Tautoga Gausia (Broken Promise): A Critical Review

Part I

Suicide or not suicide?
It's not in Verona (Italy), but in Samoa. It's not the Capulets and the Montagues, but the Tafu'e and Filemoni families. It's not two lovers' deaths but one. Both, notwithstanding, are tragic love stories involving suicide. But in terms of literary and movie merits Romeo and Juliet is miles ahead and oceans apart - as in setting and location - from Tautoga Gausia.

Tautoga Gausia is more a docudrama - and a "promo" cleverly disguised - than a feature film especially since it lacks and/or languishes in the main elements of a typical Hollywood film blueprint. Patricia Cooper in her book Writing the Short Film says:

"At the heart of the docudrama is the sense of actuality ..... [focusing] on real people, in a real place and time ....the nature of the [main] character's struggle is subordinate to the goal of the story....[and] the challenge of conformity is more critical than the main character's fate."

This partial docudrama template is basic to pulling Tautoga away from the Hollywood norm and tradition.

Further, Cooper says that the main aim of a docudrama is to "educate more than to entertain". This has been true for me. Though parts of Tautoga are entertaining, the immediacy and preponderance of the lessons about suicide have a more positive, didactic and educational impact.

Overall, however, as a pioneering effort in the fledgling Samoan movie making enterprise, Tautoga is not too shabby. Therefore I offer my heartiest congratulations to all those involved in the making of the film. But criticism - especially the constructive type - must still be rendered and received hopefully in amicable mutuality. After all, it is generally accepted, as credo in the arts, that criticism is that which makes the art - and artist.

Tautoga succeeds in one main area which is the reintroduction - through a different and perhaps a more effective medium - of the suicide problem among the Samoans. Though ambiguous at best and controversial at worst in that objective, the drama nonetheless raises a renewed awareness in suicide and its underpinnings - especially religion. That, in and of itself, is an irony in the movie and in a country that is reputed as one of the most religious places in the world.

Unequivocally, whether we like it or not, suicide is the main subtext of the movie. (For good or for bad, that is left to one's own interpretation and viewpoint.) Tautoga is a tragedy.

The images and foreshadows of suicide - or at least of general violent and tragic death - are both vivid and subtle. A few vivid symbolic ones include the sharpening of the machete, the fishing spear and the pickaxe - all ominously depicted and all belonging to Filemoni, the victim's father, who likely is incriminated and vilified for his son's death. Other digging tools are subtle reminders of the grave (pun intended) references by Filemoni and the soundtracks.

The most subtle foreshadow, yet proves the most fatal, is the ocean/sea which the movie effectively uses to foil the happiest and romantic moments of Sam and Teuila's courtship. Though water is universally symbolic of life, in the movie, it seems to take on a controverting significance. The swimming pool also advances this same notion. Sam's dive in the pool is a foreshadow of his own death. The canoe also is a fitting foreshadow of death and burial. This conforms to some Pacific lore and myths in which the dead are placed in canoes or canoe-shaped coffins believed to continue carrying the dead or spirits on to the afterlife. The transition from canoe to casket and the later transfer of Sam's body therefore are convincing.
Paraquat (weedkiller) has long been the
major method of suicide in Samoa.

Poison, using weedkiller, as the most common method of suicide in Samoa for a long time has its share of allusions.  In fact the image of drinking - albeit ostensibly casual - abounds throughout the movie. At the very beginning when Sam offers to pay for Teuila's shopping, he is buying two bottles of some type of drink (see picture).  I still remember the time when paraquat weedkiller was bottled in very similar bottles as those Sam is holding. The connection therefore is indubitable. (They look like bottles of Vailima beer which would have been more obvious had the Brewery been one of the sponsors, I guess.  Then again making it that obvious would give away an important subliminal message.)  The fact that Sam was holding them up in plain view of the viewers is very telling too.  In their very next meeting Teuila serves Sam a drink advancing the ingesting of poison reference. Though normal in such relationships, the metaphorical allusions still add to the overall suicide message.

Again, at Roko's, drinks get a more than fair share of the scene. Though both drinks get the initial medium close up shot, Sam's drink gets the cu (close up) shot. Likewise, Tafu'e's bowl of kava, a drink that is generally known for its drugging effects. Here, Sam - and not Teuila - is present and even serves the kava drink, though he ironically declines the offer by Tafu’e.  Sam's predictable suicidal fate is alluded to in these images of drinking poison from the very beginning. Although drowning is believed to cause Sam's death, technically, ingesting and drinking of salt water is the real killer.

Last but not least, the movie title and explicit lyrics of the soundtracks also connote and proclaim predictable and untimely death. If the subtext of the film isn't suicide, Sam will have made a good prodigal son prototype based on his rocky relationship and seeming resentment for his father.

...part ii coming soon.


Some Christmas pics

the rest of the three thousand and one pics somewhere on FB ... but no place like home on Christmas with family.  I finally got to watch "Tautoga Gausia" during the break, and will be posting a review in a day or two. We played  "Just Dance" (Wii ), and that's great cardio workout right there, not to mention aquiring some new dance moves for the New Year's ward partay ...yeahh rigghhtt....LOL... with the way the weather is now, I might yield to being snowbound at home sweet home .... "Just Dance" was a perfect way to burn some serious calories after indulging in typical Hamo food ...taro, palusami, chop suey, oka, pua'a cooked the Poly way....kugu viliviliring ....
the girls - l to r: Naeya, Eden, Kora and Neni

G and Tasha relaxing

the main tree - the day after

snack/dessert table christmas eve

Kora just wanted to be in the pic


Memories of an old Christmas card

The Leak of the Week

LONDON -- Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is complaining  that someone leaked [yes, leaked] a Swedish police report on his alleged sexual offenses.

Well, Duuuuh!!    This Julian guy is certainly making an "assange" of himself - living up to his name.

...stay tuned for more week - or weak - leaks which I hope to have as weekly features in my blog under "WeekLeaks" ... lol !!


The Faga'ofe (Bamboo Cannon)

... a part-Samoan ingenuity.

For a young kid in Samoa, a faga'ofe (bamboo cannon) for Christmas is like a Wii, Playstation or Xbox to his American counterpart. One can imagine therefore the excitement of a Samoan child when he/she gets a faga’ofe for Christmas. Like the American kid with his continuous playing of video games, a typical Samoan youngster can unweariedly fire the noisy cylinder all day and night provided he is granted time - and fuel - allowance.

The bamboo cannon is made from the bamboo stem - or the culm (see picture). It’s usually about 6-7 feet long and about 5-6 inches in diameter. The inside solid node plates are hollowed out except for the last plate at the tail/back of the culm. About a foot from the back end, a small hole is cut/drilled and it is the main part of firing the cannon. Kerosene is used as fuel. The right amount is poured through the hole and with the front of the cannon raised at 10-15 degrees, the kerosene sits stagnant in the back end.

Once the kerosene is poured in, the cannon needs warming up before it fires correctly, effectively and consistently. The warming up phase - consisting of flame injections - takes about 3-5 minutes of mostly duds/misfires and backfires.  When the cannon is hot it starts to operate normally, firing off loud bangs. Firing is done by passing the small flame of the lighting stick over the hole. Each firing is followed by the operator blowing fresh air through the hole clearing any smoke from inside the cannon at the same time. Basically, the more air and less smoke, the bigger and louder the explosion.

During normal operation, dangerous duds may occur. These often happen as a result of low fuel or retained and leftover smoke. Duds creating misfires and backfires cause flames to shoot out of the hole, often with a thump or thud. When this happens, and while the operator is bending directly over the hole, his face becomes vulnerable; eyelashes and/or eyebrows can be reduced to skin and pore level as a result. This unfortunate experience often becomes the most unpleasant - yet memorable - one associated with the faga’ofe anecdotes.

