Today the mythical and historical treasures of Falealupo, Savaii are marked with way finding signs, guiding visitors (curious enough to journey far to the most remote northern point of Samoa) along the loop trail of historical sites in the Falelupo peninsula with ease.
But of all the landmarks in Samoa that support her myths and legends, there is one that remains unmarked and hiding in plain sight in the heart of Falealupo, yet it’s existence illuminates a unique insight into the power and vulnerability of Samoa’s first warrior Queen and demi-god, Nafanua.
Just a short distance from the Falealupo canopy walk turn-off and fittingly tucked away on hallow ground behind Falealupo Catcholic church, sits the Aga Lega; a large underground cave that once served as a healing chamber and retreat for Queen Nafanua as well as a focus for high chiefs who sought her wise counsel and blessings.
Should you find yourself lucky enough to locate the Aga Lega, you may have the added good fortune of meeting Tupa’i Tolo, one of the local matai and caretakers of Nafanua’s retreat - curiously carrying the same title as Nafanua’s high priest and war general in ancient times tasked by the Queen to deliver her decrees, lead her armies and acquired for her the Tafa’ifa royal titles.
“The history of this place has been passed down to me by my father and his father before him – we are the descendants of the priestly families of Nafanua and the custodians of the Aga Lega” said Tupa'i
Despite its mythical, historical and cultural value to Samoa with all the potential of being the next iconic site, the Aga Lega rarely receives any visitors unless the location is revealed through word of mouth,
“It would really help us to have signage like all the other historical sites in Falealupo” said Tupa'i “it would make things easier for everyone if the Aga Lega were included in the loop trail but unfortunately people just pass by this site, not even realising - this is the maota (house) of Nafanua.”
“The name originates from the healing plant also known as turmeric that grew in this cave” said Tupai Tolo “the old stories tell us it was brought here by the flying foxes and kept in this sacred cave for a very important purpose”
“Most Samoans are familiar with the historical battles of Nafanua, who fought many wars from the east to the west but not many people know that this is the place where the warrior came to recover and recuperate, healing her wounds with the lega, kept here in this very cave.”
The Aga Lega gives the visitor the unique experience of re-imagining Nafanua as a mere mortal, retracing the steps of a wounded yet victorious Warrior Queen into the dark, cool sanctuary to recuperate and find strength to fight another battle.
Stairs lead down to the cave that opens up into a natural cathedral- like space that would have been in total darkness if not for the open ceiling at the other end of the cave. Tupai points out a large round shape passage that leads off the main central space as the location for Nafanua’s personal chambers.
Local folklore also reveals that the Aga Lega was regarded as the seat of power during Nafanua’s reigh, a place where high Chiefs sought out her counsel and wisdom and more importantly, where the warrior Queen distributed the political and cultural powers of Samoa that still exist today.
“When Malietoa and Su’a sought out the powers of sovereignty over Samoa, it was here they came to seek Nafanua’s blessing. However it was not their time because she had given the honour to Salamasina of Leulemoega. Instead she gave them an oracle,to await their sovereignty which will come from the heavens which today we know as the independent state of Samoa founded on God.“
Like all myths and legends of Samoa, the listener awaits to receive the moral within the story and in his expert skills as an orator, Tupai comes full circle in the story of Falealupo’s divine daughter and the role of their district in the making of Samoa till today.
“Falealupo is the only village that has a tradition of advocacy and support weaved into their faalupega (geneology) why? Because all the glory and blessings of Nafanua was gifted from Falealupo to lift up Samoa and because of that… today, the role of Falealupo is to support and defend Samoa."
* To contact Tupai for the location of the Aga Lega or request a tour, call 727 6900. A small fee of $5 tala applies at the entrance.
** Photo Credit for all photos used above - Samoa Tourism