I’m interested in legends and fairy tales because, as Jung showed, they portray psychological problems and suggest how to deal with them. The tale I’m going to tell is from the neolithic Polynesian culture. It was recorded in Tahiti, early in the twentieth century. I demonstrate a Jungian approach to understanding symbolic images.
Rona Long Teeth
Our ancestor, Tahaki of the red skin was descended from a female man-eater named Rona long-teeth. Rona had good looks and was of high rank in the land, but because of her teeth and what she used them for her husband went away from that woman.
Photo: source unknown.
Then Rona gave birth to a daughter, who was called Hina. Rona brought her daughter up properly. She washed and massaged her well and fed her well, catching the tenderest of crabs for her on the reef. Hina grew up to be a beautiful young woman with chiefly manners, and she did not know what food it was her mother ate.
Rona hid in a cave beside the path which people used at low tide to avoid having to climb the cliff, and she caught men as they passed and ate them. People became scarce in that district. There were houses without people and there were bones in Rona’s cave.
One young man named Monoi escaped that woman’s teeth because he hid inside a rock. He was handsome and Hina desired him. When Rona was fishing on the reef, Hina would go to the place where Monoi was and say the chant for splitting rock. Monoi would come out and Hina would give him food and then they-two had their custom in that shady place.
Rona noticed that the food she caught was quickly gone, so one day she pretended to be asleep, then followed Hina and watched her daughter with the man. Then Rona desired his flesh.
Later Rona went herself to the rock, and said the chant for splitting rock, and caught Monoi and ate him, enjoying first the most tasty parts, his finger tips and liver and his penis and testicles. But his heart concealed itself, beating yet, in a mess of guts, and therefore Rona did not eat Monoi’s heart.
That night Hina found that Monoi had been eaten. Sad Hina took her lover’s heart, beating yet, and held it close to her own. She went home and put a man-long stem of a banana tree under her sleeping cloth. Then, well guided by her lover’s heart, she went to the house of that hairy chief, whose name was No’a huruhuru. No’s received her with kindness.
Rona came back from fishing by torch-light and called out to Hina
“Here’s food!” Rona was angry when Hina did not answer.
If you don’t answer, you will be eaten by me!”
She seized Hina’s body in the sleeping cloth and sliced it with a single bite. When she saw she had been tricked she was enraged and cried out
“Aue! My food has escaped.” All through that night she was enraged.
As soon as the cocks were crowing in the valley she rushed out to find Hina and was directed to No’a’s house. When she saw her daughter there she became all teeth. There were teeth on Rona’s chin, teeth on her elbows, teeth on her belly. But No’a raised his ancestral spear. He cried out in a loud strong voice:
“This spear, Tane te rau aitu,”
“Has dealt with Te Ahua and Hine te aku tama!”
Then he thrust that spear down Rona’s throat, right down through all her teeth. She writhed and died.
Hina stayed with No’a and gave birth to an aristocratic son who, in turn, was the father of Tahaki of the red skin. Tahaki was well-known to a Polynesian audience. He made the islands of Tahiti by cutting the sinews of a great fish, and lightening came out of his armpits. He achieved much while doing everything correctly as a Polynesian aristocrat should. He had red skin and was handsome to perfection. Everyone admired him, especially the women.
What follows is my interpretation of the tale. It is subjective, like the interpretation of a dream, or the interpretation of a poem. You have to decide for yourself whether my interpretation convinces you. Does it have the ring of truth? `
Broadly speaking, the tale shows the interplay of Yang and Yin. (Yang is the phallic principle of penetration, separation, light and consciousness. Yin is the receptive principle of containment, fertility, earth and the dark unconscious). Rona represents the maternal aspect of Yin, which gestates and nurtures richly, but is also is deathly and devouring. Hina represents the Aphrodite aspect of Yin which entangles us in sexuality and relationship. In the beginning there is an imbalance: There is a mother and a daughter, but no husband. Yang exists only as the long phallic teeth inside Rona’s mouth. At the end of the tale Yang and Yin are in better balance because all the women admire the great chief Tahaki.
Rona is a narcissistic mother who feeds Hina well, but only while she experiences her daughter as her possession, as an extension of her own self. When Hina defies Rona, Rona becomes enraged and tries to eat her. Monoi (who becomes Hina’s lover) is a development of Yang, now a young man instead of teeth. But Monoi is not quite out of the mother yet, because he lives inside a rock (mother earth), and only comes out when women call him. He is a youth who is sexually potent, but is still controlled by the mother.
Here we see a significant repetition: First the teeth inside Rona’s mouth then Monoi inside the rock. The story seeks to convey something intangible but important: Yang contained within Yin. It choses several unrelated images to represent that idea. Such repetition constitutes internal evidence for the interpretation. There are many instances of internal repetition in this tale.
