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!!!