Overall, however, the faga’ofe are sources of fun and excitement for young Samoan kids during the Christmas holidays. There is implicit competition among the faga’ofe owners and operators of the same village and/or of neighboring villages. Winners are usually those who would garner the reputation of firing the loudest blasts.

More advanced versions of the faga’ofe made from galvanized steel pipes (faga paipa) and with similar specs as the culm - if not bigger - are coveted more because of their superior firing and explosive power. These can be heard from miles away. The commotion and cacophonous environment created by multiple cannon firings - simultaneous and sporadic - can be reminiscent of a war zone. Though festive and fun, the faga’ofe chaos can quickly become - to some people - an unpleasant paradox and pandemonium to the peaceful spirit and disposition of the Christmas season.

So while the American youngster creates dissonance and noise limited to the confines of his own home, a Samoan kid creates explosions that ripple through to his cousins two or three villages away. And while the American kid may suffer carpel tunnel later on in life, the Samoan kid’s eyebrows/lashes will have already grown back; if not, she - or he - can always borrow from the part-American ingenuity of drawing or lining the brows with a marker.  LOL!


Dad's Books

... blissfully bombarded and besieged by books

Recently the subject of books came up in a family discussion. Immediately, a sweeping concurring recollection beamed on our children’s faces culminating in the seemingly woeful whispered mumbles of “Yes, Dad’s books!”.

At the end of my senior year in college, when most students exchanged their used textbooks for cash, I decided to keep mine (most of the four years’ supply), and not because I did not need any money. (What student does not need money, let alone a married student?) Yet, I still despised the students who went to the bookstore to exchange their books even for a weensy fraction of the ginormous original prices. The students’ wager was still graspable to me since there’s no doubt that for them - and me - every little bit helps.  But I felt that my textbooks were an extension of myself and my university education; I was not, by the way, planning for any sustained extracurricular reading either. In fact I felt as if I had exhausted my whole reading endowment and tolerance by the end of my four-year pedagogy. To someone who was a double major, one being English, reading was mostly for analytical, cognitive and grading purposes and was therefore not as socially or blithely fulfilling. Today, I feel that same notion has been reacquired and reintroduced to become, again, the norm in my life - erudition first; pleasure and fun second. Just like my Dad used to say, “schoolwork first, play after.”

After college, I sorely needed a new and different course of reading and a break from classics such as The Prince”, The RepublicThe Leviathan” “The Federalist Papers” and a lot of novels and novellas. And though I was able to find some more amusing yet less elucidative material, I still resorted to my college stockpile for some didacticism especially from one particular text. It is the biggest one which I call “the knave” - ironically. It is “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” (Bevington). The voluminous edition exudes intimidation but also - in a subtle but scathing way - injects an inducement of unsavory Old English reading which still can be enthralling and fascinating in countless other ways and application.

I still have the "massive scroll" on the bookshelf - believe it or not.  Much of it is threadbare and has had its share of wear and tear. The pages have become flimsier faded and battered and my scribbled notations in the margins, careless underlining and smeared highlighting have also contributed to the overall physical depreciation of the text.

The literary jewels, on the other hand, still sparkle and emanate "light" from the shopsoiled pages which I occasionally revisit for reflection and illumination. For a pinch of examples, Polonius’ fatherly counsel to his son Laertes (Hamlet), or some political wisdom of Mark Antony (Julius Caesar). Also, Shylock’s (Merchant of Venice) paternal lament for his daughter and ducats (money): “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!"  represents an archetypal obligation and duty of fathers to safeguard their daughters and family wealth - in that order, I hope.

Anyhow my family moved a few times - two interstate and four intrastate - since graduation. During these moves, about thirty percent of the boxes were labeled “books”.  It was a hassle and nuisance to the whole family in lifting and moving them. The boxes were heavy and yet I still insisted on them to be in tow. For some understandable yet inexplicable reasons, I did not want to part with my books.

In our second interstate move, we lived during the first several weeks in an unfurnished house with an exception of a simple decrepit and rickety table in the dining room, apparently abandoned by the previous tenants.  We ended up using it as a dining table, but we had no chairs.  Amazingly, I believe that paucity can sometimes incubate and engender creativity.  We dragged the boxes of books and set them around the table to serve as “boxed-books benches” and depending on the family member’s age and height at the time, the pile was either low, medium or high.

So during this recent family discussion, I brought up the intellectual symbolism associated with the anecdote of the boxed-books benches and how books can and will impact and elevate one’s life and stature. Books can actually lift and raise oneself in inestimable ways.

Surprisingly, however, all that did not necessarily turn or mold me into a bookworm, but rather into a moderate and middle-of-the-road book enthusiast.  In other words, I still have managed to keep things in proper perspective.  As Francis Bacon once said: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”   And if I might add, still other books ought to be shredded, dumped, incinerated or exchanged for infinitesimal cash - though definitely not  “Dad’s Books”.

PS: With Bacon’s quote, it’s interesting how this post now has a thematic and context link - albeit unintended - to the latest post in the Sunday School Cools page (re: “Eating the Word.”)


Some graduation pics

... still too tired to write so here's my si'omaga ....accept it as vindication and amnesty for my tired brain...LOL! - Congratz Brett! ...graduating with honors!

The Harakis

brett, tasha and kids (l-r: Sykora, Tahi and Kade)


tasha n mom

"family tree" - zita n girls (Arizona)


On the road again ...

My family’s Arizona respites of the last two years have been sporadically stated, hinted and implied in this blog. Brett (our son-in-law, and Tasha’s husband) graduates on Friday in Automotive Engineering from UTI (Universal Technical Institute) just outside Phoenix. Brett’s pedagogy was the reason for our Arizona brief and fickle love-hate affair. Love because of the balmy weather in Winter Spring and Fall; and hate because of the burning sweltry Summer.  Both sentiments are weather related and quite ironic for someone from Samoa doncha think? The whole clan is traveling to the Valley of the Sun - that moniker alone brings a heartwarming feeling and energy boost considering the almost seven inches of snow on our front yard now; and it is not melting fast enough - if at all.  Come Christmas, we're going to have a glacier ...hahaa...well, at least it will help with global warming.

Again it’s a thirteen-hour drive to AZ - fourteen tops. As a group, I guess it will take even longer - the buddy system on long road trips is like multitasking to a savvy challenged dork. It’s simply slow and draggy. Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be a blizzard or snowfall - so far - lurking or looming along Interstate 15 tomorrow evening (which is our departure time), or even the duration - including the returning leg - of the trip.

Long road trips are a funnoyance (pardon my Palin impression). “Fun” in the sense that you get to experience and see new places and “annoyance” in the sense that you have to sit - as a driver - the whole way. But thank goodness for cruise control, auto/multiple CD Changers w/ stereo Hi-Fi; DVD Video Systems (w/ surround sound), GPS gadgets and services, customizable and heated seats (for cold weather), and a number of other modern conveniences that help in making road trips bearable, if not more enjoyable.

Oh, and I looove Arizona oranges. They’re the best ...EST!!!


Happy Thanksgiving

“And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, ....
Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
And it pleaseth God that He hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not His hand in all things, ....”
~ Doctrine and Covenants 59: 15-21  (Emphasis mine)

Although the above scripture was given within a similar context of time and place as the very first Thanksgiving, the principle - of thanksgiving - is timeless, and so is the scripture.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! 
Oh, and Go COUGARS!!! .... Beat Yelping Utes! .....LOL!

Tuesday Blizzard

So was the blizzard a much ado about nothing, after all?

Companies let people go home early. Stores were packed. Games were canceled. Schools were closed early. And I was home eating suai’a and faalifu kalo?  Wow! ... (Thank you Bea and Una!)  Yes! I think we should have more blizzards ...hahaa.... It’s part of living in Utah! 

These pictures by the Deseret News effectively captured the ontogeny of the monster.

And the winner of the blissful blizzard attire award .... iiiiiiss ... guy in shorts!.... LOL!

Who said there's no such thing as a generation gap? ....LOL! ... Write your own caption.

