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Gaopoa was recognised as our kaumatua. His wisdom bespoke divine blessing. He spoke for the past, the present and the future. I was in mental turmoil because I was trying to rationalise a decision to leave Samoa. The job offered represented comfort and good money. I had more or less made up my mind and probably would have avoided meeting Gaopoa if I was forewarned that I was going to meet him by accident.
There is healing in knowing that despite the material sacrifices I can look back and say with confidence that I am a better human being for taking the old man's advice. Gaopoa was not talking to me. He was talking to the gods of my fathers who inhabit my psyche.
He was talking to my ancestors, living and dead, who murmur admonition to my soul. He was talking to the land, the sea and the skies, the antecedents of Polynesian man. I have not read it for many years but it still echoes in my mind. It is about a man who was running away from God's gaze and God's scrutiny. I equate this with the Samoan story of Fatutoa, who was trying to run away from his spiritual and cultural home.
Just before Fatutoa launches on a trip to Tonga the spirits of his family, who have turned themselves into a gentle wind, pat him on the back and say: "You must go back, your family needs you and you can only find haven in your spiritual home by restoring relationships with the land and the seas, ancestors and Gods".
Like Fatutoa, who was touched gently on the back by the winds, I was touched by Gaopoa. Both were the messengers of the Gods, chanting, "You must not run away from your destiny".
And so we say in Samoan: "Ua tata i le tua o Fatutoa le lai o Puava" the back of Fatutoa was touched gently by the winds of Puava. The healing is not out there, nor is it outside us. The healing comes from our spiritual home. The healing comes from within. Every Samoan who lives his culture speaks to the dead. The dialogue between the living and the dead is the essence of a Samoan spiritual being.
It is this dialogue that provides substance and direction to his life. In order to understand this dialogue you need to analyse the mythological, the spiritual, cultural and historical reference points of Samoans. For if you want sight and insight into my psyche, you will have to speak to the gods who inhabit it. You have to eavesdrop on the dialogue between my ancestors and my soul. You have to address my sense of belonging.
I share divinity with my ancestors, the land, the seas and the skies. I am not an individual, because I share a "tofi" an inheritance with my family, my village and my nation. I belong to my family and my family belongs to me. I belong to my village and my village belongs to me. I belong to my nation and my nation belongs to me. This is the essence of my sense of belonging. These are the reference points that define who I am, and they are the reference points of other Samoans.
Allusion and allegory are essential to Samoan religious culture because thesis and antithesis co-exist as synthesis. The contradictory versions of creation are not invalidated by contradiction. They are sustained by the many meanings suggested by allegory and allusion. In that context the cold logic of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas is arrogance because it presumes the absolute, which is the prerogative of the Godhead.
The problems of some Pacific mental health clients originate from trying to cope with the concepts of God, sin and retribution. A friend of mine explained the basic difference between Northern European Catholics and Southern European Catholics in this way. The Northern Catholic is obligated to live the ideal every day. The Southern Catholic is obligated to try.
Sometimes resolving the difference between living and trying creates stress, which pushes the victim to the boundary and beyond. Samoan traditional religious culture provides an alternative insight into man's relationship with God. God the progenitor is family. He is not distant, issuing fearful directive.
He is intimate, close and compassionate. Heaven is an extension of the extended family. Allusion, allegory, metaphor are linguistic tools that have the ability to make meaning, to privilege beauty, relatedness and keep the sacredness of the other. Scientific discourse privileges precision and evidence, often to the detriment of beauty, relatedness and intellectual titillation.
To the extent that Samoan language is couched in allusion and allegory, do allusion and allegory lose impact and allure by the scientific attempt to be definitive? Does the suggestion of more than one meaning in allusion and allegory lose power by the attempt to pin down meaning?
Are you imposing a restriction that is inimical to the fundamentals of hint and suggestion? Does the potential to titillate diminish when you restrict by specifics the shades of meanings of real life? More and more my audiences request me to be more specific. More and more my audiences request further explanation. And I ask myself how do you accommodate the duty to teach and simultaneously retain the allure of allusion.
Being specific diminishes the allure of allusion. But the message has to impact on the heart and soul for the allusion to endure. There has to be some understanding as to what the allusion alludes to in order to retain the interest of the young so that they will impart this interest to those who follow. Occasionally one explains with a pang because allusion traditionally was never meant to be definitively explained.
