9/2/10

The Feagaiga

The word feagaiga in Samoan literally means “covenant”. And covenant in its most basic meaning is an agreement between two persons or parties.

In the Samoan culture, and specifically its moral ethos, feagaiga is used mainly in two contexts:

1. In a village and church minister relationship.
2. In a brother and sister relationship

In the first one, the villagers refer to their pastor as a feagaiga - or faafeagaiga. The villagers are obligated to serve and protect the pastor and his family.

In the second one, the brother calls his sister a feagaiga within a defined respectful and honorable protector and guardian relationship.

The two relationships are sacred at the core.

This brother-sister feagaiga is a lifelong commitment, notably for the brother in respecting, serving and honoring his sister. The feagaiga is governed by a specific code and etiquette. The brother is responsible for his sister’s safety and general welfare - especially while she’s still single. He is not supposed to use any of his sister’s things/belongings like a lavalava, sheet, pillow, towel, etc., He is off-limits to his sister’s space like a room, or in the case of an open Samoan fale, the space where she sleeps and keeps her personal belongings. The brother also cooks and during family meals, he is supposed to wait on his sister. He does not eat until she’s done. At dinner, the sister sits next to the parents in the front (talāluma) of the house. The bother sits in the back (talātua) and waits on them with the hand wash bowl (vai fafano) and hand towel (solo lima).

This feagaiga gives rise to the expression: “O le tuafafine o le mea uliuli i le mata o le tuagane.” (“The sister is the pupil in her brother’s eye.”). Consider the sensitive and the vulnerable nature of the pupil which is protected and covered immediately when in danger of any external intrusion. Likewise, the sister is immediately protected by her brother when she is in harm’s way. The brother attends to her and ensures she is cared for and protected.

Sometimes, the brother takes this protector role to extremes especially when he suspects any advances of a sexual nature towards his sister by a suitor. The boyfriend usually gets beaten up for the slightest attempt to romance and woo the sister. Occasionally, this creates a discord between the brother and his sister during which the brother - most of the time - gets the support of the parents, and, therefore, usually prevails.

Now, here’s something to ponder.

Despite the above seeming anomaly, the overall concept of the brother-sister feagaiga deems ideal in molding Samoan men to become more loving, kinder, gentler and respectful of womanhood. Shouldn’t all these therefore translate seamlessly into more loving, respectful and caring husbands? In other words, methinks that the feagaiga is an ideal prerequisite and training for future husbands in their relationship and mutuality with their wives; despite the differences - insignificant as they may seem - on some levels between a sister and a wife. Does that happen? And if not, what causes Samoan men to give up the feagaiga etiquette - at least its gallantry - in marriage? Apparently there’s an unexplainable disparity somewhere. (I may venture into this seemingly uncharted territory in my future posts.)

Now for those husbands who comply, does the feagaiga influence or play a role in their conformity and civility in marriage? Personally, I think it does - and should.

Ideally, therefore, the feagaiga should give Samoan men the advantage and edge on any good husbands scale.

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