Sarah Refudiated

Okay back on the home turf  ...

So, Sarah who?  Sarah-one-letter-too-many-in-PALIN-in-the-you-know-what!...LOL!

Yes, she is credited for the new word “refudiate” - coinage of “refute" and "repudiate” added this year (to what? ... book of refudiated words?). Exact definition is still in the refudiating phase..

But here are some examples of how I would use it.

1. Sarah’s new reality show “Alaska” has been “refudiated” evidenced by a 40% drop in viewership from its debut several days ago.

2. The voters did refudiate the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008 race because of Sarah’s refudiable personality.

3. The voters will refudiate Sarah in 2012, when - not IF - she decides to run for POTUS.

Incidently, last night, daughter Bristol who was rumored to win DWTS was also ....[drum roll] ...refudiated by the fans and voters of the popular dancing show.  Bristol calls these voters haters.

Oh, and now a peek into what Sarah scribbled in the palm of her hand (cheat sheet) for interviews some time ago.


Outside Looking In

First of all, here are some excerpts of letters in the Samoa Observer recently vilifying those of us outside Samoa.

“...we have our own media in Samoa that can look into the tsunami Fund report and interpret for themselves and report on their findings if the funds were handled transparently and accounted for!”
“And by the way, what is it with these supposed Samoans living abroad being ashamed and bad mouthing our Government?”
“What in the world do you know about what we literally go through as people living in Samoa? You only think you know from what you read and hear.  Try coming over, work here, school here, live here, breathe and eat here, before you talk about here.”
“...but at least Samoa is in the hands of Samoans, run by Samoans, and being in charged [sic] by Samoans.”

Here’s my response - printed November 20, 2010.
Dear Editor,

One needs to “live [in], breathe and eat Samoa” in order to know and/or understand Samoa is a flagrant misconception.

Here’s a lesson on perspective - literal and figurative. Imagine yourself immersed in the middle of a large corn field, or in a ma’umaga with wide laukalo well above your head. You can only see your immediate spot and location; your perspective is quite limited.

Likewise that’s how you feel sometimes living inside Samoa - or any other place for that matter. You have some advantages being in that place, but there are drawbacks as well. While in that place, you can develop and acquire a tunnel vision perspective.

You can even develop an insular and territorial complex as well, even to the point of detesting other Samoans outside Samoa - as in your letters. Moreover, you can become self-censored because of any ties, affiliations and other relationships at home. Therefore, you run with the crowd, so to speak, wherever it takes you and you become passively supportive of the status quo.

Now, in contrast, imagine someone in a helicopter - representing an outside perspective - hovering above the ma’umaga. He has a better view and perspective of your situation, your whereabouts and even an easy way out of the thicket.  The one in the helicopter also has a better view of any imminent danger, like a large ferocious wild boar with curled tusks coming towards you.

Similarly, some of us, outside Samoa, are able to see your situation from a far (pun intended) better standpoint. Hence, do not discount other perspectives and viewpoints albeit critical and countervailing.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people in Samoa who share with some of us “outsiders” the same and/or similar opinions about the government. In fact they may be a lot more disgruntled, disaffected, dissatisfied and embarrassed with the present government than some of us expatriates.

Those disgruntled ones at home even write to this paper voicing their concerns, dissatisfaction and grievances. Except for a few “brave” ones who disclose their names, most do not apparently for fear of repercussions, retribution and retaliation.

I’m sure you’re withholding your names too for similar reasons, especially that there are people at home - possibly family members, co-workers or other acquaintances - that disagree with your arrant support for the government. You see, we can detect that from outside - hovering and looking in.

Of course Samoa has its own media that can look into the tsunami report, but how fair and transparent will that be if it’s government controlled - or affiliated - media? Moreover, the outside media has every right to file a report of their own especially because the funds are from those countries. They want to know if the money is spent effectively and appropriately. Why would the PM become very upset with the scrutiny if everything is in order and meticulously documented?

And of course Samoa is in the hands of Samoans, as claimed, which is wonderful and fantastic.
However, the truth is that some would rather be ruled by a non-Samoan who cares deeply about Samoans than by a Samoan who is indifferent to and condescending of his own people; and definitely not by a Samoan who regards other Samoans - and others - as idiots.

I le ma lenei, se oute mautinoa lava e toatele ma anoanoa’i nisi o i matou o loo aumau i atunuu i fafo, ae sili atu lo matou iloa o Samoa - i soo se itu lava, e aofia ai le gagana, tu ma agaifanua atoa ma le tulaga o loo iai le malo - nai i lo nisi o loo alaala ma nopia’i i Samoa.

O lea, e le talafeagai ma e le agatonu ni tuua’iga ma faasea e faapea e matou te le o malamalama i tulaga o iai Samoa. E pei ona faatomua atu, e le faapea a e nofo i Samoa ona faato’a iloa lea ma malamalama i le tulaga o iai Samoa.

Lastly, faamolemole we “outsiders” don’t just “read and hear” anymore, we also now “see” - timely, if not in ‘real time’ - what’s happening at home through modern technology. In fact most of us outside Samoa have seen the notorious TV3 video clip a hundred times while some - if not the majority- in Samoa may not have seen it at all.

O lea, amana’ia ane se manatu, e tusa lava fo’i pe e pei o le timu e pa’u i le tua o le pato, ia ae o le mea sili o lo’o velo se ‘aso.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle.
(“O se faailoga o se mafaufau a’oa’oina le mafai ona faia o ni fetalaa’iga e tusa lava pe le taliaina ma talitonuina.”)

LV  Letalu


Think local and global

(printed in the Samoa Observer 17 November 2010)

Dear Editor,
The PM’s rambling and outbursts are indicative of an old man with a confused and flustered mind resulting from obvious discombobulation. I think TV3 is quietly having a blast and a feeding frenzy - which only get better and more ambrosial - with our PM.   The outside media can actually have him pilloried if they want. In the US - the media kingdom of the world - this type of “polimediarama” is a media’s bacon; it’s a carcass to the media vultures.

What’s pathetic is that with his vainglorious and lordly attitude especially of calling all other people stupid and idiotic, the PM has now become intransigent and has perhaps severed any lifeline of advice and counsel from an advisory body (if there’s one) and from those ( if there are) who may be responsible for damage control in the PM’s Office. (Then again this is a divinely appointed government which is infallible and therefore does not need to be corrected.)

The PM needs to at least be aware that in today’s media-saturated world, there’s an expression that says: “He who controls the media controls the world.” 

Now that can be interpreted in the PM’s favor being the one who controls the media - and everything else - in Samoa, therefore he can still weather this drama and crisis domestically at least.  However, he should not underestimate the power and influence of the outside media in casting him as being audacious, arrogant and bullheaded.  In other words, domestically, he may come out unscathed and still, amazingly, win elections.

Conversely, at the same time, he can be viewed as a stinker by the outside world, let alone by Samoa’s closest friends of NZ and Australia.  Such effects can hurt his political career but more adversely his reputation as an individual.

Think local and think global. Punimatatogo plus Puniloa represent a balanced, wise and discerning “core”. Samoa is not independent in the strictest and more inclusive sense of the word.

Lastly, a simple word of wisdom: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” (“E lelei ona avea ma se tagata taua, ae sili atu ona taua le avea ma se tagata lelei.”)

This should be an effective antidote for the petulant, belligerent and unbridled PM.


An Update

After reading the Samoa Observer article (yesterday) about a court decision involving land dispute and banishment in a village in Samoa, I couldn’t help but think that the court arbitrators must have read my blog ...LOL!  A village fono decision to banish a family has been overturned by the Court.

Here’s another important development in the ongoing clash between the faa-matai and democracy, as discussed in one of my posts dated October 15 titled “Faa-Matai and Democracy - An Analysis” from which the following excerpt - as prologue - is taken:

"Land Ownership
Democracy: Private ownership
Faa-Matai: Communally owned, and intrinsically attached to chiefly titles (matai).

