In the Tahitian creation myth cycles featuring Ta’aroa as the primary creator, memory is one of the newborn god’s foundational attributes. For ancient Polynesians, the belief in ancestral memory maintains an un-broken link between the knowledge of those who lived before us, and generations yet to be born. It was believed that an ancient keeper of knowledge could transmit stored knowledge from their final dying breath to the chosen one who would become, in turn, culture bearer.
My great-grandmother Lovina Marae Mateata Tekurio Winchester Allain (Mama Kina) was a respected and beloved culture bearer. Her sister, Sarah Winchester Hall (Mama Lala), married the American novelist James Norman Hall. Hall and Charles Nordhoff co-authored well known novels such as Mutiny on the Bounty and the Hurricane. Both books have been made into multiple renowned films.
My fondest memories from childhood involve sitting at the foot of Mama Kina’s rocking chair as she worked on extraordinary traditional tifaifai quilts or shell creations, recounting the rich history and legends of the Polynesian islands. I also recall, with deep affection, Sundays spent at Mama Lala’s beach house, with traditional high tea set up near the ocean and the pounding waves. Maman and I would sample Lala’s delicious fresh baked goods and British tea as our elderly aunt relished us with tales of days gone by, a long forgotten past captured only in memory, preserved within the tradition of storytelling passed from one generation to the next.