The Samoan way

The fact that I wasn’t raised in Samoa was the source of a lot of problems I had with my parents growing up… except I didn’t know it till later… till I was at university trying to connect with this popular group of Samoans from Samoa and realized that I had trouble relating to them too.

To me they were so… loud. And they liked to mock… a lot. I’d always try to avoid walking past them for fear of the comments-plus-hahaha’s they’d casually toss my way. And man they could dig up your information. I’d meet them and after an intense 5-minute interrogation (plus a quick nod-and-mutter consult with each other), they’d be able to recite my entire family history AND give me a breakdown of every ’secret’ scandal remotely connected to me.

They were a formidable bunch, borg-like in the way they stuck together, and when I finally gave up trying to infiltrate them, retreating to the comfort zone of my Palagi etc. friends, I was forced to accept that – brown as I am – I had so much to learn about Samoan people.

No wonder then that I clashed so much with my Samoan-people parents. While my friends were casually hanging out at each other’s houses, socializing outside of school hours, I was on relative lockdown. When I innocently suggested that I was going to get my own place as soon as I turned 18 – like all the other kids were doing – it instigated something resembling Armageddon in our house, waged mostly by my mother who insisted that I would live at home till I was married, and even then why would I want to go anywhere? …And I always had to watch what I said about my teachers in front of my dad… something I FINALLY learned after his like 4th random appearance at my school (followed by a staff member’s subsequent apology to me).

At the time I just thought it was ’sooooo unfair!’ Why did my parents have to be so weird? But then I had the chance to observe the Samoans at uni and I realized that the world my parents grew up in was almost completely foreign to the one I knew… we weren’t just dealing with a generation gap, but a huge cultural divide, too. If I’d known then what I do now about the Samoan way of doing things – about the heirarchy and structure of a Samoan village, how that affects the way families operate, about the role each person has and the expectations that come with it – if we were working from the same reference book, then well… I guess I wouldn’t now have so many crack-up war stories to tell from my very eventful childhood.

I spent some time working with troubled youth in Auckland, home of the biggest concentration of Samoans in the world. Everybody’s story is different, I know, but I noticed that the things most of these kids have in common is the absence of a strong parental influence in their lives (even with kids from two-parent households) and a distinct lack of knowledge about their ethnic heritage.

It is my theory that the seeming parental neglect, in most cases, is not that they don’t care… but that they don’t have the tools necessary to transcend cultural differences and really connect with their children. I believe that the reason we see so many young Samoans on the news connected to violent crimes is because these kids have a warped idea – or none at all – of what it really means to be Samoan…

…only because I can’t accept that anyone who proudly stands for the unmistakeably Samoan values of respect, humility and love could ever hold up a dairy at gunpoint or stab anyone to death over a drunken squabble.

I was very fortunate that the culture-clash turbulence of my growing up years never resulted in anything so abrasively rebellious as, well, a life of crime… I think my family has a strong, Christian foundation to thank for the fact that my parents never gave up on us… and that my siblings and I survived our childhood.

I think a lot, though, about the thousands of other Samoan parents who leave the framework of the Fa’asamoa to raise their children in a foreign world. I have nothing but respect for anyone who would take up the challenge of the unfamiliar in order to give their families a better life… but I think that too often, our Samoan heritage is lost in the arrangement, a casualty of bills to pay, money to make and a Westernized life to adopt… I think people also underestimate the consequences of this loss, which can range from the communication problems I had with my parents, to deeper, more destructive identity issues.

I feel blessed that I have the opportunity now to look back and learn about the culture that played such a huge part in shaping my parents’ perspective of the world. The more I learn, the more grateful I am for the wisdom of our ancestors who carefully sculpted our protocol and traditions… the more I feel the urgency for us as Samoans – especially those of us in other countries – to truly appreciate and value the Samoan way.

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Known offline as Lillian (Lils, Lei'a) Arp, Hamo Geek Girl is just learning what it means to be Samoan. When she's not here, she's over at Manaui: Savour Oceania mostly talking about her other favourite topic: Food!

