by Mineke Schipper, Humanity’s End as a New Beginning: World Disasters in Myths
16. Ruahatu, the god of the ocean
(Raiatea, French Polynesia)
Long, long ago a deluge came up from the ocean. This happened long after the sky had been separated from the earth and moved upwards. Two men, Teahoroa and Ro’o, were close friends, and lived together. One day they were fishing for pompanos in deep water, and they were lucky: they found what they looked for near a small island called Toa-marama (Rock-of-the-moon). Their fishing was a great success, but inadvertently they had approached the coral grotto of Ruahatu for whom this was a very sacred spot. They happened to arrive there at the moment when Ruahatu was taking a nap in that grotto of the deep.
Teahoroa and Ro’o dropped their fishhooks attached to stones down into the water. Unfortunately one of the hooks fell with its stone upon the crown on the head of the god. He woke up, drew his fingers through his hair and found the fishhook and the stone. Ro’o and Teahoroa saw the line vigorously jerking and believed this was a fish. They drew the line and saw a thick head of hair spreading out and coming up towards the canoe. Both exclaimed: “Woe to us, this is no fish, but a monster of the deep. We are doomed now.”
Then Ruahatu’s head appeared scowling upon the two men. “Who are you?”
“We are Ro’o and Teahoroa. We have transgressed in coming to this sacred spot. Please, forgive us both, o king. This will never happen again.”
Then the sea monster asked: “Do you have relatives and clans inland?”
“Yes, we have relatives and clans inland.”
“Do you have a royal family?”
“Yes, we do have a royal family.”
“And is princess Airaro there too, she who is beloved of the gods of the ocean?”
“Yes, indeed, the princess is there.”
“Do you have children inland?”
“Yes, we have children and grandchildren.”
Ruahatu said: “Go, and tell them all to come out here to Toa-marama immediately. You have been unkind to me, you have disturbed me and therefore I am vexed with you. You will all be saved because of the good princess Airaro, if you come back here without delay. Tonight I, Ruahatu, king of the mighty ocean, will destroy Raiatea completely. I will not only break the branches, I will uproot the trees as well.”
Ro’o and Teahoroa paddled back to their land. They were very worried and quickly warned their families, their children, their grandchildren, and their wives; and also the royal family and their clan. From afar the people saw that the hair of the heads of the two friends stood on end because of their great fear! They told everybody on shore: “Come, we must all go off to Toa-marama, at once. King Ruahatu told us that no one must remain on the mainland tonight. We have provoked his displeasure, and soon he will submerge the whole land, and not one will be spared. Only those, people, fowls, dogs, pigs, and rats that go to Toa-marama will be saved.”
All members of the whole Royal family were quickly brought to the islet. All the household of Ro’o and Teahoroa as well as some other people took the message seriously. However, others laughed, or mocked them or simply turned a deaf ear.
Those who heeded the message from the mighty king of the ocean got ready and paddled away in great terror, out to Toa-marama where they landed in complete silence. All the birds, spiders and insects, shadows of the gods, had been caught up by their respective deities into the skies for their safety.
After a while, the people heard the sea murmur and the coral rattle, and the waves made the branches of the trees crackle. And there was the rushing sound of the sea covering the reef. As the night advanced, the sea splashed powerfully upwards, rising high above the mainland. Only the mid-ocean rock Toa-marama was left dry, because of the presence of princess Airaro, beloved of the sea gods.
They all fell into a deep sleep and when they woke up at daybreak, they saw the sea gliding back into the bed of the ocean. Later in the morning, in the low tide, the reef was dry again, and the sea looked completely smooth, as if it had not just been wildly tossing about.
That same morning the people paddled back home. The sea was full of driftwood and debris from the soil. On the beach they found slimy rocks, branches of coral, dead fishes and mollusc shells scattered around, with broken branches and uprooted trees all over. There were no living creatures left inland, they had all been swept away by the ocean, the people and the animals. Those who returned from Toa-marama first stayed together on the beach. They had no other food than red clay with fish. But then the trees began to bud again, and in one month the verdure was back, and each season began to produce its own food again.
This is how in that dark period the royal family and some people had been saved. The animals came back too. The birds, spiders and insects were sent down again from the skies to their usual dwelling places. And soon the whole land appeared as it had been before the deluge.