Tautoga Gausia: A Commentary

Did Sam commit honor suicide?

The term "honor suicide" sounds ambiguous and paradoxical though it actually refers to suicide as a way to escape or absolve any shameful wrongdoing or immoral actions by the victim, or others. In other words, honor suicide is committed to preserve and maintian "honor". Generally, honor suicide is not and should not be condoned neither should it be interpreted to entail a justification or rationalization.

Tautoga's depiction of Sam’s impetuous choice and fate is largely suspicious if not unjustified considering the mainly antithetical storyline and prosaic plot - unless there’s a convincing backstory, plot twist or vague subplot that may be enhanced or revealed later. But the repetitive use and reference by Sam of the word "mataga” (embarrassing/embarrassment) and “faamataga" (disgraced/dishonored) to his parents, especially during his final and violent confrontations with his father advance the possibility of an honor suicide. And in spite of individual choice and accountability, some may push the blame - wholly or partially - on the community at large.

Embarrassment and disgrace are universal but Samoans are extremely sensitive and susceptible to them. The native degrees in seriousness from individual embarrassment (ma or maasiasi) to family and community disgrace (luma) are established norms and can often prove egregious and fatal in some cases. The emphasis and expectation on the individual to carry and protect the good name of the family, village, etc. is something that all Samoans understand. Family honor is paramount in Samoa and needs to be protected, maintained and preserved - oftentimes, at all costs. Therefore, the individual - in reversed fashion - is family and/or village writ large and the adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is neither farfetched nor impractical.

The concept of individual conduct mirroring group and community values and morals is a good guide and motivation for ideal and praiseworthy behavior. But the concept also has its drawbacks especially in places like Samoa. Though beneficent in mutuality and reciprocality, close-knit community orientation can also be counterproductive and maleficent. The drawbacks exist when the individual falls short of the expectations of the larger homogenous and close-knit groups. Any mischances or failures by the individual can result in some type of vilification denouncement and even defamation. Public disgrace - real or imagined - as a consequence therefore is often a plausible link and motive for suicidal impulses.

Put simply, the pressure to perform and conform is certainly expected and demanded. This pressure can get overwhelming and unbearable when the individual fails. In Tautoga, Sam seems to buckle under this pressure. He seems apprehensively preemptive of imminent disgrace. The influence and effect of the perceived scoff and mockery of his family - in Sam’s own words - by Teuila’s family, his company and others because of his father’s belligerent and ignominious behavior, bother and preoccupy Sam immediately before his death.

Is Sam’s decision to take his life an outlet for any shameful anticipations, public disgrace and consequences stemming from his father’s violent and belligerent disposition? Possibly. In that case, it's possible that Sam's death is an honor suicide. In Samoa, therefore, it may be fair to say that it takes a village to not only raise, but also raze, a child.

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