Maxson McDowell PhD, LMSW, LP is a senior Jungian analyst who has practiced in New York City for the past 27 years. He is also treasurer and past-president
of the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York. Here he illustrates a Polynesian tale of a daughter and her canibal mother.
As Jung showed, dream interpretation and the interpretation of fairy tales both require symbolic thinking: by working with fairy tales we can better understand dreams.
This tale is the second in a series. You may also want to read the first tale: A daughter goes underground but her mother rescues her.
This, the second tale is from Tahiti, a Polynesian island in the south pacific. I grew up in New Zealand, which is also part of Polynesia.
The Polynesians were cannibals. In their culture there was no shame around sex and obscenity was not about sex; obscenity was about cannibalism. To call someone 'cooked food', or to mock warriors in a war canoe by calling the canoe a 'foodbowl', these were insults which might lead to war.
Maori female, right arm with three fingers hooked in mouth, left arm hooked under left leg. Darren Palmer, Lake Taupo, 1975-1993.
Photo: British Museum.
This is a strange story; it seems like a map which would lead to hidden treasure if we could decipher it.
Jung and von Franz showed that we can interpret fairytales at the subjective level: that is, we can understand this story as an account of different forces within the personality: how they conflict, possible resolutions, possible progressions.
When I interpret the story at this level, then it 'clicks', as though I had suddenly understood the enigmatic symbols on the treasure map. Then everything falls into place and the story speaks with authority.
In order to interpret the tale we have to explore the symbolic meaning of each image. This means that we first examine an image on its own terms, then ask what it may mean psychologically. This is a creative process that requires both logic and intuition.
But first we have to understand the overall structure of the story. In the beginning there is an imbalance, a mother and daughter, but no husband and no other men. But then three men appear in sequence: they are Monoi, then No'a, then Tahiki. At the end there is more balance: Tahaki is an aristocrat who acts correctly and is admired by the women. So the male figure seems to evolve. This structure provides the framework for an interpretation.
Our ancestor Tahaki of the red Skin was a great chief. Tahiki was descended from that female man-eater known as Rona niho niho roroa, therefore when we tell the story of Tahaki we begin with that woman, Rona long-teeth.
She had good looks and was of high rank in the land, but because of her teeth and what she used them for her husband did not remain with her; he went away from that woman. She remained in their house, and after the man was gone she gave birth to her daughter, and named her Hina.
Hina was brought up properly by that mother. Rona washed her well when she was born, she rubbed her body every day with oil of sandalwood, and pressed her head to make it of handsome shape; she bit Hina's eye-lashes to make them grow long, and she rolled the tips of her lingers with her thumb to make them tapering and slender. She saw that she was fed with all good things; she fished the reef herself to catch the tenderest of crabs for Hina. That girl grew well, she became a beautiful young woman with chiefly manners, and she did not know what food it was her mother ate.
Rona's hiding place was in that hole through the cliff at Taharaa, the path which people use at low tide to avoid the climb. She waited there and caught men as they passed, and ate them. Therefore people became scarce in that district; there were houses without people, and there were bones in Rona's Cave.
Cave. Cave Beach, Jervis Bay, A.C.T., Australia
Photo: Ely_Mountains, 2007
The story begins with the feminine side. Before we go any further we must ask, what does the feminine represent? I might forget to ask that question. I think I already know. But then my interpretation is incomplete, just words: 'The feminine does this, the feminine does that'. I tend to stay with the jargon and to resist spelling out the meaning.
Reading a myth is like reading the diagnostic manual for mental disease. If I am not too defended, then I recognize that I have all the symptoms, hopefully in mild form! No-one is fully formed: we are all formed in some areas and unformed in others. If I am open to the story of Rona, then it makes me unpleasantly aware of the areas that are still unformed. So I defend against that with jargon.
Though Rona has no husband, she has a daughter.
I talked about the symbolism of the daughter in the previous tale.
One young man escaped that woman's teeth., Monoihere was his name, and he desired her daughter. He was handsome, and Hina desired him also, therefore they used to meet at Orofara, in a shady place near where the spring flows into Hina's Pool. That cave in the rock-face there was only known to them. For others it was quite closed up in former times, hut it opened and closed as they-two wished, and hid Monoi.
Entrance of semi-subterranean storehouse. Wooden figure; legs hooked over arms, genitals with bulging shape, rauponga spirals on buttocks, legs. Taranaki, New Zealand, 1850s?
Photo: British Museum
The time for their being together was when Rona had gone out on the reef for crabs. She was expert at this and was often to be seen far out off Matavai, bending over the reef to collect food for her daughter. Then it was safe for Hina and Monoi. Then Hina took a basket of food and went up to Orofara and she said these words:
Monoihere is the man,
Hina is the woman.
Come out from there!
and from inside the rock the man replied:
Where is your mother with the long teeth?
Where is Rona?
and Hina answered him:
She is on the long reef,
She is on the short reef,
She is catching food for us,
O my lover!
Then Hina said:
Break you open!
These words split the rock and let Monoi out and they-two had their custom in that shady place. Then Hina returned to her home and left Monoi closed up in the rock.
Shaded pool, cave
Old Man's Cave State Park, Ohio
Photo: Tim Cook, www.ohio.edu/people/cookt
Licorne shot. July 3, 1970, French Polynesia
Photo: French military
After a certain time Rona noticed that the food she caught was quickly gone. 'This daughter of mine eats much,' that mother said. One day therefore, when she had cooked the usual quantity for keeping, she said that she felt unwell, and lay down on her sleeping-mat, and snored.
