The world can be a very small place when you’re Samoan. The extended family is key in our culture. So no matter where you go, you can be sure that you will stumble across someone who you’re vaguely related to. Who knows your parents. Your aunty. Who went to school with your cousins. Who comes from the same village as your grandfather.Or who is just proud and eager to tell you that yes, they are Samoan. I havent met many white people who can attest to the same phenomenon…
This can be a good thing. It meant that when I went to Varsity in windy Wellington, I could count on amazing relatives like my aunty Ruta who made it her personal mission to ensure I ate at least one decent meal a week. Being Samoan meant that when I moved to Washington DC, I could find an instant ‘village’ of welcoming tropical warmth from the Samoan community and cousins galore. It meant that when I flew to Massey to do some English papers- I jumped into a taxi driven by a cheerful man who was not only a Savaii export, but was also an ex-student of my father’s. Not only did i get complimentary transport, I also got invites to toonai and given a farewell gift when it was time to fly away again. Yes, being Samoan can be like one of those choice diplomatic passports that guarantees you special treatment and tons of great perks.
However. Belonging to a global Samoan family can have its downside. It means that you are never really an individual flying solo, footloose and fancy free. Wherever you go, someone ( usually a gossipy, witchy somebody – YEAH YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) is watching you and feeling an irresistable urge to censure your every move. And report it to the appropriate familial authorities. Flashback…a scant few years to the first year of my degree. There i was enjoying university life to the FULLEST and rejoicing that my parents were a million miles away in Washington DC. When I get a phonecall from my mum, who wants to tell me that “you really need to watch the way you dance in those nightclubs you are going to. You are giving off the wrong messages with your sensuous dance moves and everyone thinks that you are a bad girl up to no good! You look cheap! You look like a slut! We are so ashamed of you!” Now I know my mum is not an omniscient being with satellite GPS tracking her children. ( she would like us to believe that she is.) So how in heck did she know where i was dancing and how? It wasnt the WHITE side of my family tree speed dialling her! No, because we Samoans are usually identified by..who’s your mother? who’s your father? what’s your village?…it can result in everything you do ( and every skanky dance you dance) being a reflection of your parents, your aiga and the ancestral village that your ten-times-great grandmother belonged to.
Being Samoan also means that there are oodles of people who worry about you and have a connection with you, a ‘right’ to be worried. So when you’re dressed to kill in the shortest skirt imaginable and dashing to a night out with the girls – that taxi you call will be driven by none other than your Samoan Bishop/pastor. ‘Hello Lani! And where are you going tonight? Will we see you in church tomorrow?’ And when your naked pregnant butt is sticking out of its theater gown and you look like the Teletubbies longlost sister – the orderly who comes to wheel you to the operating room – will be none other than one of your chirpy little distant twice removed cousins that you used to teach english to a century ago ..‘Oh hi Ms Wendt! How are you!?‘ What a stupid question. Were you this stupid when you were in my class? I’m pregnant. Fat. Ugly. And I hate you. Go away.
Nah. Definitely wasnt feelin the ‘global family Samoan love’ then.
I must confess though that as my Fab5 grow up, Im gaining a greater appreciation for our Samoan-ness. Because it means that no matter where they roam, they will have family/friends/concerned wellwishers and complimentary taxis. And spies that will report back to me. I love it!