Here’s a question that may not have been specifically answered as far as land ownership is concerned. Who owns family land in the village - the village or the aiga? The Land & Titles Court, handles and resolves cases involving land disputes among families, hence land virtually belongs to the aiga. Yet, when a family is banished, the expression goes, “ua faasa ma ele’ele o le nu’u” (“they’re banned from village lands”). Of course there’s village land that will be off-limits to the culprits, BUT the land they live on is theirs, and I’m sure there are banished families that can subsist and sustain their everyday lives on their land (incl. access to government roads) without ever setting foot on the rest of “village” lands. Banishment is cruel and deprive families of their rights to their land. Where does the village council get its authority to ban an aiga from its legal and rightful property? It may come from the communal mandate on which village administration is based, if not some frivolous eminent domain regulations or confiscating powers of the village council. Or it could be based on the village’s claim and control on matai titles which, ideally, are inseparable from customary/traditional land ownership."

Compare that with these excerpts from the article on the ruling (compare matching color-coded text):

"The Land and Titles Court has rejected an application from Tanugamanono village to legalise the eviction of a family from their village."

"The hearing was before the Vice President of Land and Titles, Fuimaono Nonu, on Friday 5 November. In its ruling delivered a week later, the Court accepted Ms Tutuila’s application to return to their property and live in Tanugamanono."

"The family of Faumuina Tutuila was ordered to leave their home and store within a month. Fuimaono told the Court, the gist of the village’s application was to legalise the banishment of the family from all lands belonging to Tanugamanono."

"Vice President Fuimaono pointed out the village’s decision to evict the family was harsh considering there are other forms of punishment which could have been used against the family."


...makua mea lelei a ....(... remarkably nice things ...)

Yesterday, I went to this store that sells Poly produce like taros, yams, green bananas, etc. I asked the Asian female owner: “No taros?” She said “Noh, noh d’tarloh” Do you have yams? “O, oofee?” I was both excited and impressed that she knows the Samoan word for “yam” so I said “Yes, yes ...” She said: “Ing tha pox” pointing to a cardboard box on the produce counter. So I bagged about seven average-sized tubers then got two cans of coconut milk. I had a plan in mind; though the mind was now going through a quick flashback of its own of some bygone years in Samoa. Almost independently, it was doing some culinary matchmaking - Samoan style. I could hear the words “faalifu ufi” several times but the only match that kept bouncing back was “koko Samoa”. No, I want some “mea lelei” (“nice food” - the expression bothers me every time it’s mentioned in the context of food and feasting, as if other foods are “leaga” or “faale-lelei”), besides we had “koko Samoa” at home, so I did not need any.

Meanwhile my eyes were busy scanning the shelves. And I saw some “mea lelei” - cans of pisupo, camp pies, herrings in tomato sauce, etc., My visual neurons relayed the message to the brain for approval, and the brain retorted “No!”. The brain also was almost exclusively in Samoan culinary mode - meaning, steaks, hamburgers, burritos, lasagna, etc., were all pushed to the back burner . I turned around to look at the freezers lined along the opposite wall. I started reading the labels above each one. “Lamb” says one label ..“Yes,...makua mea lelei a ..” ...I ambled over, opened the freezer and there was one huge unopened box sitting at the bottom. I turned around and asked the lady “Do you have some lamb flaps in a smaller bag?” “Yes, I huv wung more barg in da pak!” “Is it American or New Zealand?” I asked, “Nooh Seelun” she said ... “Ia, makua mea lelei a....” came the mind’s repetitive lampoon. Of course mamoe is not “mea lelei”, if it’s not from the land of the kiwi, the hongi and kupe (no, not that kupe). Now according to my taste archives, mamoe Niu Sila is long overdue for a spot in the five-year increment storage schedule, and so it’s time for some fresh NZ mamoe “flavours and savours” - - and not “flavors and savors”. ....lol!

...how does the saying go again? ...“...you can take the boy out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the boy?” ...Ia ga! ...ae maise a le kama o kaumafa, cause I can be assimilated in most other aspects of the mainstream culture but food tastes and cravings are hard to change.... ...fagusea, faisua, kuikui, fai’ai fe’e, oka and farai mamoz ...... ia makua mea leleeeeeeeei a! ...



(printed in the Samoa Observer, November 6, 2010 under "Letters to the Editor")

In Savea’s recent editorial "Dictatorship and Politics" he stated this: "Here in Samoa, someone may have to invent a new name for "dictatorship" to suit our political system and way of life."

Now, whether serious or just tongue-in-cheek, the suggestion is still worth a prodding (pun intended), at least in a risible and satirical approach, which the following intends to borrow.

I suggest "Pricktatorship". It has a nice ring to it especially in mimicking "dictatorship". But more than that, it fits the notion and objective of the editorial’s "request".

"A’itui" is a contractive pronunciation of the factual expression "a’a i tui" which probably has come into the Samoan language through the Bible, as the translation for "kicking against the pricks" (Acts 9:5). The native meaning is understood by many Samoans. The etymology - of the English version - however may not be apparent to many.

The expression comes from the practice of tilling or ploughing of the soil using oxen to pull the plough/plow. If the ox - or oxen - strays from the furrow it is jabbed or poked by the ploughman using a prick (tui) - a long stick with a sharp point. It is a means of exerting control, influence and authority. The prick inflicts pain on the animal and the more the animal resists or rebels, the more it is jabbed. Hence it is hard to "kick against the pricks". The same instrument and concept is also used in herding animals like sheep and goats.

As a metaphor for Samoa’s current political system, "pricktatorship" is founded on the root word "prick", which can be interpreted - literally or figuratively - to mean different things within the political context.

"Prick" collectively, can refer to the government or ruling party (HRPP) which is inflicting pain on the people/subjects keeping them reined and restrained. As a result, the people are "pricked" into conformity, compliance and passivity. The people therefore are dumbfounded and have become stupefied - and "stupid". As effectively articulated in the editorial, the people are "stuck in the mud of intolerance and futility ....[and] are made to look like fools...."

Pricks, individually, are the HRPP "herdsmen" running around with their pricks (no pun intended) pricking people into passive submissiveness and goaded servility. Our "political genius" is the master prick, living up to his name - Tui.  So as Samoans, today, we dare not "kick against the pricks" or the "Prick" and we might as well, in translation, say: "Aua le a’a i tui" or "Aua le a’a ia sTui" - "Mister Prickster!" On the same takeoff,  HRPP just as well stand for the "Human Rights Pricking Party".

"Prickmanship", is just as applicable, if not equally effective. It’s a pun on "brinkmanship" - a political coinage of the Cold War years which is based on the threat motif.  Moreover, the stick seems a fitting political symbol in light of another popular political expression by Teddy Roosevelt - "speak softly but carry a big stick".

So while others - according to the editorial - had the "barrels of the guns", Samoa has its pointed pricks or sharp sticks. Befittingly, therefore, we can say that presently the government (HRPP) controls and dictates using "pricks, sticks and tricks" - or, simply, Pricktatorship.

Ia manuia le alo atu i faiga palota Samoa.


Suspicious "Mines"

Wow! I have something in common with one of the Chilean miners rescued just recently. It’s the admiration for the late King of Rock ‘n Roll - Elvis. This particular miner was on the Letterman Show last night. Through a translator, he chatted with the show’s host - David Letterman.

The miner recounted some of the experiences he had with other miners while trapped and waiting for the rescue. He was asked to comment on some of the things they did to maintain their sanity and keep them entertained. Mr. Letterman then said that he had heard stories of him (miner) singing Elvis songs with the group. The miner nodded affirmatively and then soon started to sing some lines from “Suspicious Minds” one of Elvis’ all-time favorites.

The late night show band immediately picked it up with an instrumental backing and soon the miner was on his feet with a “whole lotta shaking”, pelvic gyrations and kicks complete with arm twirls and drum cues typical of the Elvis’ Las Vegas rendition. Simply hilarious!