And Hina, believing that her mother was asleep, took out some food and crept away; and Rona followed her. When she saw where Nina was going that woman took a short cut by enchantments, and she concealed herself at Orofara in a pua tree.
And Rona saw what happened in that place. She heard the words that Hina spoke, and she watched her daughter with the man: and she desired his flesh, that vahine kaitangata. Therefore she returned to her house, and snored on her mat when Hina came.
On the next day that eater-of-men said to Hina, "Tonight I go fishing by torchlight, so I will go now to collect dry leaves. Stay here, for I shall not he long."
But Rona went inland to Orofara; by enchantment she made the distance short and soon she stood before the rock, and she pretended to be Hina, saying:
Monoihere te tane,
O Hina te vahine.
A puta mai i vaho.
But Monoi knew the voice of that vahine kaitangata and he answered:
You are not Hina, you are Rona.
You are Rona of the Long Teeth.
She therefore knew that he was in that place and she said the words that are for splitting rock:
Te tumu o te papa e, vahia!
She ate the best parts first, she ate his fingertips and toes; she scooped his brains and ate them, she swallowed his liver, and she found out his kidneys and ate them also. She also ate his cock and the two that hang; but Monoi's heart that woman could not find. His heart concealed itself, it remained still beating in the mess of guts, and therefore Rona did not eat Monoi's heart.
Kali standing on Parvati and Shiva. Miniature painting on paper. Kailsh Raj, Kangra School.
Photo: Exotic India
The scene is well illustrated by this traditional Indian image. The Polynesians may have brought a version of Rona with them when they first migrated from south east Asia.
When she had finished her meal she closed the cave behind her. Then she gathered up dry fronds to make her torches, and went home to Hina.
So soon as the moon came up that woman got her crab spear, and taking a young person to carry her torches, she went out wading on the reef. Then Hina filled a basket, and went inland to have enjoyment with Monoi. She stood before that rock and softly called:
Monoihere te tane,
O Hina te vahine.
A puta mai vaho.
But the rock was silent. Therefore Hina said the rest; she said:
Te tumu o te papa e, vahia!
and the rock split open, and she saw her lover's bones and guts. She spoke no word, that girl who loved, but straightway took her lover's heart, it was beating yet, and placed it by her own. Then she returned to her home to act.
Sad Hina cut the man-long stem of one banana tree, and laid it on her sleeping-mat, and she covered it with her sheet of soft white tapa. Then at the head she placed a drinking-nut; and she hurried from that place.
Well guided by her lover’s heart, she ran to Uporu, to the house of that hairy chief whose name was No'a huruhuru. No'a received her with kindness, and she remained at his house.
Now in the middle of that night when all her torches had been burnt, that woman Rona came home with her catch, and she called to her daughter in the house:
But the house remained silent. And Rona cried:
If you don't answer, you will be eaten by me!
But there came no answer from the house. Therefore Rona rushed to where her daughter was sleeping, she seized her body in the sheet and sliced it with a single bite.
And when she saw how she was tricked she was enraged, and cried out:
"Aue! My food has escaped!"
All through that night she was enraged.
Ancient silver coin. Depicts seed of abortifacient herb, silphium, main export of Cyrene, ancient Greek colony in present-day Libya: 630 BC - 365 AD.
Rona and No'a
So soon as the cocks were crowing in the valley and the first men were astir, Rona rushed out to look for Hina. She asked for her at every house and they told her which way that girl had gone.
That woman therefore hurried to the house of No'a huruhuru, and when she saw her daughter there she became all teeth. There were teeth on Rona's chin, teeth on her elbows, teeth on her belly.
Giant Red Sea Urchin. Strongylocentrotus franciscanus, photographed 50 feet deep in southern British Columbia. Derek Holzapfel.
But No'a huruhuru raised his spear, he cried out in a loud strong voice:
This spear, Tane te rau aitu,
has dealt with Te Ahua and Hine te aku tama!
Then he thrust that spear down Rona's throat, right down through all her teeth, She writhed and died.
Odysseus spears cyclops' eye. Greek vase painting. Orientalizing period: began 7th century BCE.
There are also echos of Beowulf who killed devouring Grendle, then killed Grendle’s devouring mother, and then killed the devouring dragon.
Sigurd (Beowulf) slays the dragon. Carved doorway, Hylestad Church, ca. 1175.
Crucifixion. Andrea Mantegna. Detail of large altar piece, painted between 1457 and 1459
San Zeno, Verona, Italy
Crucifixion and Last Judgement. Jan van Eyck. Detail. Probably a late work, early 1430s, finished after his death.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Culture and conscious yang
Te Aho O Te Rangi Wharepu. 1850s-1905. With moko and patu, photographed circa 1900.
Thus perished Rona niho niho roroa, the vahine kaitangata of Taharaa, the ancestor of Tahaki of the red skin. Her daughter Hina was the grandmother of that red chief.
[Tahiki was well known to a Polynesian audience. It is told that he made the island of Tahiti by cutting the sinews of a fish. And that Lightening came out his armpits. He achieved much while doing everything correctly, as a Polynesian aristocrat should. He was handsome to perfection. Everyone admired him, especially the women.]
Maori man. Topknot with feathers and a bone comb, full facial moko, a greenstone earring, a tiki and a flax cloak. Sketched 1769 by Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771), artist on Cook's first voyage to New Zealand.
Photo: Parkinson, Sydney. A journal of a voyage to the South Seas. London, 1784.