles take?
A: Shelfies. 🙂
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.