Here’s an interesting impression I had while watching and listening to the interview, but especially having to do with the song “Suspicious Minds”. While it may have been the miner’s favorite, it was also fitting and ironic in the words of the verse he sang which contains the allusion of being trapped. It goes: “We’re caught in a trap; I can’t walk out.....we can’t go on together with suspicious minds”.

Anyhow, the miners’ ordeal is one of hope, heroism and survival. It’s one that typifies the strength, valor and durability of the human spirit; and apparently it didn’t hurt either to have a bit of rock ’n roll in the mix - both of which (rock and roll), incidentally, are things native to mines.

For these miners, this might be a good protest chorus:
“We’re caught in a trap, we can’t walk out .......and we can’t work on together in suspicious mines.”


"Be calm as a dove but discerning as a serpent."

"Filemu pei o le lupe, ae atamai pei o le gata."

The ongoing saga between Samoa’s PM and John Campbell is already a hot news item. The PM is in the “hot seat” while Mr. Campbell keeps and maintains his cool. Personally, I think the PM does not look composed or dignified on that TV3 (NZ) video. He looks agitated and I feel for him. He desperately and urgently needs help in his media dealing skills especially those that would make him calm and cool under pressure - namely impromptu interview pressure. I don’t think that he’s the kind of person who would have handled that well since he has always been belittling, belligerent and petulant. Perhaps the biggest liability in such demeanor is the fact that the whole country looks bad when its leader loses his cool and composure in such circumstances - especially with a foreign media.

There’s an irony in the whole exchange. The PM tells Mr. Campbell to have some manners and respect and yet he disrespects Mr. Campbell by slamming the door of the SUV in Campbell’s face. (Wait a minute, was that an LHD vehicle? ... more on that later.)

I have some suggestions for future candidates for the PM post.

As part of their tenure/term, if not their preparations, they need effective training in media presence, appearance conduct and mannerisms.  In today’s world of ubiquitous and pervasive high-speed communication, it’s critical if not obligatory for leaders to be current and competent in these areas. They need to learn how to remain calm cool and collected in the presence of cameras, lights and fact-finding microphones.

Candidates also need to undergo psychological evaluation. This is not a farfetched suggestion, by the way. Certainly we don’t have any nuclear weapons and secret codes but public embarrassment by the leaders - especially in foreign deals, liaisons and involvement - is just as damaging and insulting to the people. In fact the luma (public humiliation) concept is well etched in Samoa’s social and moral conscience and psyche and so sanity and self control are effective and necessary antidotes.

Lastly, welcome to the Internet and Youtube age - not a conch shell and lali (large wooden drum) one. High-speed streaming technologies are pervasive and powerful forces as well as the norm in today’s global society. If bad news traveled fast yesterday, today it travels in super meteoric speed measured in seconds and nanoseconds. In the real world of contemporary politics and its media dependent nature, a candidate can lose an election or even ruin his/her whole political career from a gaffe, an outburst or other bloopers. Samoa politics is not immune to this, if not now, very soon.

At least consider the favorite Samoan expression: “Filemu pei o le lupe ae atamai pei o le gata.” (Be calm as a dove but discerning as a serpent.)

This is Houston: "Damage control mode!  Damage control mode! ...Over!"


Happy Days

We’re approaching that part of the year that we Samoans often refer to as “aso fiafia” (happy days), and especially for those of us who live in the US, ‘cause our aso fiafia start sooner than those in the islands. In October, it’s Halloween ...so we say “Happy Halloween”, then in November we celebrate “Thanksgiving” and yes, we say “Happy Thanksgiving”, then come December with Christmas and again we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” ...ioe, o le heppi lava ...!!

But I never had much of a penchant for Halloween. In fact it’s gotten worse in Utah because of the cold weather. I believe that candies are nowhere enough incentive to be out in cold and wet weather - if lucky - of late October, let alone in a funny or ridiculous outfit. ...hahaha.... But all that is changing s-l-o-w-l-y.  The kids love it though that even the cold rain this past weekend did not stop them. I guess I like Halloween as long as I’m inside and not out there knocking on doors with frozen knuckles. Another family came to our house last Saturday and asked: “Where’s the singing Elvis?” ...they remember the year when I greeted the trick-or-treaters each with a different Elvis song. Adults too enjoy dressing up in their favorite costumes. Some companies encourage their employees to wear costumes while others have jovial and convivial Halloween parties.
Family costume party 2010
Our family, for several years now, had been holding a Halloween get together - a costume party. Everybody dresses up in their favorite costume and we have treats, snacks, desserts, and sometimes a typical Samoan feast of kalo, palusami, pisupo, mamoe, etc. (Now that's my kind of partay.) We also have lots of fun games during which the men are pitted against the women. We play charades, pictionaries ... perform skits, talents, etc. ...something for everyone...the children ma le aiga akoa uma lava - immediate and exteeeeended ... :)

I actually do not like to spend money on a costume, I’d rather be creative and use anything lying around the house. I’m cheapo! ....hehehe.... Actually, last time I had a bought Elvis costume- a cheap one - but it was for/from another gig. And this year I had to go with my other idol Vin Diesel (re: Idol Worship post) of triple X (xXx) and other action thrillers. I drew the tattoo from memory - a rough replica of Diesel’s armband ... dabs of face paint on face, arms and neck ... sunglasses, of course, a cutoff and a couple of chain necklaces .. and ... voila!!

"triple X"
The most hilarious costume of the night - though extremely unorthodox and tragicomical - was the pregnant nun (pic is copyrighted...lol). It quickly reminded me of another Halloween in California some years ago. A fellow employee dressed up as a nun (an impregnable one...punning of course ..haha), and a customer came in and told her jestingly: “That’s the closest you’ll ever get to being righteous.”

If that customer is right, then I think I’ll keep a habit hanging in the closet, just to get that righteous feeling, ... even if I have to cross-dress to get it....LOL! Conversely, I doubt the priest’s robe consigns the same righteous feeling, considering the much publicized scandal.

Anyway it was a fun night, like other previous costume parties. Thank you family ...keep it up! ... again, o le Heppi  lava!


The Office

It was freezing this morning  (Thursday)  in the office when I arrived at work. I had a light sports jacket on (over the shirt/pants and tie dress code) and a beanie ... yes, it snowed a little this morning but not anything like yesterday’s storm.

I removed the jacket and the skull cap and sat down at my desk. After fifteen minutes it was still freakin’ cold. I complained audibly and Angela offered a portable space heater. “You have a heater?” “Yeah it’s here under my desk.” “Oh sure!” I grabbed it. Plugged it....and walaah, I had heeeat! I started to bask in the warmth of the quiet stream from the low buzzing device.

Others - Kevin, Jim, Dwight - started to complain, albeit nonchalantly. My complaint on the other hand was incendiary - yeeepp, literally. It was seriously intended to elicit heat. But just as I was starting to feel cozy and comfy, it was time for staff meeting. The conference room was definitely going to be colder, I thought. So I again donned my sports jacket - fully zipped up - and beanie and went to the meeting ..oh, and a space heater to boot. I was the last one to arrive. Our whole IT staff was already seated around the huge desk in the center of the room. They were talking about some mechanical problems with the heating system in the building but none was clad in any fashion close to what I was wearing, especially with the tie, now being stashed inside by the jacket’s chin-high zipper. I plugged in the heater and the staff looked at me ruefully; some giggled at my casual non-conforming mufti.... Tomorrow, Friday (casual day), my early “Samoan snow watcher” Halloween costume would have been more appropriate. Anyway, I said to my fellow Americans, “Hey, where I come from this is considered sub-zero weather.”

