The Samoan word for proverb is alagaupu. These little soundbites of widely-accepted wisdom are based on the characters and events in our legends, and also on the imagery of daily Samoan life.
Alagaupu & muagagana (idioms) are what make the Samoan language so rich and meaningful. They’re the building blocks of our oratory craft – but not a lot of Samoan speakers know more than a few of them. Why?
We have this idea that our proverbs and idioms are reserved for ‘higher language’ Samoan speakers, like matai (chiefs) and ministers. They are highly valued, but guarded like precious ammunition, used only to demonstrate how eloquent a speaker is.
It just means that a lot of everyday Samoans don’t get exposed to these beautiful gems of wisdom passed down to us from our ancestors, which is a shame.
This section of our Notebook:Samoa is about breaking down the ‘mysteries’ in our proverbial expressions so that everybody can appreciate just how beautifully rich the Samoan language is…
And maybe we’ll start using them in our own speech. And maybe our kids will know them, too.
Another one of my most favourite Samoan jams is Afai Ua e Musu (I love the version by the Five Stars). It’s basically a guy telling a girl, “If you don’t want me, just tell me. I’m cool. I can hack it. Let’s just get this over with.” And then he quotes Samoan proverbs including a variation of this one about the snake and its eyes: E fasia o le gata, ae pupula mai ona ...Read more
As the heart of the Pacific ocean, it makes sense that so many of Samoa’s alagaupu & muagagana (proverbs & idioms) use the imagery of fishing. Like this one: O le upega e fili i le po, ‘ae tatala i le ao Its literal translation: The fishing net is knotted (or braided) at night, but opened (or untangled) in the morning/day. Dr Schultz explains that after night fishing, fishermen would hang their nets up, but would ...Read more
My grandfather was a diligent note-keeper. He was a faiava, which means he lived with my grandmother in her village (rather than his own), and he kept several notebooks worth of hand-written records on her family’s history and titles. This grandfather was also a gifted orator. He died when I was very young, but I still hear stories about how so many villages would invite him to their various functions to hear him speak, and ...Read more