children, cultural identity, ethnicity, lavalava, New Zealand, samoa, school -

What is a Samoan?

                                 Samoans – there’s lots of different kinds of us.
Something strange happened to Big Son when we moved to New Zealand. Something that involved a lavalava, the siva and ‘real’ Samoans. Our children have spent their entire lives in Samoa – interspersed with holidays in Auckland so even though they’re technically multiracial mongrels like me and the Hot Man, they are pretty much supposed to be “Samoans.”

When we lived in Samoa, Big Son never ever wore a floral lavalava. Not to bed, not to lounge around the house, not to hang out with friends in town. Not ever. He didn’t dance the siva. Or speak Samoan where the cool kids could hear him. Or even call himself a Samoan. “What are you then?…Umm, I don’t know. Does it matter what I am?”  (For the record, let it be known that I can dance a beautiful siva thank you very much. And I know all the important words in Samoan. And I love lavalava’s and puletasi …they can be very slimming outfits…)

Then we moved here and Big Son started attending a NZ public school. Where he was obviously…not an Asian. Not a white person ‘palagi. Not an Indian. Not from the Middle East. Not South African. Not Maori. All of a sudden, Big Son was identified by others as being ‘Pacific Islander’ – and more specifically, “Samoan.”  And other Samoan teenagers, particularly those born and bred here in NZ, have been excited to ’embrace’ him as one of them. As a walking, talking expert on all things Samoan.

So what happened? Big Son started speaking Samoan. A lot. Because he found that his fluency was miles better than the other kids and it was ‘cool’ to speak Samoan. I fell over in shock the day he asked to borrow one of my lavalava’s to wear at school. You want to wear a floral piece of cloth around your waist? At school sports day? In front of hundreds of other teenagers? Are you ill? Did aliens eat your brain? No. He wanted to wear Samoan clothing because the other Pacific Islanders thought it was cool to show your identity that way. At RWC time, Big Son took a giant Samoan flag to school. So he could walk around waving it. Even when Manu Samoa lost. And then Big Son joined the Samoan Culture Dance group and comitted to hours of daily practises after school. And all day Saturdays. And overnight camps to practise. In this country, cultural dancing is taken super seriously. (Whereas in Samoa, the most important thing to parents and teachers and most kids – is working your butt off to pass School Certificate and PSSC exams. But then, hey, that’s the islands for you…us laid back, underachiever islanders…) But here now, the boy who sneered at the siva when we lived in the land of the siva – now was giving up his precious gym time and afternoon sleeping time and Saturday X-box time – to practise the siva. We went to watch him perform the traditional sasa and slap dance and I was so  proud of him. And thankful that he was having this very cultural experience.

It got me thinking. Identity and belonging can be such complicated things. And what defines you as “Samoan” or whatever other race you may be, actually varies in different countries. Samoans in New Zealand are not the same as Samoans in Samoa. So shoot me for saying it. I have met Samoans here in NZ who have submerged themselves so completely in Samoan “culture and language” that honestly? They would be so out of place in Samoa. Because, umm, I hate to break it to you – we don’t talk like that back home. Or even act like that back home.

I am learning new things every day here in NZ. About what it means to be a Pacific Islander in a supposedlly multicultural society. About what it means to be “Samoan” according to the NZ-Samoan definition. The differences and similarities with being “Samoan” in Samoa. And they are not definitions set in stone because culture and customs are an evolving thing. And one is not necessarily better or worse than the other.

But I digress. Back to Big Son. He has gone to Samoa for the school holidays. And he was super stressing out about clothes. ‘I need new shorts…I dont have any nice ones to wear when we go places…blah blah blah.’

I said, “Excuse me, why don’t you just wear a lavalava when you go out places? You know, like a Samoan does?”

He was horrified. As I knew he would be. “Mum! I cant wear a lavalava when I go out!  None of my friends wear lavalavas when they go to town.”

Somehow I dont think Big Son will be dancing the siva in Samoa. Or waving a Samoan flag everywhere he goes. And he definitely won’t be wearing a lavalava to town either. Because he’s just not that kind of Samoan. At least not when he’s in Samoa anyway.
Sleepless in Samoa hit a record 30,000 visits last month. Thanks for keeping me company! If you’re looking for a Fantasy Romance read about strong, fierce and proud Pacific women – check out the free sample of TELESA:The Covenant Keeper available on Amazon.

17 thoughts on “What is a Samoan?”

  1. That is too funny. Being a European mutt living in American I don't have a specific cultural identity. I wonder if that would change if I left America? I suppose there is some kind of culture here. I'm mostly German and my Grandmother made a few German dishes- but I'm a vegetarian and allergic to gluten so I don't eat any of them. BTW- I adore men in lava lava's, kilts, sarongs- any of them. Yum!

  2. Haha This tends to happen alot to some of the people i know, while out of Samoa are very proud to walk around in a lavalava, speaking the language but While visiting samoa again, probably won't be cause dead walking around town in one.

  3. Hmm that explains my cousins in Samoa. Asking to send designer clothes and expensive computer, music equipment, and cell phones. I always think what the heck those fobs need with designer clothes and an auto tune machine? I haven't been to Samoa since I was a little girl so what do I know.

