E iloa le teine Samoa moni i lana tu, amio, ma aga // You can tell a Samoan girl by the way she stands, her character and her actions
Do you know how hard it is to balance being Samoan in a Western world? It’s the same clichéd story but it’s a reality for many. Growing up in a very staunch Christian Samoan household means that my upbringing was very much submissive, obedient, and communal—and I’m not saying that’s bad! But trying to fit into a society that tends to value individualism and often dominating auras that stand out hasn’t been easy.
My nana tells us about the days when she was being chased by Immigration during the Dawn Raids to be deported and the only people she could trust were her in-laws; she was taught to be obedient and submissive to the New Zealand laws at the time or she risked deportation. Tell me… if this is our background, why do you think it’s hard for some of the next generation to even speak their mother tongue or speak out when they are being taken advantage of? Even in this position as President, it’s difficult trying to navigate situations where it is often seen that I need to have all the answers and solutions. What if it goes wrong? What if it falls back on my family and brings shame? What if that one decision I make undoes everything they’ve worked hard for?
E te iloa le uiga o lou iloa? // Do you know the meaning of your name?
Just like 99% of every other Pacific Islander on the planet, my twenty-nine-letter name printed on my birth certificate isn’t just for the sake of not fitting on exam papers at University pre-Covid. My name is translated into ‘love’ in the English language but in its entirety, it refers to a person who loves unto others in all forms of the word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kneeled in front of my papa after a very intense growling and heard him say this to remind me that selfishness and stupidity isn’t in my name. And it’s in the little things—staying out late because of an event or going out to dinner when my parents are at home cooking their own food after a long day at work—I should know better and not just express my feelings of love, but rather show it through my actions. My name carries the weight of my ancestors and the sacrifice that they made for me to be here so the least I can do is actively play my part by loving others without being asked. It’s so bloody hard, but it becomes a part of who you are and if you genuinely buy into the concept of your name being your virtue, it gets easier because it’s something that comes naturally. Unless you come from an Island home as well, then it might come naturally… after a few good one, two uppercuts.
Afai e te alu I le aiga o lou toalua a e te lē iloa fai se pa’upa’u, e tuli oe e le aiga. O le faiaoga muamua, o le umututa // If you go to your partner’s house and don’t know how to do anything, the family will tell you to go away. Your first teacher is the kitchen.
Sunday mornings are always a pain. Waking up at the crack of dawn to cut onions and garlic for the sapasui, my brothers peeling the taro on the other end of the bench, my nana walking around with her wooden spoon (a.k.a. the ultimate weapon for hidings) and a towel on her shoulder—life is hard. But besides having an early body clock and learning how to cook the basics for your average Islander Sunday lunch, it’s about discipline and service. I’ve learned that cooking goes far beyond just putting a chicken in the oven, it’s about ensuring that those you are catering for are being looked after in all senses of the word. Learning how to hold your hunger until everyone has eaten, keeping clean and multitasking in a kitchen so you don’t burn anything, attending to guests in hierarchical order, paying attention so you know when to bring the apa for the guests to wash their hands… it’s all played a part in how I am now. It’s translated into knowing how to serve others from different backgrounds and cultures, learning how to humble myself in certain situations, reading the room on when things need to be said and when it’s best to leave it alone—I wouldn’t change it for anything.