Three Wise Cousins : A Review

(DISCLAIMER: This review has nothing to do - in any way, shape, content or form - with the fact that I/we had a chance to hobnob with the cast and producer of the movie at the US/Utah showing. LOL!!)

This is a film about Adam and Madam. Basically Adam (the protagonist) wants to impress this particular Madam who wants a "real island guy" as a boyfriend.  And so for the major part of his quest, Adam leaves New Zealand, where he was born and raised,  for the islands (Samoa) to learn to become a real island guy.  His cousins Mose and Tavita are his island mentors. The two are near foils of each other.  While Tavita is a Samoan spornosexual who is more patient, hopeful, optimistic and encouraging in helping Adam, Mose is the typical soga'imiti (tattooed adult man), with an "in your face" and impudent attitude. He's pessimistic, negative and demoralizing at times. Sometimes, however, I question Tavita's sincerity and patient demeanor if it is motived by his hanker for some of Adam's personal things (e.g. phone and t-shirt). Adam does get them for him in the end.

cocoa pods.
When Adam arrives in Samoa, he immediately becomes a misfit - in every way.  He is put on a crash course of some of the more difficult island tasks, like climbing a coconut tree, husking the coconut, sweeping, clearing the land, etc.  Tavita and Mose soon realize that what they're teaching Adam is the advanced level of the course; he needs "Island Guy 101" where he learns the basics first.  So they abduct him at night while he's sleeping to his (Adam's) uncle's house.  In the morning Adam wakes up to the scorn and laughter of three little boys - his new mentors.  He quickly learns the broom is not only for raking leaves as Mose and Tavita had taught him, but also a goad to incite action to doing the chores, as he and his young mentors are chased out of the house by his uncle's wife with a broom.  His introductory class starts with picking cocoa pods - not coconuts - which proves to be a much simpler task. He doesn’t have to climb the tree at all. Even cracking a cocoa pod proves a lot easier compared to cracking a coconut.  Adam learns some of the tasks and chores by observing his young teachers, things like starting the fire for cooking (the easy way - not by rubbing sticks), roasting cocoa beans, cooking food and serving and waiting on the parents/elders. More importantly Adam gets his “first job” - as a street vendor, selling Samoan cocoa.  This is definitely a foreshadow of one of the valuable lessons and changes Adam makes upon arriving back in New Zealand and working different jobs.

During all of this, Adam is taught by little boys who are essentially his peers.  Though Adam may be years older and bigger physically, he is still a little kid in every sense. His lifestyle in NZ has stunted his growth.  He has no social or communication skills as evident in his inability to talk to girls, including other handicaps that may be traced to his addiction to video games symbolized by his cherished Playstation - a contemporary societal problem.

Adam returns to NZ a changed person.  His priorities change.  He puts his own life (work and school) and his family first; even before the "Madam". First things first. He commits to be effective in helping and supporting his family and parents, prerequisites for his own goals of marriage (Madam) and starting his own family.

Storyline and Message:
The storyline, though simple and straight forward, deals with some profound issues including contemporary social problems. One of the main messages which strikes a familiar chord with immigrant Samoan parents is the clash between their traditional values and goals (often the reasons for emigrating) and their children’s sometimes prodigality, heedless and reckless behavior.  I sometimes find myself telling our children and grandchildren that I wish they would have an opportunity to be raised during part of their lives in Samoa.  If not for any other reason, it's for learning the value of hard work and not taking things for granted.

Character Arc
"Protagonists can achieve self-awareness by interacting with their environment, by enlisting the help of mentors, by changing their viewpoint, or by some other method. The result is a changed character." (Wikipedia).
Wow, is Three Cousins’ character arc patterned literally after this? ..lol... Well, based on this simple blueprint, the movie is a success.  Adam’s change and growth are clearly demonstrated.  The conflicts which advance the arc are both internal (self doubt, immaturity and defeatism) and external (against Mose, Tavita and exposure to a whole new environment).

Characters, plot, sound tracks and film score, etc.
All professionally well done. Not too shabby for a first movie for the filmmakers who used one camera and self-funded much of their venture. Faamalo lava!

Innuendos: Though truly typical of Samoan life, sexual innuendos are a little off-putting and objectionable.
Subtitles: There is a couple of times where needed subtitles are missing
Subplots: I would have liked to see one or two nice subplots.

Though Samoan children are often feted for being responsible early in their lives, it becomes double-edged  when some of them continue on the same path  and end up being young fai fatu aiga (sole family providers).  Today, some of the children are the main providers by working as street vendors, especially in the case of urban dwellers. Street vending by children in Samoa is now considered a socio-economic blight.

