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Samoana, Ala Mai: Translating Lota Nu’u

You know how at the end of a long Samoan (usually family) function, someone says the closing prayer then everybody gets up to sing a song together?

I love that.

Not just because it means we can go home soon and eat the food we’ve already loaded in the car (who does that?) ’cause of how it’s already been three hours of speeches and fa’asamoa stuff since they served the feed for the function…

…but also because I love feeling like I’m a part of a united people… singing together… songs of freedom… I mean, patriotism… about God and our country… songs that we all know.

Except, until very recently, I’d be the one humming along through the verses, trying to remember a few words in the chorus so I can bust out my harmonies when it gets to the good part.

My favourite song-that-they-use-to-close-functions was always the one that goes…

SaaaaamoANA!! (and then the echo: Ssssaaamooana)
Ala maaaaiiiii… (aaaallaa mai)

and then something something… and then:

i le PPUUUUuuuuuuuulle uaa maua AAIIII…

and then something something…

I leeeeeee……….. VAAAASAaaeeeeeee……..

Oh and…

AAAAAAAA…… MENEE….

Beauty.

And all I knew about this song is that ‘Samoana’ refers to the people of Samoa, and ‘ala mai’ means ‘wake up’.

Turns out (cause I asked my mum again).. the song really is beautiful. It’s a stirring celebration of Samoa as a country and a sombre plea for us as a people to hold on to our inheritance.. our pride and our dignity.

Check it out:

LO TA NU’U, UA OU FANAU AI

Lo ta nu’u, ua ou fanau ai // My dear country, where I was born

Lalelei oe i, le vasa // You are the most beautiful in the ocean

Ua e maua, mai luga // You have obtained from above

O le tofi, aoga // A most important inheritance / duty

Chorus:

Samoana, (Samoana) // People of Samoa

Ala mai, (Ala mai) // Arise (wake up)

Fai ai nei, (Fai ai nei) // Give (now)

Le fa’afetai, (Le fa’afetai) // Your thanksgiving

I le pule, ua mau ai // To the Most High, who gave you

O lou nu’u, i le vasa // Your island / country, here in the ocean

E ua lalelei Samoa // Samoa is beautiful

Lo na valevalenoa // Her lands are beautiful

Ia mo’omia ai ou fanua // Your lands are objects of desire

Tama a Samoa, ala mai // Wake up, sons (children) of Samoa

Ua e sui lou tautai // You have changed your focus of worship (going astray)

Lou mamalu ia mau ai // Hold on to your prestige and dignity

Tuputupu pea mai // May it continue to grow

Talu nu’u ua feagai ai // Because the villages / country we have now

Nu’u mamao ua e maua ai // Other countries have supported

Mea lelei e atia’e ai // With good things to help us develop

Lou mamalu ia mautu // Hold on to your prestige and dignity

Mata’upu, tau Iesu // Especially with regards to Jesus Christ

Ia fai oe ma nu’u tumau // Be a country that sets a standard

Olaola lau fanau // May your children continue to prosper

Ia vi’ia e fa’avavau // And may we praise forever

Le ua pule aoao // Our Lord of Hosts

xx HGG

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Known off-line as Lillian 'Lei'a' Arp, HGG is just a geek girl learning how to be Samoan. You can also find her at Cup Tea talking about her other most favorite topic in the world: food.

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13 Comments so far...

  1. avatar John @ Tala'aga says:

    OH, WOW! I love it when you do this: translation of our heart. I loved the way you did “Naumati Lagona”…*tears from the heart*, love to your mom! Aaaah, I heard the song EXACTLY the you did, the song pleads deep down into our ancestral heritage of Samoa. Aaaah…(sighing), BEAUTIFUL.

  2. avatar John Wasko says:

    you might enjoy discovering more about the history of Austronesia and the cultural, spiritual and linguistic history of Polynesia.

    From Pago

    JW

  3. avatar Toney $. says:

    Beautifully put HGG. I’m not sure if anyone has ever attempted translating this sacred song. I must say, your words matched the heart of the original.

    Keep it up!

  4. avatar Toney $. says:

    BTW, Ia Manuia le Tausaga Fou.

  5. avatar Rina [: says:

    Oh geez! I think I must be really late on this, but I LOVE THIS SONG! I think my most favorite time hearing it was during my Uncle’s funeral. He was shot & killed while in Afghanistan. Man & everybody came to his funeral! People from Hawaii, Seattle, Samoa, Oklahoma, American Samoa, Missouri, California, Arkansas, Kansas, & even white people were there! The funeral was held in a HUGE Catholic Cathedral, and it was packed! People were standing and some sitting on the floor. && Oh my goodness when we all sang together; it was true BLISS to hear. If only someone would have recorded it.

  6. avatar Peni says:

    Your translation is fine, missed a few. However if you are referring to “NU’U” in the song as (Western) Independent Samoa, you are wrong. The “NU’U” in the song refers to the islands of Samoa. Whether someone is from Independent Samoa or American Samoa, this song stirs up deep emotion for Samoa and not any country or territory.

    Ia Manuia!

  7. avatar Iva says:

    This song had me singing but only the chorus forgot the tune but feeling really home sick right now!

  8. avatar Iva says:

    great website by the way keep it going!

  9. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    Lol @ Peni … by ‘Samoa’ I meant ALL of Samoa. Of course.

    Funny.. I never expected anybody to assume I was talking only about Western lol

    Thanks everybody!

  10. avatar Eag264 says:

    Malo HGG,

    You’re probably puzzled by the comments I’m leaving years after you’ve posted them. Regretfully I’m only now passing through them and your articles inspire and intrique me so much that I’m reading them all tonight…and searching for more. Do you have any other blogs or a facebook page that I can read up on? I love learning more about our amazing culture and seeing this song almost had me in tears. I had a family reunion in Napier this past Christmas and at the end of 3 wonderful days with the family, we all stood in a huge circle holding hands and sang this song. As I sit here thousands of miles away, it really made me long for the culture I’ve missed out on for almost 30 years. I hope you’ve continued to write or even publish something for others like myself to read to bring us closer to home. Thank you- you have an avid fan.
    xox
    eag264

  11. avatar Eag264 says:

    Malo HGG,You’re probably puzzled by the comments I’m leaving years after you’ve posted them. Regretfully I’m only now passing through them and your articles inspire and intrique me so much that I’m reading them all tonight…and searching for more. Do you have any other blogs or a facebook page that I can read up on? I love learning more about our amazing culture and seeing this song almost had me in tears. I had a family reunion in Napier this past Christmas and at the end of 3 wonderful days with the family, we all stood in a huge circle holding hands and sang this song. As I sit here thousands of miles away, it really made me long for the culture I’ve missed out on for almost 30 years. I hope you’ve continued to write or even publish something for others like myself to read to bring us closer to home. Thank you- you have an avid fan. xox eag264

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