Avoiding Aitu and the Wrath of the Teine Sa (Samoa)

Cover image BLUE NO MORE used with permission © Lalovai Peseta over at Manamea Art Studio.

In Samoa, they cover their mirrors at night time. Every mirror in the house. Some believe the devil looks into your soul every night after dark.

My grandmother used to say if you didn’t then woke up and looked in the mirror in the middle of the night, you’d actually see a shadow over the top of your reflection. Even though it would be pitch black, you’d still see the shadow. And it would be there, pulling, constantly pulling at you.

According to my mum, the mother of one of my cousins died after brushing her hair at night. She brushed it one night and the next day her hair had fallen out, and she was gone.

My partner’s cousin also went bald. He’d finished work for the night and gone home to have a shower. His parents told him not to, but he ended up combing his hair in front of the mirror anyway. As he combed, he saw his reflection, and in his reflection he saw his hair fall out with each brushstroke.

Some of the stories Samoans tell often are about the Twelve Sisters, the Teine Sa.

Neither human nor God, but exquisitely beautiful and cruel spirits. They are very jealous of pretty girls, so if they see that you’re pretty, walking around with your hair down or dyed a different colour, they make you suffer. Some believe they curse you with a sickness. Others believe breaking the rules and crossing the Teine Sa comes with more fatal consequences.

There are twelve huts standing in one of the villages in Samoa, representing each of the spirit sisters. Plates of food and other offerings are laid out for them.  People walking past the huts are not allowed to stare at them, and if you ever hear noises as you go by, you have to call out a greeting – even if you see no one around.

I remember my mum told me that my grandfather once walked past the offerings and saw the spoons on the plates moving, as if the Teine Sa were feeding themselves. Don’t try talking to them, he’d told her later. You just put your head down and keep walking.

Other spirits in Samoa have a sort of black humour, and get revenge on those who disrespect them in interesting ways.

I was told once about a man who came across a lake in one of the villages. The lake is surrounded by green trees, but the water is black and it’s believed that lake is where evil spirits live. The people of the area left a sign at the entrance that reads: Do Not Litter In This Area.

The man ignored the sign. I’m a Christian and I don’t believe in this, I fear nothing, he said to himself. He relieved himself in the lake and went on his way to visit his parent’s home.

But a spirit followed him, all the way back to Australia. For his disrespect, the spirit cursed the man to urinate out of his rectum.

For weeks the man couldn’t relieve himself properly and was too embarrassed about the situation to say anything about it or go to a doctor. Eventually he went to my brother’s wife’s mum who does, you could say, spiritual massage. And she slapped him and asked, What are you doing here? The man went to reply but she said No, I’m not talking to you. She’d been talking to the spirit. She told the man to go back to Samoa and apologise to the lake. Once he did that, the spirit returned him back to normal.

We have stories of possession, too. In our culture we believe spirits can’t possess until you let them, until you verbally say: Come into me. There was a Samoan man in my partner’s church in New Zealand who allowed himself to be possessed, because he’d been in love with the girl dating my partner’s brother. We didn’t know about the possession. We began noticing when he started to fall asleep at random moments. He’d be walking around town and drop suddenly, just completely out like a light.

One day he was going with my partner and a group of friends to a church function – it was a sports day for the churches, they’d been going to play a game – and he dropped as the group walked through town. When he got up, he walked over to a random person nobody knew and started speaking Mandarin. They talked for a long time – the person he was speaking to understood him and spoke Mandarin back. My partner told me he was shocked; the man never knew how to speak Mandarin before. The group called out to the man but he wouldn’t respond, he started running away from them instead.

We found out later that what he was using evil spirits to attract the woman he was in love with, so that she would no longer be with my partner’s brother, but instead be with him at all times.

It worked, to some degree. Like he would call her at 2 am saying he needed her help, and despite the fact that he’d be three hours away from Wellington she’d take off straight away, in the middle of the night, to go find him. 

We brought him back to the church to get rid of the possession and he wouldn’t step past the door. My partner and his friends would try to push him in and he just wouldn’t budge. He had strength of ten men and he was the smallest one out of all of us…

The narrator of these anecdotes and stories did not wish to be named. She is a Samoan from Lefaga on her mother’s side and Falefa on her father’s.


Hella Ibrahim
Hella Ibrahim is the founder and editorial director of Djed Press. She works as a project editor during the week and at a public library on weekends.

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Hella Ibrahim is the founder and editorial director of Djed Press. She works as a project editor during the week and at a public library on weekends.

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