As I sat there I wanted to lapse into a trance and wishing I was a bird flying south in the winter for warmer weather. Then I can shed all the layers of clothing and slip into a simple ‘ie lavalava and a cutoff shirt (uhmm...on a second thought, no cutoff) just the ‘ie lavalava ... like the olden days of ... strolling along the remote virgin beach on a sunny afternoon, with palm trees swaying in soft breezy obeisance ...my feet dipping flirtatiously in the waves as they ripple, lap, hiss and kiss the soft white sand. Meanwhile, sweet melodious strains of “Samoa Matalasi” fill the air, synched to the sways of the palms and the gentle ebb and flow of the warm soothing tide. Feelings of allurement, romance, enchantment and fantasy that befit a tropical paradise soon becharm and overwhelm me ....I sing along “Tu lata oe i le Ekueta, e mafanafana fo’i e le vevela .....” as my bare upper body absorbs the cool breeze which gradually lulls and transfixes me to a world that transcends the environs of sports coats, beanies, space heaters, staff meetings and The [freezing] Office....


"...emotions recollected in tranquility."

The picture is my rendering and recreation of how it might have looked on that fateful Tuesday morning in the area of my village hit worst by the wave.
It’s been a year already since the tsunami. And I have quietly struggled with the challenge of how to express my emotions and feelings about the catastrophe which has literally wiped many of my childhood memories, especially of our home in Lalomanu. Writing, especially poems, had been a means of recourse and escapism for me. One of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth, defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility." That has been true in my case.

What I find more fascinating is Wordsworth’s claim that "poetry is most just to its own divine origin when it administers the comforts and breathes the spirit of religion."  Poems - with the spirit of religion - have been my main source of solace and reassurance. I’ve intended "Tuesday Mourning" to be one such poem.

Tuesday Mourning - by LV Letalu

From far beneath the fiery earthly core
A deadly force gushed crushed and tore
It squirmed skyward and defied sanity
It defied gravity and magnified vanity

It opened the mantle the plates and crust
Through solid rocks and ocean floor it thrust
Upward and heavenward until it surfaced
A sad story of sorrow and death it prefaced

The calm giant ocean would soon tremble
Speed and strength it would quietly assemble
In a different deadly disguise it would travel
Indiscriminate disaster for Man to marvel

The wave formed and the beast was born
Alive and angry it came that Tuesday morn
With resounding roar and rumbling to foretell
The fatal and fiery fiend fleeing from Hell

The villagers had never seen such a beast
With sharp horns and fangs ready to feast
It billowed like a monster in a silver hood
It was vicious violent and in vengeful mood

This Tuesday the sea was a mount not a hill
It grew taller, higher then closed in for the kill
It crept and swept those who suddenly slept
After it left, families wailed waned and wept

The old the young the mothers and infants
Met their fates as if were merciless miscreants
Though stripped unexpectedly of life and dignity
Will one day see the Light and solemn serenity

The Sun was true and had risen that morning
No doubt it stopped to witness Tuesday mourning
Though it sets it still rises with gleaming glory
And so with man as heroes in Heaven’s story

The Hero wounded died and went to Earth’s core
Calmed the beast, conquered Death and slept no more
He rose early morn and ascended to Home supernal
To raise the quick and the dead to Life eternal

more renderings ....
"Galu Afi" (Wave of Fire)

"Galu Lolo" (Tidal Wave)


White Sunday LDSamoan Style - A Tear Fest

My church (LDS) does not have a "White Sunday", per se. But it has its own version called The Primary Program. It is held on a Sunday in October or November depending on the local ward’s (congregation) schedule. Children between the ages of  4 and11 are assigned recitations (tauloto) based on the spiritual theme for the year. And they sing too. Even though it is not referred to as "White Sunday", the Primary Program, in all other aspects, mimics the White Sunday tradition of special treatment - and treats - for the children; they’re the little VIPs on this day.

This is the day when kids - to a noticeable degree - are transformed in their appearances. The little boys look immortal and youthful in their dark pants, white shirts and ties (or suits) while the girls look sophisticated and... uhmm ... Older! - all of ‘em. They display more change and make-over than the boys (unless a daring boy wants to be "Boy George").

The girls’ make-overs easily place them on a spectrum of divas on one end and young femmes fatales on the other. I’m sure the make-overs are not expensive, hence, nor time-consuming. All a mother needs at her disposal is the coveted curling iron (we all know what curls do to a little girl’s womanhood), some ribbons and an array of flowers from which to choose that perfect ginormous one - or ones, for the garish and the gaudy. And if the mother still decides to go the extra mile, the spangly look is simply irresistible, augmented by lipstick-dabbed-and-smeared cheeks. In a matter of minutes, her little girl qualifies for a Cindy Lauper or Madonna look-a-like contest.

By contrast, the boys are handsomely conservative. They rarely display any extremities in their appearances - not that they can’t. In fact, I’ve seen - within the last few years - a few fancy mohawks and shaved logos and letters/initials on some temples (no pun intended) or scruffs, and an earing or two;  all - which for the little boys - are definite anomalies in the LDS culture.

But underneath all that outward refashioning and transformation, lie the unmatched, undisturbed and unperturbed innocence, faith and holiness of them who have been likened unto those who will inherit "The Kingdom". The spirits of these "little ones" are so valiant, pure, penetrating and piercing that they humble you to the core. They literally make you cry and cause you to become crushed and broken if not remorseful and repentant of your own narcissism and pertinaciousness. Your adult tear-suppressing pride is subdued and you end up reaching for more tissues, or, if you’re a man, alternating the palm and back of your hand, and then your sleeve or coat cuffs next (not necessarily in that order). Now if you’re a man, and lucky, you’ll have a handkerchief.  But if the children and their program have it their way, your handkerchief will be soaked wet and you will soon lose the feeling of being "chief" and feel only like a ..."hankie" - a dirty one, that is.

That’s how humbling it gets in the midst of these little ones, especially when they are teaching spirituality and moral lessons - verbally or otherwise, including the simplest of their most innocent idiosyncratic actions and gestures.


Code Switching and Samolish

- a quasi comic relief  from political garrulity....

We "code switch" all the time when using Samolish.  What the #%$@%  am I talking about?  No it’s not switching to a non-political topic, or code. Leai! ...although... uhmmm...that might also apply but in a veeerry loooose sense of the term. Sole, this is harder than I thought. Ia se’i kaumafai aku legei famaree. Okay?

There, we have just used Samolish, ergo “code switching”.  What? .. Still don’t get it?

Okay, let’s see ....Riiiiinggg, Riiingggg, ...Ok, better still - [Ringtone]: “Pretty little teine ...Seki a oe...”

“Ga e maua la’u message?”
“Leai, le a le mehsuch?”
“Ua ou fiu fo’i e call aku oe agagafi”
“E ke kolo mai o la e makamaka la’u soap
“Soia e ke pesto, ai fo’i sa e surf
“Ia a surf ua le work le kumpiuka
“E le’i maua fo’i la’u text?”
“Ga o lau text lea ga maua.”

Code switching is when we switch from one language (dialect, jargon, vernacular, etc.,) to another especially within the same sentence, conversation or in a longer discourse. Again, we do it all the time when both writing and/or speaking. Amazingly, we do it in a very instinctual, natural and intuitive manner.

Why do we code switch?

Well, it has to do with intelligibility - or the capability of being understood. The main contributing factor to code switching is the inability of one language (usually the primary one) to translate (or transliterate) effectively a word or words of the secondary language(s). This includes the inability of a language to effectively grasp and articulate a particular concept which another language can.

For example - and here’s my favorite - the word “move” as in changing one’s place of residency - not the simple “soso aku, soso i luma,” etc. It’s quite common, if not completely standard and acceptable, for a person to use the word “move”in a strictly and exclusively Samoan conversation without being vilified or embarrassed.

“Ouke leiloa ua kou move.”
“E, ga makou move agagafi.”
“Makua kou move so’o fo’i”
“Ia a le move so’o fo’i i gei kamaiki”
“Oi ua koe move aku fo’i Makaio?”
“Ioe, ua koe move aku fo’i Makaio ma Luka”
“A’o fea ua move iai Paki ma Pilikaki?”
“La ua koe move i Falevao”

There actually is a Samoan word for the concept of moving from one place to another. The word is “si’i/si’itia” which although it means to “move from one place to another”, it still has a limited nuance which is often outside the regular exclusive context of changing one’s place of residency, as demonstrated in the above dialog/dialogue.