It was intended to suggest many meanings and to tantalise the intellect. It was meant to open space for multiple ways of interpretation and to invite rather than to define meaning.
In social intercourse allusion is imperative. Frankness is crass because of its potential to offend. The availability of many meanings can help to save face. This is especially important in a culture where face is the essence of relations between the self and community, and family and community.
Recently I saw a "feau" or message printed on a T-shirt, which illustrates my point. Translation: "Yes, in Samoan, is an invitation to use your head.
The challenge or dilemma for social policy analysts, like mental health services, lies in how to bring together the objectives of allusive and allegorical discussion with the best of social science. In ancient Samoan times, it was custom for the young men's guild to visit other villages and share a "po ula" night festivities much condemned by missionaries with the "aualuma" young women's guild.
The purpose was social intercourse, entertainment and a search for wives. When the ladies are loathe to respond, the "aumaga" young men's guild will chant derisively. Their chant may, in translation, seem crude but actually it is subtle humour and derision used to save face in situations of rejection. In the village of Asau there is the celebrated story of Tafa my great uncle long deceased. He said to the aumaga, "I want to tell you that tomorrow I shall press my suit with the pastor's daughter".
As is custom, the aumaga prepared a meal to await Tafa's return. Tafa pressed his suit with the pastor and his wife and the pastor responded, "It is not for us to make the decision. We have sent for the girl and you can ask her yourself". The girl came and Tafa made his offer of marriage. The girl politely refused. Tafa pursued his suit from 10 o'clock in the morning until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The girl was adamant that she did not want to marry.
Tafa was in a dilemma: to continue to pursue the suit or confront the aumaga. Either way he would lose face. To redeem himself, he opted for an unusual course of action.
As he left he saw a rock fence surrounding the pastor's house. He strolled across the lawn, climbed the fence and stood at the top, turned his back on the pastor and his family, bowed in the opposite direction, raised his lava lava and called out, "Hey take a look and tell me what time it is! When Tafa reached the house of the aumaga the leader of the aumaga asked, "How did it go? The leader of the aumaga called on the aumaga to join him in chant:. It is bad, it is cursed!
It is shit, it is bad! Put the cock to sleep, Let it not travel again! Indeed there is interaction - certainly not motivated by alofa. But it is better to chant than to be depressed and suicidal. I worry that the biggest problem that Pacific people have out here is handling rejection. If they do not have access to or use cultural ways of saving face through humour and returning derision, they may be forced to address rejection with violence. History expresses meaning, nuance and metaphor.
He said, and I quote:. The natives are children and should not be legislated for as if they are a modern people. They are still less than a years from the Stone Age and yet Nelson talks about democracy and British justice which goes down well in New Zealand but such rhetoric is a menace to these people who are not able to understand the arguments arising out of party politics. In a recent paper on the Mau, I said that this was a defining comment, and I was asked why.
It is because it defines not only an attitude but, as well, a reference point that purportedly justified a different standard or measure. Unfortunately, this rationale for a different standard was sanctioned by the New Zealand Courts on the grounds that Richardson was not accountable to New Zealand law, but to the terms of the League of Nations mandate.
The court stated, and I quote:. It is the Council of the League of Nations which is the judge as to whether the methods adopted for promoting the material and moral wellbeing and social progress of Samoa are wise or unwise… Court decision re Tamasese, NZLR The Samoans in the Mau returned the compliment. They thought Richardson was a child and their view was celebrated by derisive chant.
One occasion for this was when Palauli district travelled from Savaii to Upolu to make their talomua presentation during the Mau period.
Their fleet would dock at the tip of the Mulinuu peninsula, and from there they organised their parade, known as taalolo, from Mulinuu to Vaimoso. The designated taupou a ranking unmarried lady and manaia the chief or his son dressed in their finery: tuiga head dress , whale-tooth necklace, fine mat lava lava, perfumed with scented coconut oil; the chiefs were garbed in fine mats and the orators in tapa cloth.
