19 Nov What is a Samoan?
A guest post from photographer and aspiring film-maker, Jordan Kwan. He gave us stunning photos of ‘Daniel Tahi and ‘Leila Folger’ back in the beginning, and also produced THIS fabulous TELESA book trailer. And THIS ONE for When Water Burns. He’s working on his first full-length feature film (read about it HERE) and to raise funds for it, he’s put together another hot Samoan calendar. Called ‘Toa Samoa’, it’s already raising temperatures and eyebrows, as well as stirring up controversy as some accuse it of not being “Samoan enough”. What does that mean? Read what Jordan has to say, check out some of the pics, share your views on the topic, and then click on his link to pre-order YOUR copy of Toa Samoa. Support Samoan artists and get a visual feast from Samoa.
Meet Thierry and Farrell.
They cut exceptionally smooth figures in Hallenstein suits, hair polished to perfection, and their modelling game faces on! Heck, they both look like they’ve just stepped out of a GQ magazine!
You’d never guess that both these lads are Samoan. Yes, you heard it here first – these boys are red blooded Samoan men who both grew up in Samoa (because, apparently, a few comments suggest otherwise. Delete. Thanks for coming).
I get this a lot from the calendar shoots, where any white skinned guy who models is made to feel less than Samoan because of their skin colour. And it’s horrible. I think about my older brother, James, (who may or may not be in the calendar) who is WHITE like a ‘palagi’, yet was born and bred in Samoa, and whose command of the Samoan language and culture is intimidating. And I’m a brown skinned oreo who can’t say the same (I’ve, like, failed all the Samoan exams I’ve ever sat in my entire academic career). But, by the virtue of my skin colour alone, people will readily accept that I am Samoan. James, Thierry and Farrell? Different story.
I find it easy to dismiss it as the ignorance of the less educated (BAM!), but I feel sorry for these great guys, and all guys who are not the stereotypical Samoan brown, who are made to feel like they are somehow less than Samoan just because of their skin colour. It must sting a little to identify as Samoan your entire being, yet having others, especially your own people, make you feel otherwise.
It’s not just that. I’ve had a stream of comments and messages from people who’ve said, “I thought this was a Samoan Men’s Calendar – why aren’t they in ie lavalava’s and/or alo’as? Why are the boys white? Why are they wearing palagi underwear? Why are they not fully clothed? Don’t they have any semblance of respect? Where are the guys in the ma’umaga?” It gets my blood boiling.
It feeds into the discussion about what really constitutes a Samoan. There’s this Samoan saying, “E iloa le tama ma le teine Samoa I lana tu ma le savali, fa’apea lana tautala.” Roughly translated, you know a Samoan by the way they stand, walk and speak. I don’t know how to situate that into this discussion exactly, but… here’s what I think.
In this day and age, you don’t know WHAT a Samoan looks like, let alone how they walk, talk and speak. We are, for better or for worse, now part of a global community. Our culture is evolving. Our people are evolving. By virtue of the fact that I have Samoan blood running through my veins, whatever the heck I do MUST be Samoan! Right?
It’s up to us individually to decide for ourselves what constitutes a Samoan when it comes to our own personal identity. But, in the process, let’s not make others feel less than Samoan just because we don’t like how they walk, talk or speak. For example, I’ve lived in Samoa basically my entire life but my Samoan language is absolutely atrocious. But, I swear, if one of you said I was less than Samoan because of that alone, I will find where you live, break into your house, and eat all your food (like a Samoan).
Then murder you while you sleep on your Samoan fala.
What I DON’T like is being pigeonholed, even WORSE by our own people. I think about the generalized images of Pacific paradise that is constantly sold to tourists, with swaying palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and lush brown island girls who dance for you in grass skirts and coconut bras. And I feel like we are doing something similar to ourselves.
What our people believe constitutes ‘being Samoan’ is so narrowly defined, we tend to alienate our own tagata whenua (Kia ora bro!).
NO, not all Samoan men work in ma’umagas. Welcome to the modern world! Where our men and women fill all manner of vocations and lifestyles, yet they are NOT – and I repeat – they are NOT any less Samoan than you. And I’m sorry, is this a competition? Is there a prize for being ‘most Samoan’? Is this like Harry Potter? Where purebloods have more value in the wizarding world?? Because, if you think like that, have a sit and reflect on Hermione Granger…
I called this calendar Tama Toa NOT because I wanted to sell this narrow stereotypical image of Samoan men – no, I called it Tama Toa because I want to celebrate the modern Samoan man in all their diversity braving this new big scary world we live in. There’s a new wave of health conscious Samoan men, who like to keep fit and healthy as evidenced by their magnificent bodies, and I want to celebrate that, showcase that in nothing but briefs (or *cough*, in some cases, nothing at all). They are inspirational. Truly. After shooting all twelve guys, I was so moved with inspiration that I’ve now limited my intake of Big Macs from 3 to 1 per sitting!
On that note, I want to celebrate our diversity. I want to challenge people to expand their views on identity. I want people to recognize that what constitutes a particular racial/ethnic group is becoming harder and harder to define, and we do no good when we alienate others from their right to choose how they define and identify themselves. But, yes – we do happen to have guys in the calendar who fit that narrow definition of what constitutes a Samoan man. We do. But not all our men work in plantations. Far from it. We are diverse, we are different. What binds us together is difficult to pin down, but for starters – let us embrace how we, as individuals, each define ourselves as Samoans, and accept the fact that how we define ourselves is never the same as how someone else does. And that’s fine. Just don’t turn around and accuse another Samoan for being less Samoan than you. Sound good?
Now… look at the photo of Thierry and Farrell once again… nothing in the picture suggests they’re Samoan. And that’s precisely my point. In this day and age, we don’t know what a Samoan looks like.
My name is Jordan. Samoa is my home. My house is at Motootua. My Samoan sucks. Yet I try and read a lot of Samoan books because I want to better my Samoan. At Samoan funerals I’m absolutely useless. At Samoan functions I don’t have a clue what’s going on. I haven’t seen the inside of a church in a while. I eat off my elder’s plates sometimes (by sometimes, I mean ALL the time). But I am Samoan – perhaps not in the way you expect, but it’s the only group I’ve ever identified with, and I plan to continue identifying with.
You can order your copy of the calendar on Shop Samoa Online! I’ve included the link below: the calendar is available from the 1st of December, but pre-orders are available now with $5NZD off retail price.