In the movie, Adam's father frowns on the notion that his son wants to go back to the islands. He wonders why and then mocks the plan.  The implication is that the parents leave the islands to seek opportunity and a "better life" for the children, why should they (children) want to go back?  And yet in the movie, Adam changes and grows as a result of going back home.  What similar process or program (educational or otherwise) for personal change in a tough and challenging environment, if any, is available outside Samoa for these islanders?  Or is it all a matter of willpower and personal resolve? Not everyone can or will change by going back to the islands and living like a native, in other words.

Why are children in Samoa seem more adept and responsible in doing simple chores than their counterparts outside Samoa?

In Samoa, generally, children take care of their parents even at a very early age.  They cook, they plant and harvest, they fish too, etc. They learn these roles early, hence their edge and advantage.
Outside Samoa, it’s the reverse. Parents take care of their children. Not only because it’s the norm in these countries, but the parents want their children to commit their time and efforts to education and their schooling then take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, some children end up living in this benefactor-beneficiary arrangement for a better part of their lives, especially because of the safety net provided by the parents when the children were young. Adam finds himself in such a predicament.

'ato fu'e umu (food basket)
"Le Bag" (lol!)
Not this "bag", but that one (basket).

Adam's bag scene (at the end) is part of the movie that hits home with me.

The scene takes me back to my Samoa College years.  There was a time when it was a trend and fad for some of us students - especially from the villages - to use ato fu'eumu (baskets woven from coconut fronds/leaves) to carry our school books.  Yes, as school bags.  There were no handles, unlike Adam’s bag, we just hand-carry them. The reason for the trend was partly faddish, but it was also a motivation and reminder, for me at least, that if parents could not afford a regular palagi school bag - or the more modern so-called "good" things in life for that matter - then that's the reason I was in school.  I remember that as the basket gets old, dry and frayed, I’d weave a new one; something I’m really good and fast at. (Yep, call me a real island guy... ha!)  Some years ago, I told Dearie about this time of my student life at Samco when I had a ‘ato fu’e umu as a school bag, and so when Adam was shown with his “island bag”, I leaned over and asked Dearie if she remembers my ‘ato fu’e umu anecdote, and she said yes...lol!

I do really like the movie. I saw it twice in two consecutive days.  At least in terms of technical and artistic elements, “Three Wise Cousins” has definitely broken ranks with the mostly run-of-the-mill Samoan movies of today.  It’s on the big screen, therefore it's hit big time! So congrats to all involved.

... with Mose, Tavita and Adam (kama Ierusalema  kama ia (re: their Bible names), ae filo ai ma le hamo ...lol!!!)

moviemakers and moviegoers 

more moviegoers/families of one of the cast members


Money Magazine’s Best Universities in America

"MONEY determined which of the roughly 2,000 four-year U.S. colleges and universities deliver the most value — that is, a great education, at an affordable price, that prepares students for rewarding careers.

BYU shares the No. 5 spot in a tie with University of California-Berkeley and trails just four schools in the rankings: Princeton, University of Michigan, Harvard and Rice."

1. Princeton University
Princeton, NJ

2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI

3. Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

4. Rice University
Houston, TX

5. University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA

5. Brigham Young University-Provo
Provo, UT

BYU Campus (click to enlarge)

6. Amherst College
Amherst, MA

7. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
New York, NY

8. University of Virginia-Main Campus
Charlottesville, VA

9. Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Sources: Deseret News and Money Magazine


Beautiful New Zealand

Kia ora! So we (Dearie and I) recently spent almost two weeks in New Zealand   It's my third trip and Dearie's second within the last several years. And we still haven't lost our fondness and affection for the country. We enjoyed every bit of the trip and our stay, despite it being the middle of their winter. It was cold (by their standards, at least) but nowhere near our coldest months in the Rockies.  We were weather shocked though on the first two days, having just left the States where it was the middle of Summer with hot temperatures of between 90 and 100 degrees. For the rest of our stay, it was rather pleasant.

Reuniting and catching up with families - on
both sides - was one of the highlights.  But we can't discount the unique offerings of the land of the All Blacks and of the tailless bird. NZ is the closest thing to visiting Samoa - at least in terms of the people and the food.  And for those two alone, I can travel to NZ anytime.  We do however have some pet peeves about the country, like ubiquitous roundabouts and traffic lights, narrow road lanes, small cars, driving on the "wrong" side instead of the right side (lol!), lack of free wi-fi, etc.  But those are minor dislikes compared to our many likes and delights.

