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The Creation Myth of Fiji and the Serpent God

The Serpent God plays an important role in many religions and myths from all over the World. However, most of the times its role is identified with that of Evil, even if the common denominator of the Serpent God is that he wants humans to get knowledge (such as the example of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden in Christian religions).

In the mythology of Fiji Island, in one of the more popular creation stories, the Serpent God is not only an important God but the first and ever living god that created the first humans. His name is the Great Serpent Degei, the supreme God. He is believed to be the creator of the Fiji islands and all men related to the islands. He is the one that judges the souls when they die and decides where they move onto in the afterlife.

According to the legend, in the beginning it was only water and twilight everywhere and only an island existed, the island of the Gods which floated somewhere at the edge of the world and could be visible during sunrise. Degei was alone and the only living creature was the female hawk named Turukawa.

Turukawa couldn’t speak and the only thing she would do was to fly around Earth, until she started gathering leaves and grass creating a nest and finally two eggs were created. The great God Degei took the two eggs to his house where he made a bed for them and kept them warm with his body. When the eggs hatched, two tiny human beings came out, they were his children.

Once the first humans were born, they were transferred to a vesi tree where Degei built a shelter for them, fed them and taught them the secrets of nature. But he kept his children separate. He planted trees around them so they could find food, trees like banana trees, dalo and yams. However, humans could only eat from the banana tree and not dalo (or taro) and yams (like sweet potatoes), because they didn’t know the art of fire and the fruits of those trees couldn’t be eaten raw. Dalo and yams were the food of the gods.

When the first humans grew up they met each other and asked Degei to show them how to harness the power of the fire and how to eat the food of the Gods, and so Degei taught them. And it was after a while that the first humans left Degei and went to live on their own and had their first children. Degei wasn’t upset since he knew that his children and their children would worship him as their God.

According to the legend, the first village that Degei landed on was Lautoka where he established the village of Viseisei. It is interesting to note that Fiji has no snakes, so the concept of the snake God Degei not only is strange, but his story is very similar to Hindu mythology and the snake Kaliya, but while Degei is a good God, Kaliya is presented as a bad Serpent.

Fijian myths are interesting because they are one of the few that represent the Serpent God as a good God and not associated with evil. However, carefully studying mythologies and religions from all over the World, we can easily identify that that was the case with all Serpent Gods, but for many reasons, their role was twisted to that of an evil one.

According to the legends, the Serpent God Degei now lives in a cave in the Nakavadra mountain range in Viti Levu.

By John Black

Related Links

Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1

Fiji Myths and Legends

Degei or Kaliya – a closer look at one of Fiji’s enduring myths

Turukawa, the legend of the bird carriers

Myths and Legends of Fiji, A.W. REED & Inez Hames

Related Books

Comments

Hi! I am a fijian and I must say that I have never heard this story of degei told like this before. All I can say from folktale is that he was part of Lutunasobasoba's group that came to settle in Fiji. There are so many related myths about Degei but I have not it heard told like that John Black writes, it seems like the story of the bible re-enacted when God created the heavens and the earth. Vinaaka

Sosovi there are 2 Degei's in iTaukei fokelore . One is the brother of Lutunasobasoba and the other is Degei the Creator.

Tsurugi's picture

I have noticed that serpent deities in mythology seem to hold a dualistic role. What were the reasons for twisting the Serpent God's roles and making them evil?

Umm I'm wondering about an error in the text above (p3-4,2-1) It mentions that Turukawa was a female, but then it says "...the only thing he could do..." Is Turukawa a male or female character??

ancient-origins's picture

Thank you for pointing this out Peter. Turukawa was female. The article was written by a non-native English speaker who had his he’s and she’s mixed up.  This has now been corrected.

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