As with many traditional Samoan songs, Falealili Uma is not one that you can fully understand in English with a simple word for word translation.
Even fluent speakers of Samoan still need to know some history, a few idioms and a little bit of geography to really grasp the meaning of this song.
Thank you to the elders in my family for graciously helping me with this translation. It was such an enlightening conversation. This song is so old and so popular – you hear it at just about every upbeat Samoan gathering – that I thought I knew it.
But as my elders shared the stories, expressions and customs behind each line, I was struck yet again by the depth of our language and the lyrical skill of those who crafted our beautiful songs.
I’m working with the version of this song that is in our Samoan Lyrics database: Falealili Uma.
According to the book Tusi Pese Fatuga Tuai a Samoa, by T. Chande Lutu-Drabble, this version is actually a medley of two different songs – one called Falealili Uma and the other called Falefitu e Falealili ma Aleipata.
It’s something that happens a lot with traditional songs, probably because they tend to be very short. Samoans have lots of sing-alongs, and I guess over the decades we figured out that one song goes really well with another one (and maybe even another one), and then we just got used to singing them one after the other in specific combinations.
What is Falealili?
Okay, so Falealili is a sub-district of Atua, on the southeastern coast of the island of Upolu.
Some of the villages in Falealili include Poutasi, Salani, Malaemalu, and Sapunaoa, home of the legendary Manusamoa title for which Samoa’s national rugby team is apparently named.
The sports reference is significant here because this song is a celebration of a victory, possibly in battle, but most likely in sport.
Let’s take a closer look:
Falealili uma // All of Falealili
i o ma o // here and there
ta fia faalogologo // I want to hear
i sou leo // your voice
Ua a’ave o le tala // Word is spreading quickly
o le malo // of the victory
ua leai se manu e toe olo // Not a single bird is chirping
The last line here, “leai se manu e olo” is an idiom.
In this context, it means that no one (no bird) is challenging or contesting this victory. In other words, it’s a hands down win.
(See how the English idiom ‘hands down’ works a similar way?)
We have a lot going on in this verse.
Falefitu e, // The House of 7
Falealili ma Aleipata // Falealili and Aleipata
faapea ma le atu Safata // and also the district Safata
First, you’ll hear a change of melody here, so we’re now singing the second song in this medley.
As I mentioned above, Falealili is a sub-district of Atua. Aleipata and Safata are also nearby sub-districts.
Falefitu, though? Is a matter of debate. Its literal meaning is ‘The House of 7’ and it is a name given to various groupings of oratory chiefs. These include one group from Tutuila, one from Tuia’ana, one from Fasito’otai, and one from a district closer to Falealili called Tuamasaga.
Because of its proximity (and because my uncle said so), I’m going to accept that this song is referring to the latter.
In any case, the writer here is calling out a challenge to these districts:
A e fia faatau moa // If you want to enter the cockfight,
lafo ane sau ‘afa // throw in your sennit rope.
Ae soia lava le fa’atu i ala // Stop crouching (indecisively) on the road
The ‘afa is a thin but really strong rope hand-braided from the husks of the sennit coconut. I’m not sure what the ‘afa has to do with a cockfight (perhaps it was used as a leash for the bird?) but, this figure of speech is strongly urging people to step up and get in the game.
According to my elders, this particular expression (about the ‘afa and the cockfight) is specific to the Falealili district. That is, you’ll rarely ever hear an orator who is not from the area use this saying.
Included in this song, it adds a sense of pride and unity for the people of Falealili, especially for those who know something about their titles and history.
Then, as a further encouragement, the writer adds:
E aoga foi fa’agatama // It’s good to have healthy competition
e masani i le tupulaga // so that our young people can get to know each other
Fa’amane’ene’e, // Be graceful (as if dancing)
aua le minoi tele // Don’t move too much
Ae teu le ta’alo // Play well (carefully)
ma le loto maualalo // and with humility
Olioli malie, // Concentrate, watch your game strategy
aua le pisa o // don’t make too much noise (during the game)
Faato’a vivini o le moa ina ua malo // The rooster only crows once the game is won
Apparently, when teams return home after sports tournaments with other villages, they will crow like roosters at the entrance of the village to announce their victory. That is most likely what this last line is referring to, but it could also be a reference to the cockfight scenario mentioned above.
Satalo e o le uso na toto // Satalo, the brother that we acquired
Teuteu ia le itumalo // lets make peace, bring our district together
Falealili e, ia maopo’opo // Falealili, let’s come together
O le mea sili lea e malie ai lou loto // The most important thing is that you are happy / content
Satalo is another village in Falealili. It’s here that my sources fail me, though. We’re not sure what went down between Satalo and its district, but it sounds like all is sorted now.
Oi lata penina o le auro lea // Oh my pearl, this is my gold
lata pululipano e po’o fea // My frankensence, I wonder where it is
Oe la’u manamea e le fa’agalo i aso fai pea // My sweetheart that I won’t forget every day
O lo’o fiafia e ua le gata mai lea // My happiness does not end here
Here, we’re back to the first song of this medley, so these beautiful lines of devotion will naturally be about Falealili.
Aloalo malie lau va’a Samoa // Row your boat with care, Samoa
i lou sami lanu moana // in your ocean of blue
Ua e ofi atu i le ava // You’ve made it into the harbour
ma e pesepese le taulaga // singing (merrily) in town
Ua tuanai o le atu vasa // We’re now past the dangers of the deep ocean
ua fetaiai le ava fatafata // We now meet in camaraderie (with respect for one another)
But now our writer expands the scope to include all of Samoa. This part suggests that we’ve just come out of a struggle as a nation. Whether it was an internal hardship, for example a civil war, or a difficulty we had with other countries, we’re not sure.
Perhaps someone can help shed light on this bit in a comment below?
Whatever the details are here, though, it’s all good news in the end:
Samoa e, amuia oe // Samoa, you are truly blessed
ua taunuu ma le manuia lau faamoemoe // The realization of your hope / dream has happily arrived
This song expresses so much pride for a hometown and a people. It’s a call to arms for all of Falealili to stand together and press forward with courage and dignity.
The sentiment is so contagious – the message so inspiring – that this song has become more than an anthem for just one district. It’s been borrowed time and again by Samoans from all villages as a celebration, a tribute and an expression of love for Samoa as a whole.
For so many of us who are not from Falealili but still (if a bit self-consciously) really cherish this classic song, a popular, tongue-in-cheek statement just might apply:
Aue, ua ta fia Falealili fua!
Which means something like, “Gosh, all of a sudden I want to be from Falealili”