Vaka atua

Te Vaka
Te Vaka


The arrival of the missionaries marked a time of upheaval that destroyed much of the culture of the Pacific Islands. This song was inspired by what occurred in Tokelau where people were threatened with visits by gunboats if they didn’t accept the new faith.

Old songs and old dances were labeled as "evil" by the church who therefore proceeded to suppress them. These actions were motivated greatly by each missionary’s personal prejudices and dislikes of the customs and manners of each Island. Much of the old songs and old dances were lost at that point in time.

‘Vaka atua’ describes the many conflicts that occurred trying to accept these new beliefs while throwing aside the spiritual beliefs that had been held by them and their ancestors for thousands of years. One man, Foliga’s, reply to the first missionary in his land was "No, we already have our own true god in heaven" (represented in this song by "Tagaloa" Polynesian god of the sea).

"All their lesser evil customs you will endeavour to cast down,
going in a state of nudity or nearly so, cutting or scratching
themselves in seasons of grief - tattooing their bodies. Eating
raw fish, their lewd dances etc, but the greater evils will require
your first attacks and then the smaller."
(John Williams, LMS South Sea Letters, 1823, quoted in Gunson 1978: 319)


VAKA ATUA (Missionaries)
Opetaia Foa'i/traditional

(Traditional Tokelau chant)

keina tu mai tao kae fakatonu ko to ta ho
keina tu mai tao kae fakatonu ko to ku Aliki
ko toku aliki Tui Tokelau
hau he matagi ke moli au
Tui o nuku Tui o vavau
hau he matagi keina tuiao ioa lava

Written by Opetaia Foa'i

ua fa’asa uma le faiga o pese f’a’apena
ua fa’asa uma le faiga o siva fa’apena
ua fa’asa fo’i le faiga o le tatau
ua fa’asa fo’i le aiga ole i’a mata

te tali nei a foliga
te matou Atua i te lagi
te matou Aliki i te lagi

e ui lava kua puli koutou
uma toku igoa

e he mafai na puli kou tou

e tagaloa

you are forbidden from songs like that
you are forbidden from dances like that
you are forbidden from making tattoos
you are forbidden from eating raw fish
from this day forward you will sing these songs

this was Foliga's answer
our true god is in the sky
our true god is in the sky‚Ä®
Ioa just Ioa (name of a god)
Tagaloa reply
even though you have all forgotten my name
you will never be forgotten by tagaloa

© Spirit of Play Productions/Traditional