6 thoughts on “The Samoan way

  1. Hello I’m a new member on this site. I find this post most compelling and passionate and is truly megnificent in presenting a clear understanding of what our samoan values stands for. I totally agree with the writers observation about the lack of communication and identity issues. I was born and raised in Manu’a but came to the state at a very early age of 10. I’m also an afakasi but I proudly say, my upbringing in samoa was the foundation that made me who I am today. The christian principals that my parents taught and directed me throughout my young childhood rooted within me but alot of it was  misdirected when I came to the state. Yeah, new ideas of pursuing the American dream soon became the only voice that took control of my life and the values of our samoan culture became secondary or should I say, hardly exist. Not until I became a parent I began to question the direction of how I lived my life or how am I going to raise my children in this unforgiven selfish society. So, the most unsuall and unsuspected transformation took place in my thought process, which I conciously reached back to my young childhood upbringing and remembered the Christian principals I was taught. That was a life changing for me and gave me a purpose to seek God for wisdon and understanding each day to be an effective communicator in words and action. The fact that the Christian values I was taught at a young age only impacted my life today because my parents never gave up as the writer stated. Our samoan culture and values in the state are so deluted with selfish embition and motived by greed that drives alot of our youth to pursue a bigger lie that can only bring shame to their families. Fa’asamoa is about respect, love, and humility but not non of these shameful squabble we see in this new generation of americanized samoan youths. I work with alot of our troubled youth and the majority of them expressed the lack of respectful communication in their homes but what I see, this youths are in rebellious because of communication problems that arises from inconssitancy and failure to follow up by parents. I command the writer for this heart felt post, which I believe is a passionate voice for unity in our samoan community. When Jesus healed a blind man, his very words were, “once I was blind, now I can see.” I truly believe God is the only one that can lift the veil of blindnes from that unloving spirit and open eyes to see the beauty of our samoan culture that we can all be proud of and do our very best to honor it by treating each other with respect, love, and humility. Thank you for sharing your caring heart with all of us.

    Ia fa’amanuia atu le Atua iate oe ma lou aiga. 

  2. Wow how wonderful to hear this story and much needed. I am a mother of 4 Afakasi children me being the Eureopean Parent. My husband and I go round and round about the up bringing of my children. He wants the American dream but does not understand the compromises it takes to achieve this. Meaning he runs our home the Samoan Way BUT wants the kids to stay away from their people so they may become successful in the states. Very confusing for me and my kids. Some say they are white washed, some say they are not Samoan by the way they look. But trust me I have and will fight to teach and remind them of who they are. When people are intolerant of them I tell them it is easier to be a follower than a leader, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us so we can be the same. I plea to full blooded island raised children to enbrace their sisters and brothers who where made by God and share their same joys and cultural blessings and challenges. One day they might have something to share that will enhance their lives as well. God bless and thank you for the article.

  3. Wow. That pretty much sums up my experience -- and my new found respect and longing! I can’t believe how spot on your thoughts are- I absolutely agree with you. Your story sounds so much like mine. Thanks so much for this.

  4. lol@ “I’d always try to avoid walking past them for fear of the comments-plus-hahaha’s they’d casually toss my way” like the ones from my uncles church..the ones you ‘love’ but not really haha ok maybe it different lol

    CHI THAT WAS SO WEL WRITTEN OMG..*adds to favourite*
    Im sure many have wondered about this but you put it together so well. Yeeeeeh i agree with you on all levels, plus I have my parents to thank for a lot; they remind us everyday to value the samoan way [even tho i struggle to see what that is sometimes lol] but in due time im sure il have a clearer idea/view on it all. This piece sure helped a lot.

    thanks HGG..again 😀

  5. You’re right, parental neglect is NOT the problem.

    The difficulties do arise somewhere between our Parents familiarizing themselves with, in my case, USA’s culture, and their children’s experience of USA. For my parents, USA was entirely foreign for them, compared to Samoa, whereas, USA was my (their child/ren’s) place of birth. Two, entirely, different parts of the World: geographically, economically, sociologically…

    This topic, this subject, “The Samoan Way,” in terms of this blog-piece, is far more complicated than the attempted ‘pigeonholing’ of the Samoan experience of Many.

    I don’t mean this in a condescending way, especially, considering the Author’s (HGG) passionate pleads for unity of past and present. Especially, considering the Author’s (HGG)impassioned pleads reminding us of our ancestral responsibilities, of our ancestral obligations for one another.

    We need each other.

    We need each other to remind us that we belong. We need each other to help us feel connected. We need each other to remind us of who we are.

    That’s what I got from this Piece. Thank you for sharing your experience with us; which, for me, reflected my own.

  6. This is going under my favorite articles of all time! lol. Well said, and kudos to you for posting this. I totally agree with everything you said, in regards to Samoans having a lack of knowledge about their ethnic heritage and lack of parental influence. The Samoans that we see on the news do not know the meaning of what it is to be Samoan. Here in the states, I too felt branded as an outcast to my own kind, in that I could not relate to them. They too would mock others, which I found immature, but hey… it was High School, lol. So, I gravitated towards my other friends who were of mixed nationalities, ie) latino, asian, white, black, brazilian, indian, russian friends… which helped me gain a wider perspective on life on just how small Samoans are in a widely populated world. I too feel grateful that I got the chance to grow up in this kind of enviornment, because it gave me a sense of pride about my own unique culture. That I too had something special to offer. I think thats what some Samoans who grow up away from the islands, and in a westernized civilization tend to neglect. Is teaching the next generation what it means to be Samoan, but also the responsibility that you have in representing not only yourself but your culture.

    joda

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