Last week the newly appointed Miss Samoa told everyone that she was proud to be from Samoa…because we are a nation with 90% “pure Samoans.” What the hell does that mean? What makes a Samoan ‘pure’? And if SOME of us are designated pure – what does that make the rest of us? Impure? Tainted? Dirty? Artificial Samoans?
Now, I confess Im confused. Are Miss Samoa 2010 and I living on different islands? I’m looking around and the overwhelming majority of the people I see are – seasoned with Chinese, flavored with Indian, sprinkled with whiteness, stirred with Melanesian, not to mention marinated in Tongan/Tokelauan/Rarotongan and more. Where’s the pure majority?
Let’s take me for example. (because of course everything’s about ME!) My dad is Samoan liberally doused in German, English and with smatterings of American Jew. My mum is Maori with generous servings of Scottish and English. So what does that make me? Clearly, I do not belong to Ms Samoa’s pure percentage. My husband is a smorgasbord of flavours – a Chinese great grandfather who was a cook on one of the warships that sank in Apia harbour during the great hurricane of 1898 ( or was it 1889?) Another great grandfather from England. A grt grandmother from the Samoan ‘royal family’ of Manua. So what does that make him? Confused? Over-seasoned? And what the heck does that make our children? Completely messed up?
But maybe Im looking at this the wrong way. Maybe ‘pure’ Samoans are ‘pure’ because of other things besides their culinary ingredients. Things like – were you born here? Did you grow up here? Can you dance the siva? WITHOUT looking like a crack addict in withdrawal? Can you name all the parts of a fa’alavelave pig and tell us which bloody chunk goes to which Very Important Person? Can you speak Samoan? And if you can speak Samoan, can you do so WITHOUT a Kiwi accent? WITHOUT making any mistakes? We all saw what happened to Miss Samoa-NZ during a particularly aggressive press conference. The poor woman was reduced to tears as self-appointed Identity-Police attacked her roots, her language and her rights to wear a shell tiara. (Miss NZ should have challenged her critics to a Zumba competition. The woman is a fitness instructor and everyone knows that ‘REAL’ Samoans are obese heart attacks waiting to happen. Purity police cant attack you when they’ve collapsed and need CPR.)
If I seem a little edgy about this, it’s because I’m sick of all the rigamarole about what constitutes a ‘real Samoan’. And what things ONLY ‘real’ Samoans are qualified to do. There are those who say I shouldnt have been chosen to write a book on the tsunami because Im not Samoan enough. There are those who love to excuse bad behaviour because ‘its Samoan’ and the only reason that behaviour offends me is because Im ‘palagi’ and dont understand. There are those who love to laugh when I speak the lingo. Never mind that I am courteous enough to never mock anyone with crappy English. If I dont throw wads of cash at the latest fa’alavelave – its because Im palagi and therefore greedy. (excuse me? I thought it was because Im on a tight budget and my kids school fees come first before two boxes of herrings for yet another saofai where 40 people are getting the same matai title. Shoot me if Im out of line – but if they keep dishing out matai titles like candy, then soon wont there be nobody left to matai over? And how can a title mean anything if 39 other people also have it?)
So in answer to the question of which percentage do i belong to? The pure or the tainted? Here is my reply. I defy the purity police and their attempts to classify me. I am a woman. Daughter. Wife. Mother. I love and honor a lot of things about our Samoan culture and heritage. Especially our comittment to family, respect and hard work, ‘tautua’ service. But there’s also a lot of stuff that I can’t stand and I refuse to adhere to. I can speak English better than most English. And American with most Americans. My Samoan language competency is only medium. ( Most palagi LDS missionaries stationed here in Samoa can out-lingo me without breaking a sweat) I can dance the siva with grace and dignity. ( and I invite you to shower me with hundred dollar bills) I don’t ‘do’ fa’alavelaves. I’m Samoan. And palagi. And everything else in between. I embrace all the raggedy, patchwork pieces that make up me.
I’m down and dirty with the ‘impure’. Im just a mongrel. And lovin it.