This story first appeared in Issue #5 of our Notebook Samoana.
In our more formal Samoan language, when someone accepts an offer of food or a meal, we refer to that as, “le taliga o le sua.” (Imperative: Tali le sua)
Tali = to receive or accept; Sua refers to food
I only fully understood the use of the phrase when my mother shared a memory about my grandfather, from back in the day.
Although my grandfather lived and served in his wife’s village (we call that ‘faiavā’) he was a high matai in his own district of Fagaloa.
As a young girl, my mom would often accompany her father on his trips to his home village.
Back in those days, the way to Fagaloa was rocky and steep and even included a canoe ride, so they always planned to stay a while when they visited.
My mom and grandfather would usually arrive in the afternoons, then they’d make their way to the falé reserved especially for the high matai.
(Remind me to tell you someday about the different kinds of houses you’ll find in a traditional Samoan village).
Every high chief is taken care of by his extended family.
As soon as his brother learned my grandfather was in town, he would send a taule’ale’a (an un-titled man) over to the high matai falé with one of those coconut-frond baskets full of food… breadfruit, lu’au, fish, game chicken, etc. – freshly gathered from a hot ‘umu.
Out of respect, the taule’ale’a would not go into the falé just yet. Instead, he would hang this basket of food on a post, just under the roof thatching, near the entrance steps.
My grandfather would acknowledge the gift with a speech of gratitude and a prayer for blessings on those who provided this meal.
In those days, “sua” referred specifically to this basket of food. My grandfather’s prayerful acceptance is how he would gratefully “tali le sua”.
As the sunlight faded, signalling time for dinner, the taule’ale’a would come back to the falé, take the basket of food down and bring it to where my grandfather waited, sitting cross-legged on the fala.
The young man would then lay the food out in front of my grandfather, setting a ‘table’ (on place mats on the floor) for him to dine.
Next, this taule’ale’a would sit across from my grandfather, attending to his every need (including fanning away insects) as the old man ate.
When my grandfather was finished, someone would bring a bowl of water and a towel for him to clean his hands. It is only then that everyone else in the household (including his young daughter) could then begin to eat – but not in this falé. Only the high matai ate there.
I love that a lot of Samoans still follow this same pattern of fa’aaloalo (respect) for our elders and high chiefs – even if it’s tweaked a little to suit the world we live in today.