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The early Tuvaluans, untouched by western influences and aspirations highly valued their traditional singing and dancing.  Apart from simply providing entertainment, the fakanau and fakaseasea, which were formerly very popular form for dance, were composed to commemorate the reign of an aliki or toa, or to praise certain outstanding figures for their skills in canoe building, fishing, house building or for their wealth or bravery within the community. 

The fakanau which has a tune that is between speech and singing was performed while dancers are standing on their feet.  The rhythm of the fakanau is much quicker than those of the fakaseasea and the present day fatele.  With the arrival of the missionaries, because of the wide swaying movements and actions required in the fakanau were considered to be sexually stimulating, efforts were made to put an end to this kind of dancing.  At first it was difficult, but as more and more people came to accept the new religious beliefs the pastors became powerful and influential figures who ultimately dominated the rights of the aliki.  Because of this the fakanau, which the pastors regarded as evil dancing, gradually declined until it disappeared completely. 

The fakaseasea is said to be as old as the fakanau.  This type of dancing is still performed nowadays by elders.  Unlike the fakanau, the fakaseasea is sung much slower to a lovely tune and has one or two performers dancing on their feet.   Normally the fakaseasea requires no uniformity of actions but the performers are free to make actions which express the meanings of the words.  The survival of the fakaseasea up to the present time is due to the fact that the first pastors, fascinated by the lovely tune and the gentle slow actions of the fakaseasea, did not do anything to stop people from performing it. 

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However, in the early days the unique fakanau did not only play an important part in social entertainment but also in worshipping.  The faleaitu (house for gods) in which the people worshipped their gods is where one could hear different rituals and fakanau.  There were specially composed fakanau which could convey to the gods the worshippers' gratitude together with pleas for mercy. During communal work such as digging of pulaka pits the women sang and danced on the banks while the men were busy digging.  In this way singing and dancing encouraged the men and stopped them from getting tired easily. 

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The status of a composer in those days was highly recognized.  People had to see the composer when they wanted to commemorate a special occasion or to perform a fakanau or fakaseasea for an outstanding figure in the community.  Following the composition of the song the composer himself would call his singing and dancing group to come for practice.  As the time approached for the fakanau or fakaseasea to be sung for the first time in public, the person about whom the song was composed, and his family and relatives, had to be informed, well in advance of the appointed day.  This was the signal for a great deal of activity in which that particular person and his relatives would see that a good quantity of food and gifts were gathered.  At the end of the singing much of this would be handed over to the composer and his group in return for their good work, and some was kept for later occasions.  From that day onwards that fakanau or fakaseasea could be sung at any social gathering, and this often meant that gifts had to be offered to the performers by the relatives of the person about whom the song was made up. 

Another type of singing was known as kupu.   This was mainly composed to commemorate any good work of a deceased person.   The timing of the kupu is like that of the fakaseasea, but accompanied by crying sounds.  When someone died the mourners would, throughout the day and night perform a good number of kupu and fakanau in which they requested their gods to receive their dead kindly.  Poor singing and performances could, it was thought, bring more evil and misfortune to the relatives of the deceased and even results in the death of someone else from the same family.  The following is a kupu from the island of Vaitupu:

Our steps are always turned towards it,
Like the pua trees which lean over the lagoon.
We pluck at the living present,
But we cannot reach it.
A wall comes over us
And we flutter at it like moths.

    A fakanau from the island of Nukufetau commemorates the abundance of turtles in the island:

What a favourable wind
That blew from Lafaga direction.
I steered my canoe
And sailed for Melita,
And then for Kavakava,
To eat my turtle eggs,
To suck my turtle eggs.
It's a turtle head, they said,
So we go to Laleaga,
To satisfy our hunger
With a million turtle eggs.
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   (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 15th May 2009)                        


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