Rona shows the paradoxical role of the maternal principle. She devours Monoi and tries to devour Hina, but she also pushes Hina’s journey forward. She discriminates Monoi by eating his penis but missing his heart (remember that Yang is the knife that distinguishes one thing from another). So Yang is beginning to assert itself.
Monoi’s beating heart represents feeling. We use our feeling function to discriminate (“Does this feel right or not?” Ultimately it is through feeling that we decide “Is this good or bad?”). So the discriminating heart is a further evolution of Yang. Monoi’s beating heart guides sad Hina – guiding is an act of discrimination – so that she can find No’a.
No’a is a hairy chief, so he has a lot of hair on his head. Since hair emerges out of the head, this suggests that he has an active mind. Thus No’a represents the head phallus which is more evolved than the body phallus. This interpretation is confirmed by repetition because No’a has an ancestral chant and an illustrious spear – these are both cultural products, that is products of the mind. So No’a is a hero like Odysseus, a strategist who uses his head.
When Rona sees Hina in No’a’s house, Rona becomes enraged and grows teeth all over her body. She has teeth on her belly which suggests that she has teeth in her vagina too – a terrifying image of the devouring feminine. Rona expresses primitive oral rage. Another name for that is narcissistic rage.
No’a draws upon cultural Yang to spear her through her fearful teeth, thus finally killing her. By implication, No’a has discriminated the teeth in Rona’s vagina. Those teeth represent Yang which is unconscious because it is within the body of Yin. (When a psychological potential is unconscious it tends to function destructively. When it is conscious it can be more constructive.) In relationships we get caught in destructive power games until we can make our power impulses conscious.
Because No’a has discriminated the power games, he and Hina can live in fertile relationship. She has a son who in turn fathers Tahiki who is the ideal of Yang, a red-skinned creator god who is admired by everyone, especially the women.
Why is this tale important for us?
In Polynesian culture there was no shame around sex. Obscenity was not about sex. Obscenity was about cannibalism. To call someone “cooked food” or to mock a war canoe full of warriors by calling it a “foodbowl”, these were insults which could begin a war. So the story of Rona describes something outrageous and obscene – that is, devouring narcissistic rage.
We are afraid of narcissistic rage just as we are afraid of vampires. We tend to avert our eyes from narcissistic rage, to placate it unconsciously rather than confront it. In analyses and in analytic training it may go unconfronted. If unconsciously narcissistic people control a training program, then the program will become sterile, and no one may be able to confront the problem.
We can cheerfully admit to being neurotic but we are not comfortable admitting that we are narcissistically injured. To admit our own narcissistic rage is frightening and humiliating. So the story of Rona provides a wonderful image of that which is hard to face.
When we treat narcissistic injury, we must use confrontation very sparingly. A narcissistically-injured patient may treat us with devaluing contempt. If the patient’s contempt triggers our own unconscious narcissistic injuries then we may seek revenge by confronting the patient’s insults. Such a response is natural enough but it does not lead to healing. Most of the healing comes from empathy. If we can understand why the patient is devaluing us, then we can avoid being offended; our empathic response, over time, may allow the patient to let go of his or her narcissistic defense, to become conscious of the injured self-esteem which lies beneath the defense. With empathy the patient may learn to see his or her grandiose fantasies with humor. There are other Polynesian myths about Tahaki which show unambiguously that narcissistic injury needs to be treated with empathy. I relate these myths and analyse them on my website.
But sometimes, when the time is right, a grandiose defense needs to be confronted. Power games need to be discriminated. Then the story of Rona and No’a can give us courage.
The story of Rona also shows how Jung’s concept of the maternal, collective unconscious intersects with Kohut’s concept of narcissistic injury. Daniel Stern showed that an infant begins, soon after birth, to engage the mother in eye-contact, and that such eye contact stimulates further play between mother and infant which draws them both deeper into a two-person world of relationship. So it is not true to say, as Freud did, that the infant begins life in a normal narcissistic phase.
However, speaking in broad terms, to the extent that the mother-infant bond is incomplete or unsatisfactory, or is too abruptly interrupted, then the infant may withdraw part of his- or herself from relationship. Then part of the child, and of the subsequent adult, may remain in a less related state, more immersed in the collective unconscious, perhaps more invested in archaic grandiose fantasies which compensate for an archaic sense of worthlessness. Jung showed that later in life it may be a person’s task to journey back into the collective unconscious to reclaim potentials which were left behind, which were not developed in relationship as the infant matured.
If you would like to read a more complete analysis of this legend and of others about the feminine and about narcissism you can find them on my website. You can find my website by searching for my full name. Thank you for your attention.