8/13/10

Beach Fales

The evolution of "matafaga" (beach) and tourism
(Note: I do not mean to belabor the diction and grammatical references of the previous posts but they serve well in expressing and articulating this post.)

The opposite of approbative  is  pejorative - a word or grammatical form that produces a negative effect. Some pejoratives go through transformations and take on more positive meanings and/or connotations. This process is called amelioration. The Samoan word “matafaga” (beach) is a perfect example of this process. Since language is a social phenomenon, it follows therefore that such changes can also reflect a more comprehensive social change. For matafaga, tourism is that change.

A few decades ago, matafaga was one of the more common pejoratives in the Samoan vernacular. This stemmed from the disreputable and shameful use of the beach by the Samoans. It was literally a dumping place for all types of waste - including human waste. In some villages, the beach served as an “outplace” as well as anchor for gangplanks to outhouses over the lagoon. Hence, traditional pejorative expressions based on “matafaga” became common and trite. In fact there was nothing positive about the word; it was purely vulgar - this despite the fact that children and adults still enjoyed playing and swimming at the beach. Quite paradoxical, I must say.

Post tsunami beach fales at Lalomanu
Fast forward to today and matafaga has had a complete makeover and amelioration. The negative and vulgar connotations have mostly, if not completely, disappeared. The most popular and beautiful villages in Samoa today are those with nice matafagas - white, clean and sandy. Case in point: My village, Lalomanu, is well known - even despite the 2009 tsunami - because of its stretches of white sandy matafagas with their presently rebuilt beach fales.

Fale simply means house. And in the context of “beach fale”, it is a temporary shelter and accommodation on the beach for tourists. Beach fale, intrinsically, did not exist in the Samoan language in the past, at least in its present context. And what brought such socio-linguistic change? Tourism. Villages are much cleaner now from beautification contests sponsored by the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) as well as the overall desire to attract tourists - hopefully Depp and Jolie (re: upcoming thriller “The Tourist”) will come.

Although tourism is still a controversial issue in some circles - professional and otherwise - it has its benefits and advantages. In Samoa, at least, tourism has resulted in a cleaner environment and cleaner language (hahaa) - matafaga is no longer a demeaning word (pejorative). Really!

Here. Imagine you’re in Samoa and fai mai loa se loomakua ia ‘oe: “E a, e ke alu i le makafaga?”  You don’t feel as offended and/or violated anymore as you would have been in the past, aea? ...LOL!!

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