In “Pouliuli”, a novel written by Albert Wendt, Faleasa Osovae awakens to find out that the life he has been living all along is a mere façade. “Pouliuli” invites readers into the Samoan community of Malaelua, which is turned disorderly when Faleasa misleads his aiga and community by going insane. Albert Wendt ties a celebrated Malaelua saga about a fabulous hero named Pili to Faleasa Osovae’s life. In the myth as well as in Faleasa’s narrative, they both had the same end, which was to live the remainder of their life free.
To accomplish this end, they both had to complete three tasks. Pili’s tasks were to eat a mountain of fish which the giants had caught that day, to race the giants down a river, and to make himself disappear. Faleasa’s tasks were to destroy Filemoni, make Moaula the new leader, and take Sau and Vaelupa as council leaders.
Of course, they couldn’t have completed these tasks alone, so both of them enlisted help from friends. Pili enlisted the help of Tausamitel, Lelemalosi, and Pouliuli. Faleasa enlisted the help of his longtime friend Laaumatua and his son Moaula. Finally, to get the freedom they so desired, they had to complete one last task. In Pili’s case, it was to split his land among his children, while Faleasa had to take Malaga as Congress of the small town. In the end, they both end up with nothing, both ending up in the darkness of Pouliuli.
In both scenarios, there is a mirror image from Pili’s saga to Faleasa’s. In what way are the features of the three allies Pili enlisted to assist him with his tasks similar to those of Faleasa’s allies? How are the tasks in Pili’s saga similar to Faleasa’s tasks? Why did Faleasa really go with his plan when he knew that the end result in Pili’s narrative was tragic?
We first acknowledge the similarities between the fabulous saga of Pili to Faleasa’s life as we are informed of the myth. In Pili’s saga, as well as in Faleasa’s narrative, they create a plan that would achieve the freedom they are seeking. Pili wants to be restored into a human while Faleasa wants to live the remaining years of his life free from the responsibilities he had as a leader.
“If you set me three tasks and I perform them successfully, will you lift the curse off me?” (96) In Pili’s myth, Pili goes up to the Ninth Heaven to ask for his father, Tagaloaalagi, to restore him into a human. Tagaloaalagi sets three tasks for Pili to complete. Pili completes all the tasks with the help of Tausamitel and Lelemalosi and gets his wish to be restored human. Faleasa had only described his plan and his transformation from what he called “cannibal meat” into a free angel to his lifelong friend. (16)
Pili’s saga is similar to the narrative of Faleasa. Faleasa has created a program that would alleviate him of the responsibilities as a leader. Both scenarios have three undertakings to finish with the aid from friends. Besides, as each undertaking is completed, the following one gets more challenging. Pili and Faleasa also have to watch out that no one finds out that they are being helped by friends.
As each undertaking is completed, the following undertaking gets much tougher. Pili and Faleasa realize that they can’t complete these undertakings entirely, so they enlist people that are friends and close to them. “I have other allies,” Pili replied, because he had been forbidden to tie in with people. He had befriended three spirits who lived near his place: Tausamitele-Insatiable Appetite, Lelemalosi-Strong Flight, and Pouliuli-Darkness. It was with these friends that he devised his plans. (95)
The allies that Pili enlisted have features that are similar to the allies that Faleasa has enlisted. Lemigao was always hungry, or so it seemed to Osovae. Everywhere they went, Lemigao searched for food before he did anything else…He never refused any offer of food, even if he had just eaten a big meal… (21)
Laaumatua is a mirror image of Tausamitele. Laaumatua and Tausamitele both have an unfulfilled appetite. They are continuously hungry and will always be willing to eat even though they’ve just eaten. They also won’t turn down any meal that is given to them. Moaula is similar to Lelemalosi in the saga of Pili. Just before the morning prayer, Faleasa saw Moaula arriving from the plantation with a heavy burden of cocoyam. (He had always been amazed by his son’s physical strength.) Looking bigger still in the falling darkness, he stretched his arms and back and looked over at his father. (29)
In Pili’s saga, Lelemalosi is described as a person with strong flight. Lelemalosi is similar to Moaula because to be a strong person, a person must have physical strength to be able to do things such as carrying a heavy burden of cocoyam into the village or flying Pili and Tausamitele up to the Ninth Heaven.
Tausamitele and Moaula help Pili and Faleasa by assisting in hiding what they were doing. Moaula acts as the new council leader and meets with each black pine leader to describe what action should be taken at the next council meeting while Tausamitele helps Pili by finishing his 2nd undertakings which he had to race the giants down a river which was alive with unreliable rapids, vortexs, and waterfalls. ( 96 )
In the end, Pili’s saga as well as Faleasa’s narrative comes up short in achieving their goals. Faleasa was aware of the tragic end to Pili’s saga and didn’t do anything to change the outcome. That same night, Pili vanished from Malaelua. Some Malaeluans claimed that he had jumped up and been swallowed by his friend Pouliuli and would refuse to become visible again.
The narrative does not tell us why Faleasa didn’t do anything to change the outcome of his plan so that it wouldn’t end tragically like in Pili’s saga. Faleasa examines some of the meanings of the saga and concludes that, like Pili in his bitter old age, he too had voluntarily jumped up, as it were, into a life death, into the life darkness of Pouliuli. This decision did not scare him: it was comforting, like being suspended in the nucleus of a timeless sea, without a beginning or an end; and all was well. (97-98)
Faleasa believed that since Pili jumped into Pouliuli, Pili didn’t lose most of his self-respect. He ended one life and then started a new one. Still, if Faleasa knew the outcome of Pili’s saga ended tragically, why didn’t he do anything to change the outcome of his story? Could the reason why Faleasa didn’t alter the final outcome of his plan be because he thought that myths were just myths and could not possibly be true?
Was he so certain that his plan would work that he didn’t realize that his plan was exactly like Pili’s? Was he trying to shatter that myth by proving that he could obtain the freedom he so desired? Those questions will not likely be answered for only Faleasa knows the answer.
In Wendt’s novel Pouliuli, he introduces us to a 76-year-old man who creates a plan that will allow him to achieve freedom in the final years of his life. Wendt also acquaints us with a Malaeluan saga of a lizard that takes on three tasks to be transformed into a human. They both enlist the help of friends that have similar features to carry out each task.
Each of them is successful, but in the end, they come up short and fail to achieve what they had set out to do. In conclusion, things could have gone smoothly for Faleasa if he had noticed that Pili’s saga was similar to what he was going through and could have changed the outcome but instead followed the same steps as Pili into the darkness of Pouliuli.