Translation: “We all get to carry the fish basket, as well as become the fisherman, too.”
“Tauola” refers to the bearer of the fish basket; “tau” is short for “carry” (as in tauamo, tau'ave, tausa’e, tausi'i) and “ola” refers to the specific basket designed to carry fish.
The expression is mostly used as an advice in the context of leadership succession. Specifically, it reminds us of the need to always be prepared to “step up to the plate” when filling someone else's shoes. In other words, it’s a reminder on the importance of being an effective apprentice or understudy. And therefore, the expression is also a caveat against complacency and dereliction.
In the picture, the father (fisherman) walks ahead of his son (fish basket bearer). While the father fishes, the son is supposed to watch and observe because sometime in the future, he (son), too, will be the fisherman.
In a more general sense, the adage serves as a reminder of the need to develop skills and flexibility in acquiring the moxie to perform different roles that life sometimes assigns to us.
On a more personal level - and still continuing my reminiscing subtext - the picture brings memories of the times when I went fishing with my Dad. He used a cast net (or throw net) - the tili or kili. And the strategy is that he walks ahead along the beach, spots a school of fish and then casts the net. As I follow closely behind with the basket (ola) - or an old rice bag - I would make sure that as soon as he casts the net, I am there when he retrieves and hauls it in. My job of extracting and putting the fish inside the basket/bag was easy and anyone can do it; well, sort of. The extraction takes skill and experience too in order to avoid tearing or damaging the net, and also to avoid the spines from poking and cutting your fingers and hands.
My Dad’s task, on the other hand, was more challenging. Casting/throwing the net seemed natural, however, I was often left to wonder how he was able to spot the fishes. As a child, I thought he was haphazardly casting the net and whatever fish happened to be in the area - by luck or by fate - was caught.
In hindsight, it was indifference and disregard, more than childish pride, that I did not inquire about the feat. Anyway, here’s the answer. A skilled fisherman watches the crests of the waves which are often transparent from the refracted sunlight, and there the fishes will be visible. This intuition is also the source of another Samoan adage: “Ua malama i ulugalu” (“It’s visible in the wave crests”) meaning something has become clear and discernible as the fish in the crests.
The picture also captures the essence of our relationships with our parents. They are in fact our first teachers and leaders. We learn a lot from them whether consciously or subconsciously. I’ve also heard somewhere - whether we like it or not - that daughters will eventually become like their mothers and sons like their fathers, possibly more through nurture than nature. Ia ka'ilo!
At any rate, whatever you do, do it well or not at all. Aua le faakaga faia se mea; fai faalelei. A tautua pa'o ma tomumu se taule'ale'a, ona faapea lea o le matai: "E au i le tauola, e au fo'i i le fagota." O lona uiga, e iai le taimi e avea ai oe ma matai ona e iloa lea o le leaga o le tautua pa'o ma le tomumu." Hmmm... kinda like "what goes around, comes around ...." Ia ga!