The other option - though less attractive - in avoiding code switching is to use a native descriptive translation. This involves describing the “function” of the word. Therefore it’s possible to use “sui le mea kou ke gogofo ai” (lit. “change the place where you live”) which is effectively accurate. The problem is that it’s non-intuitive, at least to Samoans living abroad, and even in the islands notably in the town area where English is often used. So “Ua kou move?” (“Have you moved?”) becomes much more intelligible, than using “si’itia” or the descriptive meaning.

Technology has definitely broaden the code switching domain. Using borrowed translations (often phonetic) or loan words have mitigated - though not totally solve - the “problem”.  Therefore, it’s not uncommon to find words like “password”, “keyboard” “monitor” “network” having no native translations - borrowed or descriptive; and code switching then becomes the recourse. “Password” is functionally translated as “upu tatala” by some but again, it’s rarely used in the vernacular context, only in more formal situations as in printed manuals and others.

Oh yes, Samolish is my coinage of “Samoan” and “English”.  So the next time you fill an application for employment and it asks you for the languages you speak, put “Samolish” down for one. And when asked by the interviewer to say a sentence in Samolish, say the following:

“O lea ouke apalai i le position o le customer service.”  Which, I must say, is perfect Samolish.  Now when asked to say the same in Samoan, say this:

“O lea ouke kalosaga i le galuega o le faiga o feau a isi kagaka!” ....Hahahaaa!!!

Ia gale ua ambiguous and ridiculous si kakou mea.  LOL!! .....

[Ringtone] “Pretty little teine ...seki a oe...pretty little teine ...seki a oe ...pretty little teine ...seki a oe ...pretty little teine ....”  ---
“Bleash leeve a meshuch ad da bib!” ...literally, “Faamolemole ku’u lau fe’au i le kalifaua.”

...Oh, the idiosyncracies and nuances of language ........  :)


A Response


Thank you for your reply and stimulating thoughts.

First of all, there’s no need to apologize for any misinterpretation on your part of my comments. I certainly welcome the exchange and the sharing of thoughts and ideas on what are becoming valid and legitimate issues especially in our beloved Samoa. Further, we are both still learning about the issue(s).

True, that I am somewhat biased towards western democracy as you inferred, and perhaps for the very reason(s) to which you alluded. The social maxim - “we are products of our environments” - certainly has something to do - though not exclusively - with my western democratic leanings and prejudices. I live in the US where democratic values and fundamentals are preached, forged, debated, challenged, scrutinized and “practiced”, so again, those certainly have had an impact on me. Similarly, I believe that your preferences for a cultural democracy for Samoa after NZ’s trends are/were influenced by your being a “product” of that particular environment as well. Can we excogitate a truce somewhere? Perhaps. Or the truth is that we may just be looking at the same thing through different lenses. Aye? ...

Anyhow, I concur with the fact that Samoa has a “cultural democracy” today especially with the infusion and incorporation of the faa-matai to a more modern political model. The present cultural democracy may very well be an appropriate transitional mode for Samoa into a more advanced form of democracy as found in western countries. The real problem however is how far and how long will such a limited, uninitiated and fragile assimilation last, and especially the challenges that come with it.  Let me digress for a moment.

Malaeotiafau’s claim that democracy in Samoa, NZ and Australia are all different is true, but only in a relative sense. Here’s why. Let me use as a preface the expression “E sui faiga ae le suia faavae” (Practices change but principles don’t). In other words, democratic practices in these countries are/may be different; the principles of democracy, as an ideology, on the other hand, are the same. The tenets and fundamentals like human rights, individual freedoms, rule of law, free elections, constitutional provisions, etc., all form the political foundation or substructure (faavae). The superstructure (faiga) are adaptations which are fashioned and customized based on the local socio-political cultures of these countries.

The main question therefore has to do with the types of superstructure (cultural models) that these countries build on top of the immutable substructure. How well they are custom-fitted and dovetailed into/onto the main substructure can determine the nature and success of their cultural political aspirations.

The best example is the law recently passed in Samoa that all Members of Parliament should have hereditary (matai) titles. The question therefore is: “Does that law violate democratic principles?” Well, based on the true model of democracy (substructure), it does. The independence of the Judiciary (if there is such a thing in Samoa) is/was not enough to initiate a review of this law, apparently due to Samoa’s customized and cultural  political framework. But even if that is the law presently - and not all laws are fair and just - sooner or later, someone down the road will challenge it based on the genuine democratic ideals. Seemingly therefore the divide between cultural and ideal democratic models will continue to exist in these fledgling experiments.

Personally, I think the success of these customized cultural models will largely depend on the people (citizenry) in their level of knowledge of democracy as well as their national psyche. If the people at large are comfortable - albeit in a passive way - with the system, then it can work. This is often true especially for a homogeneous society. However, I can guarantee that the sooner Samoan society (or any other for that matter) becomes pluralistic to the point where other races and peoples make up significant sectors of the general populace, the sooner these biased - if not racist - laws will be repealed and/or abolished.

The government seemed to have partially “resolved” this issue with the all-matai mandate after it required that the Individual Voters’ (“non-Samoans”) two MPs to have matai titles too. Still, we have to understand that the voters on the Individual Voters Roll are essentially Samoans too who trace their heritage and roots to the Samoan “genome”, one way or another. This seeming homogeneity helps in passing laws and regulations that favor the majority native population.

On the other hand, there have been some recent intimations to the contrary. First was the appeal by the part-Chinese voters to support their own “Chinese” candidate during the upcoming elections. Second was the objection of non-Christians to a proposed mandatory Christian course in the Samoan public school system. Again these conflicts between the superstructure (faiga) and substructure (faavae) are evident today, and will not go away soon, if at all.

I also concur with the village fono’s unabated jurisdiction on villagers and the loyalty of the latter to the former as more the norm in Samoa (re: the Madison quote in my “Migrant Matai” post). But I would also include the overall aversion of the two to the central government (in Apia) along the same lines.

The biggest conundrum, however, rests on the inability of the national government to create or fashion a better local government (in the villages). In fact there is no possible, probable or even at least an imaginable option. Perhaps there lies the security, invincibility - and arrogance - of the village fono as a force to be reckoned with in Samoa’s contemporary political culture, especially when its influence is felt all the way in the heart of the national Parliament which has simulated the format, configuration, composition and even the fono building and seating arrangements of its rural counterpart.

Conversely, the national Parliament, as advocate of the more democratic ideals, has the upper hand in other areas. For example, the rule of law reaches far into the villages and has been able to indict and even convict villagers and also incarcerate members of village fonos for violating “the law” (as spelled out by the modern legal system) and for committing atrocities. Moreover, the Constitution (supreme law of the land), although recently modified to provide, promote and advocate for the cultural and traditional, is still largely pro-democracy in its content, implementation and application.

Finally, the democratic movement is, and has, a global influence. It is fair to say that it is inevitable and also irresistible to most - if not all. Today’s technology makes this wave even more pervasive and ubiquitous. China is a good example of how modern technology is breaking the imposed barriers of anti-democratic regimes.

I think, in the end, the individual will reign over the community or the state. Christianity, interestingly, is based on the “individual” model too in accountability and finality. Hence, let me say unequivocally that Samoa will give up the faa-matai before it will give up Christianity.   And so the refrain “o le a’ano moni ua le toe iai ni matai” (the truth is that there are no more matai) of a popular song after the advent of Christianity in Samoa, rings true.

