Chapter 1 - Lagona
Very few people believe in the existence of the four tribes of Taleni. Most say Taleni is a myth, others refer to it as folklore. For me, it is real, because I’ve been there.
Taleni is a group of Islands with the most peculiar geographical shape. It is actually a group of five islands, all within distant sight of each other. The main island (also the largest one), lies in the centre. It is called “E Aoga”, or just Aoga in short. (I learned later that “E Aoga” means “It works”, or “useful”. This made absolute sense the moment I visited Aoga for the first time).
Circling Aoga lies the four smaller islands, each being the home to one of the four tribes. The islands, as the tribes living on it, are known as Faia Mea, Lagona, Tosinaga and Mafafau. These tribes each have a very unique culture and distinct way of life, in some way, completely disconnected from each other. But, I soon discovered that they cannot survive without each other. Together they formed an “organic unit”, like a mini cosmos, where they found meaning, life and purpose.
They even had a saying to describe it: "I le tatou eseesega, o lo tatou malosi." - "In our difference, lies our strength."
I had the very unique privilege to have lived on each of these islands as part of the tribes for quite some time. I actually spent a total of 14 years on Taleni, learning everything about their cultures and their habits, about what they embraced and what they chose to resist. I experienced how they were trained from a young age within very specific skills, each individual according to his or her very unique characteristic, which became clear in their early teens. It was then that the Elders helped each one to discover and embrace his or her personal uniqueness. Even more so - I went through all of it myself - the discovery, the Elders meeting, the initiation, and embracing my own uniqueness - my "Taleni". The first outsider to ever have been granted that privilege and honour.
I came to know and respect each of the tribes, and also each of the many distinct personalities of their people. But in the end, it was one tribe - the Mafaufau - that became my home, and who allowed me in as a life-long member of their tribe. It was there that I found my true self, even though it was the wonderful people of the Lagona tribe who first took me in. And, knowing what I know today, I would never have chosen a different island to wake up on back then, than Lagona.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you my story from the very beginning....
I will never forget the day that I opened my eyes on the beach of Lagona. I had no idea how I came to be there. It was the face of Alofa that I saw first, as she was kneeling next to me. She was smiling gently, softly holding my head in her hands, as if she was afraid that I will break. Looking into her eyes immediately gave me a warm feeling of kindness and acceptance.
I frowned, and asked, “Where am I?”
“This is Lagona” she replied. “I am Alofa. Who are you?”
“I am….uh…I am…. I don’t know who I am…” I replied as I suddenly realized that I could not remember my own name.
“How did I get here? Why am I on a beach?”
I felt anxiety creeping into my heart as I looked at the beach and palm trees around me. Then I looked at Alofa, and, weirdly, the moment I saw her eyes I felt that calming sensation again.
“Come on, sit up,” Alofa said, “have some water”.
She gave me some fresh, cool water in a jug and as I drank I realized how thirsty I was.
“Thank you” I uttered between the gulps.
"Ogatasi, help me to let him stand up."
I saw another girl for the first time. She seemed just as gentle and kind as Alofa. They helped me to my feet.
“This is my twin sister, Ogatasi” Alofa said.
“Hello” I said, seeing a similar, yet different kindness in Ogatasi's eyes.
“Hi there...” replied Ogatasi with a kind smile. I looked around me. A few people were moving towards us. Alofa kept her hand on my arm.
If only I realized then how my life was about to change.....