  4. I find I have a similar issue here in Australia…I was born and raised in Auckland but have lived in Australia for the past 8years. I found that when people would ask me what nationality I was, I would identify myself as "Samoan" they would immediately exclaim "But you got such good english!?" which made me go through the whole explaination of where I was born blah blah blah…Here in Australia you are identified and categorised by your country of birth and not necessarily your ethnic background…which made me think and ask myself questions to understand not necessarily who I am, BUT what I amI am not a Maori, plastic Samoan or a fake kiwi living in AustraliaI am Sila, and I don't believe that what you wear or how you say things define who or what you are…I choose what defines me, not the judgement or criticisms of others….I embrace and accept all my cultural elements that have a contributing factor in making me aware of what I am…and that is a Kiwi born Samoan who loves Australia….sorry for the novel lol

  5. A Samoa is a cookie type that the Girl Scouts sell… err is a Samoan the same as a Samolian? Just keeeeeding!Malo lava Big Son… your koko bleeds Samoa all the way.

  6. Hahahahaha!!! Big Son reminds me of myself for some reason. I bubble Black/Arican American on all the tests and census documents and credit card applications, because that's easiest. But in real life, when people ask my race, my answer's rarely the same. Usually, I'll say Black, because the main people that ask are black and assume that I cant be because I have "nice hair." So I'm all "Ha! Ill prove you wrong! I am black and thats what you get for being so closed minded." But then, around everyone else, I'm honest. I honestly dont know. What I do know is that most of my family is black, that my grandfather on my mother's side is Mixed with Native American, Caucasian, and Black and that there's a bit of Native American on my father's mother's side as well.Not quite sure what that makes me.Someone once told me that you are what you were raised as. But even then I'm not sure. I went to "black schools" stayed at camp with the whites, read and studied books about Native Americans and Pacific Islanders and longed to live on an Island and be one, and even spend quite a few years with my uncle's hispanic ex wife. What then does that make me?I've decided for document's sake, I'm African American, but for everything else, I'm an American. That way I can be everything and dont have to explain myself. After all, America was built on the backs of like every culture out there (such a shame really) so why should I need to identify. Sorry for the long post. It took longer to explain myself than I thought.By the way, where can I get a lavalava. Ever since reading telesa I've wanted one, and summer's coming up. It'll be the perfect time to wear one!

  7. I was blessed to have grown up in a very diverse neighborhood, and throughout my life I have learned that there is beauty in every culture. I found that through learning more about my own heritage (French & Cherokee, to be exact) I am able to appreciate other cultures more – I'm always curious about the similarities in various cultures and have a healthy respect for the differences, which make them each so unique. My husband is afakasi Samoan/Tongan and so our kids are very mixed, but it is true that they are usually referred to as being "Samoan"… Which of course has a lot to do with the fact that my husband was born and raised in American Samoa, and we do our best to make sure that they are raised to understand Fa'a Samoa and all the wonderful traditions that my husband grew up with. I'm sure as they grow up they will also identify themselves as being "Samoan" since their Samoan heritage is the most prevalent in their everyday lives. And in my opinion, that is a beautiful thing. Kudos to Big Son for embracing those traditions and enjoying them!

  8. We a interesting and candid way to look at Samoan identity in NZ. It's so different in Samoa I was so shocked when I first went to Samoa because it was completely opposite to what I imagined. But I fell in love with the real Samoa 😉

  9. Great blog as always. You always give us something to think about.For teenagers the most important thing is fitting in and it is so interesting that that means Big Son embraces his culture in different ways in different places.

  10. I haven't read anyone else's comments but the blig just reminded me of a friend of mine (Samoan) that lived in Compton Ca his entire life and seen all the negatives that happened between Tongans & Samoans…fast fwd he's married to a Filipino and has a daughter. They went to Hawaii for vacation and the first thing he said was "OMG THE SAMIANS HERE ARE NICE!! THEY SMILED AND WAVED AT ME, I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO"…I responded "I know huh" LOL

  11. That is so funny. It made me remember the time when I was living in Sydney and was doing my washing wearing just my i.e. solosolo. I accidentally locked myself out of my room and had to walk four blocks down Glebe Point Road to the landlord’s agent to get keys in just my lavalava (yes – you assume correctly).Aside from being conscious that I was wearing just a length of material to protect the little dignity I had left from all the astonished and mocking Aussie eyes, I was acutely conscious that it was way more pink than red and had far too many flowers on it. I guess if I had darker skin and hair people would have thought "Oh … it is just an islander." But for me it was like walking the gauntlet and I mean big time because that part of Glebe Point Road is the busy part with lots of traffic on the road and on the footpaths. The worst part was when some horrid feral kids threw some eggs at me. They missed of course. If they had been Samoan kids I’d have been egged for sure. Actually no, the worst part was having to go all the way back with the spare keys and forcing myself to walk slowly and calmly and pretend I could not see all the smirks and nasty looks from some people not to mention some wolf whistles.The only thing that I kept in mind was that I was damn glad of all the time I’d been spending in the gym. Before going back to return the key to the amused real estate agents I changed into shorts and t-shirt. And I never wore my ie lavalava in Sydney again because that was way to traumatic an experience to repeat and only fools don’t learn from their mistakes.

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