Tautoga Gausia and Religion in Samoa

Is there cloaked and surreptitious religious bigotry in Samoa? According to Tautoga, there is. The movie makes a fair claim about a family’s religious affiliation as one of the main impressions among Samoans. What seems bothersome is that the impression of a family’s membership in a particular church is raised and identified as some type of stigma. In other words, families are branded depending on their particular religion or denomination. And though mostly hushed and masked, religious prejudice rears its ugly head during inopportune and unfortunate times as in weddings and marriages.

A direct link between religious differences and Sam’s suicide is debatable. However, it is apparent and evident that religion plays an indisputable role in the wave effect (pun intended) of events that finally lead to Sam’s death. Simply, religion contributes to the complications in the marriage goal in the movie. More importantly there have been actual incidents in Samoa in which certain engagements, weddings and marriages ended in suicide because of the different religious affiliations of couples. The difference is often acerbated and escalated by the parents and families (aiga). In Tautoga, the budding love story is marred by religious bigotry and innuendo.

Samoa may not be an Ireland but it still has its own insidious inter-denominational battles fought mostly on the family level. And though there is the SCC (Samoa Council of Churches) whose one of its goals is to forge oneness among Christian denominations, it does little, if any, to resolve differences and prejudices among member families. Today some may say that the religion problem in proposed marriages is anachronistic and therefore largely nonexistent. The truth, however, is that the more the extended families are involved in the planning and especially the arranging of marriages, the more likely that the religion precondition is wielded by families of the bride and groom. Marriage concerns should be left to the couple’s mutual agreement, choice or compromise especially if religion becomes an issue.

Religious intolerance robs the individuals of free agency, a virtue espoused by Tafu’e - albeit superficially - when he tells the lay preacher that since times have changed, Teuila will answer for herself to his proposal. The painful irony is that Tafu’e, as a parent, then adamantly abrogates Teuila’s choice in the religion in which the marriage will be solemnized. Regrettably, Sam’s parents also display and promote the same religious partiality and eccentricity.

Disavowment of an aiga's religious affiliation by a family member is not viewed favorably among the Samoans. In fact, to most Samoans, family religion is jealously and religiously guarded as an inviolable and strict inheritance; any deviant or apostate is often derided or sometimes disowned. What proved to be a more disturbing trend loomed on the national level last year in which government and religious leaders - surprisingly - condoned and mulled proposed changes, rules and laws favoring only certain religions and banning others. This is despicable and will only make religious matters worse in a country that claims to have been "founded on God." The government’s encroachment in matters regarding religion will further blur the line between church and state.

The religious overtones in Tautoga therefore can serve as evidence for incrimination of some advocates of religious favoritism and intolerance in Samoan society.

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