The yearn to be free, as an individual, is innate and God-given - free from all shackles whether it’s discrimination, racism, dictatorship, oppression or cultural and traditional influences and restraints. It is this freedom that democracy - as practiced in the “western” countries - has made its mark in the global political experience. It is also this broader vision of democracy as a political standard and blueprint in which we find heretical and unorthodox any inferior or "imperfect" emulation - including cultural democracies.

Having said all that, let me echo Winston Churchill who said:
“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Simply, democracy is the worst form of government, but of all the ones that have been tried, it’s the best that we have.


PS: To an extent, I may be an idealist in the sense that although I am putting the US on an ideal democratic pedestal, it too, relatively speaking, can qualify as a “cultural democracy” - though not as extreme and heretical as Samoa’s.


The Faa-Matai and Democracy: An Analysis

The Faa-Matai (Chiefly System) is a unique and profound ideology. It is still a strong resilient and vibrant force within Samoan society today. The faa-matai has been the system under which Samoa was governed for years; possibly centuries. Despite disputes, wars and battles - most of which were caused by title ownership - among factions (tribes, clans, villages, islands and families), the faa-matai has served Samoa well in terms of socio-political order and control, especially on the local level (village/district). National unity and harmony were problems and challenges in the past. Conversely, villages were autonomous units which perhaps attributed - more often than not - to Samoa’s cultural stability and ethnic perpetuity.

The faa-matai is at the core of the faa-Samoa; it encompasses most - if not all - things Samoan. Lose it and the Samoan identity is lost and/or severely hampered. Social relationships, roles and protocols of the traditional nature are based on the faa-matai. In other words Samoan traditional society revolves around the matai (chief), or faa-matai.

However, change - anticipated or not - is inevitable in every aspect of life. Socio-political life in Samoa is therefore no different considering the wave of modern and democratic influences flooding the country.

(Note: The following synopsis represents a snapshot of the requested issue(s) and is by no means or intention a comprehensive and/or conclusive treatment. It is also derived completely from intuition, personal knowledge, recollections, experiences and my observations of the faa-Samoa/faa-matai, therefore I had not consulted any secondary/outside sources for this information.)

Democracy vs. Faa-Matai:
(I’m going to use the “faa-matai” synonymously, hence interchangeably, with “faa-Samoa”.  The two , after all, are mutually inclusive and/or intelligible.)

Generally speaking, the faa-matai clashes and contradicts with democratic ideology. The closest at which the two share a commonality is they both are representative in their own respective delineations, otherwise the divergence increases and grows further apart from there.

Democracy: The Individual
Faa-Matai:  The Community/collective.
Again, the faa-matai is anchored to the community while democracy’s linchpin is the individual. The faa-matai esteems the group (aiga, nu’u, itumalo, atunu’u). It looks at the individual not as a single/separate person, per se, but as a member of a group. Therefore, the collective trumps the individual within the faa-matai system and context.

Naturally, it follows that individual rights - as we understand them in the modern democratic context - are foreign to the faa-matai. In the faa-Samoa system of justice accountability often rests with the group/family, even when a single member of the family is found to be the wrongdoer and culprit. This is in stark contrast with the present modern legal system adopted and espoused by the more democratic central government and constitution in which individual accountability is probed and tried.

Land Use/Tenure
Democracy:  Private ownership
Faa-Matai:   Communally owned (aiga or village), and intrinsically attached to chiefly titles (matai).
Here’s a question that may not have been specifically answered as far as land ownership is concerned. Who owns family land in the village - the village or the aiga? The Lands & Titles Court, handles and resolves cases involving land disputes among families, hence land virtually belongs to the aiga. Yet, when a family is banished, the expression goes, “ua faasa ma ele’ele o le nu’u” (“they’re banned from village lands”). Of course there’s village land that will be off-limits to the culprits, BUT the land they live on is theirs, and I’m sure there are banished families that can subsist and sustain their everyday lives on their land (and government roads) without ever setting foot on the rest of “village” lands. Banishment is cruel and deprive families of their rights to their land. Where does the village council get its authority to ban an aiga from its legal and rightful property? It may come from the communal mandate on which village administration is based, if not some frivolous eminent domain regulations or confiscating powers of the village council. Or it could be based on the village’s claim and control on matai titles which are inseparable from customary/traditional land ownership.

Democracy: Voting. One person, one vote.
Faa-Matai: Consensus.
Again the community/group is prior.  Consensus can be good, but the individual’s right to his own opinion and voice is infringed upon when consensus is the norm.
Party politics also is a deviation from the old and traditional consensus-based system of the village fono. But ironically, with no official and established opposition in Parliament at the present, it (Fono), in a sense, operates on a consensus-based standard.  Some electoral districts and/or villages still choose their candidates by consensus although universal suffrage (21 and older) is the law.

Social Equality
Democracy:  Classless open society
Faa-Matai:   Status hierarchy and social stratification.
The village and country are heavily stratified (re: “O Samoa ua uma ona tofi”). Village and national faalupega (salutations) attest to this. Social hierarchy and stratification are pervasive elements in society. For example, according to the faa-Samoa, a village comprises of several “villages” (nu’u) - nu’u o matai, nu’u o fafine, nu’u o tane, etc., I understand that many of these groupings are classified based on social roles, but these roles also affect and influence - if not assigned based on - social status which are often designated relative to the matai - the kingpins. According to the faa-Samoa, the matai are the rulers and landowners, while women, children and others are second class citizens. Samoa is not a completely open society as a result; instead, it’s like a fledgling caste system. It’s reminiscent of the lords, vassals and peasants in the feudal system of the Middle Ages.

Democracy:  Freedom of religion. No preference or established national/state religion.
Faa-Matai:   Christianity ("traditional" religion)
I know this sounds like an anomaly but Christianity - despite its foreign origin and character - is and has been heavily localized and Samoanized that it might as well be given the “traditional” label. As part of their localizing effrontery, some churches are incorporating some cultural practices into their regular worship and church services. The bigger irony here, is that basic and fundamental Christianity is individual-oriented/based, at least in its finality and accountability.

Rule of Law
Democracy: All equal before the law. Individual accountability and responsibility
Faa-Matai:  All not equal. Group/communal accountability.
The village fono is an all-powerful body which still gives the village its autonomy. It has executive, legislative and judicial authority and power. The Village Fono Act is seen as an empowering dictum for the village matai; it grants explicit powers to the village fono though the interpretation of some of its provisions and terms is often vague and ambiguous.

In the faa-Samoa, when an individual commits a crime against another individual, the family (aiga) - and sometimes the village - is the real offender. Resolution and reconciliation become the group’s (or village’s) responsibility - not the individual’s. Vindication and pardon are sought through the ifoga (traditional apology) during which the family (or village) performs the ritual on behalf of the individual. Most of the time, when a member of an aiga violates village rules, the matai, along with the family are punished. The whole aiga can be banished and punished even if a son or daughter is the wrongdoer.

Today, with a modern court system, individual accountability is the norm. However, the courts still, in some cases, do yield, concede and even acquiesce to the traditional jurisdiction of the faa-Samoa.

All in all, Samoa is at a crossroad and is not exactly sure how and where it’s headed. It’s got one foot on land and another at sea. It is trying to adapt to the democratic ideals while at the same time holding onto its traditional faa-matai. It is trying to experiment and hopefully carve its own niche within the democratic paradigm. The hard truth is that democracy has already been received, adopted, accepted and cherished by most, if not all. And no matter how hard Samoa tries to create its own cultural democracy, it still has to be at the expense of its faa-matai - eventually, one way or another. The more the individual is revered and venerated - as opposed to the community - the more the faa-matai becomes wither worthy and anachronistic.

Lastly, the matai system has advantages and virtues especially if the titleholders rule and lead with alofa (love), faaaloalo (respect) and faamaoni (integrity) - pillars of Samoan society. However, most matai have become selfish, greedy and self-serving in most of their decisions and choices and those give the faa-matai a bad repute.

...just my thoughts, hence my opinion.


PS: FeshyNZ - I’ll try to post my responses to the post whose link you sent at another time.