12 Apr What is a Samoan?
Samoans – there’s lots of different kinds of us.
Something strange happened to Big Son when we moved to New Zealand. Something that involved a lavalava, the siva and ‘real’ Samoans. Our children have spent their entire lives in Samoa – interspersed with holidays in Auckland so even though they’re technically multiracial mongrels like me and the Hot Man, they are pretty much supposed to be “Samoans.”
When we lived in Samoa, Big Son never ever wore a floral lavalava. Not to bed, not to lounge around the house, not to hang out with friends in town. Not ever. He didn’t dance the siva. Or speak Samoan where the cool kids could hear him. Or even call himself a Samoan. “What are you then?…Umm, I don’t know. Does it matter what I am?” (For the record, let it be known that I can dance a beautiful siva thank you very much. And I know all the important words in Samoan. And I love lavalava’s and puletasi …they can be very slimming outfits…)
Then we moved here and Big Son started attending a NZ public school. Where he was obviously…not an Asian. Not a white person ‘palagi. Not an Indian. Not from the Middle East. Not South African. Not Maori. All of a sudden, Big Son was identified by others as being ‘Pacific Islander’ – and more specifically, “Samoan.” And other Samoan teenagers, particularly those born and bred here in NZ, have been excited to ’embrace’ him as one of them. As a walking, talking expert on all things Samoan.
So what happened? Big Son started speaking Samoan. A lot. Because he found that his fluency was miles better than the other kids and it was ‘cool’ to speak Samoan. I fell over in shock the day he asked to borrow one of my lavalava’s to wear at school. You want to wear a floral piece of cloth around your waist? At school sports day? In front of hundreds of other teenagers? Are you ill? Did aliens eat your brain? No. He wanted to wear Samoan clothing because the other Pacific Islanders thought it was cool to show your identity that way. At RWC time, Big Son took a giant Samoan flag to school. So he could walk around waving it. Even when Manu Samoa lost. And then Big Son joined the Samoan Culture Dance group and comitted to hours of daily practises after school. And all day Saturdays. And overnight camps to practise. In this country, cultural dancing is taken super seriously. (Whereas in Samoa, the most important thing to parents and teachers and most kids – is working your butt off to pass School Certificate and PSSC exams. But then, hey, that’s the islands for you…us laid back, underachiever islanders…) But here now, the boy who sneered at the siva when we lived in the land of the siva – now was giving up his precious gym time and afternoon sleeping time and Saturday X-box time – to practise the siva. We went to watch him perform the traditional sasa and slap dance and I was so proud of him. And thankful that he was having this very cultural experience.
It got me thinking. Identity and belonging can be such complicated things. And what defines you as “Samoan” or whatever other race you may be, actually varies in different countries. Samoans in New Zealand are not the same as Samoans in Samoa. So shoot me for saying it. I have met Samoans here in NZ who have submerged themselves so completely in Samoan “culture and language” that honestly? They would be so out of place in Samoa. Because, umm, I hate to break it to you – we don’t talk like that back home. Or even act like that back home.
I am learning new things every day here in NZ. About what it means to be a Pacific Islander in a supposedlly multicultural society. About what it means to be “Samoan” according to the NZ-Samoan definition. The differences and similarities with being “Samoan” in Samoa. And they are not definitions set in stone because culture and customs are an evolving thing. And one is not necessarily better or worse than the other.
But I digress. Back to Big Son. He has gone to Samoa for the school holidays. And he was super stressing out about clothes. ‘I need new shorts…I dont have any nice ones to wear when we go places…blah blah blah.’
I said, “Excuse me, why don’t you just wear a lavalava when you go out places? You know, like a Samoan does?”
He was horrified. As I knew he would be. “Mum! I cant wear a lavalava when I go out! None of my friends wear lavalavas when they go to town.”
Somehow I dont think Big Son will be dancing the siva in Samoa. Or waving a Samoan flag everywhere he goes. And he definitely won’t be wearing a lavalava to town either. Because he’s just not that kind of Samoan. At least not when he’s in Samoa anyway.
Sleepless in Samoa hit a record 30,000 visits last month. Thanks for keeping me company! If you’re looking for a Fantasy Romance read about strong, fierce and proud Pacific women – check out the free sample of TELESA:The Covenant Keeper available on Amazon.