We looove the foods. Seafood like fresh oysters and mussels. Poly/Samoan foods were a big draw for us.  The kekepua'a (pork buns) that we got at one of the bakeries (I think in Otahuhu) were the bomb!  I mean, with the first bite, it transfixed me back to my Leifiifi and Samco years in Apia when the kekepua'a was the legit and kosher after school snack. And a kekepua'a is not complete without a faguigu lapo'a (large bottle of soft drink), so, yeess, I bought one.

Ice cream always tops our list when in NZ.  We mentioned to my brother how we loved their ice cream on our previous visits and so he was kind enough to take us to this (apparently quite popular) ice cream place in a town called Pokeno. We drove through some backroads in a town called Pukekohe and the way to Pokeno was a treat in itself.  This was outside the Auckland metropolis. It was the countryside with lush and green scenery and farmlands. It's always my kind of place. Light rain and scattered drizzles fell which enhanced the freshness of the air and the verdure of the area. It was beautiful.  The ice cream shop in a small town setting again reminded me of a village store in Samoa. We bought some fish-n-chips (another top of the list item) for lunch and then indulged in ice cream after.

The children walking home in their school uniforms was nostalgic. At a Polynesian store (one of many), a few students were huddling to pool some change to buy pagikeke (round pancakes) for an after school snack. It again reminded me of when I was a student in Apia and how some school buddies and I used to hang out at the market in Savalalo with its many stalls selling  pancakes of different colors.  The vendors used food coloring to promote the color - and hopefully the flavor and taste - of their commodity. Tapping the top of the sefe (safe/cabinet) by the seller and calling "pagikeke kama/keige" (buy some pancakes sir/ma'am) was the usual risible sales beckon.

We enjoyed our trip to be with our Mom one last time!  Thank you everyone for your love and generosity.

Tino pai. Ka kite ano!


Monotaga Issue Revisited

Samoa Observer letter - July 17, 2016

Dear Editor,

With Le Tagaloa Pita’s case still fresh on our minds, the monotaga issue is still alive. The horse is not dead yet. From the complexity and intricacy of the whole enigma, the monotaga will continue to be scrutinized legally for a while.

I predict that it will continue to be revised until the courts and the present government are satisfied and have accomplished their goal - whatever that might be. By such time, the cultural practice and legal definition will have been at their greatest odds, with tradition and culture being the likely losers.

Besides the fact that paramount chiefs are exempt from rendering a traditional monotaga, as most Samoans understand it, here is a couple of other aspects that would likely complicate the issue further.

Multiple Matai Titles.
There are individuals with multiple matai titles. Ideally, at least in the socio-cultural sense, they should render a monotaga to every village of their different titles. In reality, however, I doubt that is the case. Are these monitored and enforced in any way?

It can be quite arbitrary, at least until election time when that one lucky village that bestowed the “election title” gets the required mandatory monotaga. Other villages will have to wait their turn, if ever. Divided loyalty can also be an issue with these particular matais. Now, if that is not enough to create an election conundrum, then consider this next one - an obvious extension of the above issue.

It has to do with a matai with multiple titles from villages within the same electoral district. I understand that the law looks only at the monotaga to the village of the title under which a candidate is running. This scenario may be improbable but not impossible.

Say that villages A, B and C are all in the same electoral district. Candidate X has titles from villages B and C and he runs under his/her title from village B. His monotaga, to village B only, is therefore legally mandatory, and would be scrutinized, checked and considered.

As a result, village C may or may not receive a monotaga from Candidate X at all.
It will not be recommended or mandated under the law. In that case, village C should have the right to file a complaint or sue the candidate and/or government on grounds of bias, favoritism and discrimination.

 If a monotaga is required by law from a matai to the so-called “election title” village, then it should also be required for all other villages that bestowed his other titles. Otherwise a monotaga in one village is not the same in another, hence undermining the consistency and uniformity the present law tries to accomplish across the board, as any law would.

Moreover, the mandatory monotaga by Candidate X to village B should therefore be equally binding on village C, being from the same electoral district, and from the fact that Candidate X is the representative for both villages.

In this scenario, the principle of true and fair representation is at issue. The candidate is a representative (MP) for a district not a village. Hence, if the monotaga has any efficacy or legal merits, and be allowed to stand as a requirement for a candidate to run in the elections, it should be rendered to the district - not the village.

The monotaga is a malleable beast. If you subdue it by severing one of its parts, it regenerates another.

Ma le fa’aaloalo lava,
LV Letalu