The untitled wore skirts of ti leaves with flower leis, which were the emblem of the Laifoni guild. Small cannons, remnants of earlier wars, preceded the parade firing powder gun salutes. It was an awesome sight. The men and women in tuiga led the procession, wielding nifo oti ceremonial long knife with a hook in the end , sometimes menacingly, sometimes in an expressive elegant movement.
The matai chiefs and orators ambled with a grace that Rupert Brook admired. The young men flaunted supple muscular physique accentuated by the design and motif of the Samoan tattoo. Movement was orchestrated by chant. A lead voice clear and sonorous began the chant:. Laifoni the honorific reference to the aumaga of Palauli withdraw below! Eat semen from circumcising the Malo! This is Samoan theatre at its best. There is colour, panoply, pageant, drama. Innocent onlookers are charmed, unaware that it is theatre promoting a powerful cultural message.
Richardson, as Malo, may posture and puff up himself in uniform and flaunt his power, but by their measure he is a mere nubile boy that they would circumcise and whose semen they would eat. The theatrics are making a political statement about calibre. The Samoan leadership were used to parleying with high-calibre palagi officials. The point is probably best illustrated by comparing the calibre of German and New Zealand administrators.
Living in Auckland, he attempted to run for Parliament but could not even win a nomination. He was forced to quit the Auckland Returned Servicemen Association Committee in a scandal over funds which saw the Secretary drown when his car drove into the sea. He was elected to the Auckland City Council for a time and kept in touch with a number of Faipule to whom he preached a doctrine of anti-Mau hatred.
This document was still circulating some 20 years later, and was still considered by some officials to be authoritative. But, the arrogance and racism it contained was startling. Compared to the writings of Te Rangihiroa, both personal and private, or the contemporary work of Keesing or Margaret Mead, even that of other administrators, there is great contrast.
Most people who would read it now would probably be appalled. Salesa How do we identify meaning, nuance and metaphor in this context? Meaning is accessible only through the Samoan language.
Semen is a metaphor for the essence of life. Literally and figuratively, in the Samoan measure of manhood, compared to his predecessors, Richardson is a nubile boy. They could have chanted the funeral chants, the birth chants, the war chants, the victory chants. Yet they did not. They were chanting the marriage chants. Because we are not here to mourn, we are here to celebrate the marriage of true minds.
For many, many years, Lufilufi waited for this gesture. The words are simple and yet full of meaning: I am sorry. I present this fine mat to seal our marriage. The name of the fine mat is "Le ageagea o Tumua". It was stored in "Mulinuu ma Sepolata'emo", residence of the Tuiatua. The ritual is rich in symbolism and history. An explanation of the origin of the name "Le ageagea o Tumua", i.
The Tuitoga had two sons. The elder named Tuitoga after his father, the younger, Lautivunia. Lautivunia had an affair with his older brother's wife. When the affair became known, the older brother was very angry. As is custom, the younger brother made a peace offering, which was cooked food, wrapped in tolo and fiso leaves. Tolo is sugar cane, fiso is the wild sugar cane.
The leaves of the tolo and the fiso underline the message that is, "Please forgive me for we are brothers". The older brother was not placated and Lautivunia made another peace offering, which included the meat of bananas and the meat of the lei banana. The two varieties of bananas underline the message, "We are flesh and blood, surely you can find it in your heart to forgive me". The older brother was still not placated.
Lautivunia decided that if his older brother did not accept the food offering, then he will offer his life. He dug a hole where his catamaran was housed, placed spears at the bottom of the hole face upwards and committed suicide by throwing himself on the spears. The force of this motion pushed the surrounding earth and sand to cover him. When Lautivunia's disappearance was noticed, the father and the brother sent search parties to look for him.
A search party reached Tuiatua Leutele in Samoa. Tuiatua Leutele said, "You need not have come so far. Lautivunia is in Tonga under his catamaran. The Tuitonga felt obligated and instructed the search party to return to Samoa with the finest of his fine mats, which he named "Le ageagea o Tumua" the substance of Tumua to reciprocate Tuiatua Leutele for the favour he had done him.
As well, he recognised Tuiatua Leutele's prophetic powers by naming him Leutele Leiite, that is, Leutele with the prophetic powers. What is the relevance of this ritual and the name of the fine mat to Prime Minister Helen Clark's presentation of a wreathe at Tamasese's grave? The story and the act were about kinship.
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