When an ali’i (High Chief) passes away, there are certain ceremonies and protocol followed. One of these is the Lagi where the extended family acknowledges the fa’aaloalo that the village has given to the ali’i due to his/her many years of service. The village acknowledges the ali’i service, contributions and achievements that have brought honor to the village. The lagi says thank you for this honor with gifts and a ceremonial presentation.
This week, members of our extended family went to meet with elders of the Gagaifo village council. Many others from Gagaifo were gathered there waiting for us also.
We drove on the road that dad travelled countless times in his lifetime as he went regularly to the Village council meetings, checked on the plantation, attended church in Lefaga every Sunday, and had toonai with the elders.
We drove thru familiar houses and shops, and I remembered my Dad telling us stories of when he was a little boy, going to Lefaga with his grandmother Mama and Tuaopepe Tauilo. That was before there was a road, and so they walked the long trek across island, through bush and plantations. Dad and his cousin were small and tired easily so Tauilo would put them each in a woven basket slung on the ends of a strong stick, and carry them on his shoulders.
I remembered being crammed in our car, one of six kids, mum driving us to Dad’s saofai, the day he was bestowed with the title of Tuaopepe. Seeing him shiny with coconut oil, a dark velvet lavalava and a sequined band, head bowed during (what seemed to us kids to be an extremely long and boring) ceremony. We were glad to escape and go swimming in the bold blue sea.
I saw our house there, now a rickety falling down fale, empty and alone. The fale we spent weekends at, when our parents would pack the car and take us to Lefaga. I remembered all the times us kids bathed in the big plastic barrel outside under the stars, the singing of hymns as every family had their evening lotu, having our koko and bread before going to sleep in the fale, safe in our mosquito net from the hungry buzzing. The endless murmur of the ocean as it talked to the distant reef, the splash of slippery eels in the black water of the mangrove swamp behind our fale, the call of birds from the nearby forest, the hushed whispers of all us kids talking story – and my mum telling us to Be quiet and GO TO SLEEP. The stars. So many stars. The universe has never seemed so vast as it did when I was a small child, falling asleep in an open fale in Gagaifo. Safe, encircled in the embrace of aiga and nu’u.
I remembered so many times my Dad was busy with the calling of being a matai. Helping people. Mediating conflicts. Soothing troubled waters. So many talanoaga, so many faalavelave. So much giving. Because he was the first person our extended family called whenever there was a problem, a death, a saofai, a wedding, a land or title dispute, when childrens school fees needed to be paid, or someones electricity or water supply got cut. (Or when Papa – Tuaopepe Henry was still alive, they called my grandfather and then HE would call my dad!) And dad would go. I never once heard my father complain though. What was there to complain about? For him, being the Tuaopepe was an intrinsic part of who he was. He first took it on because his father asked him to. And then that tautua became an everyday part of his life. As natural as breathing.
At Gagaifo today, led by the newer holders of the Tuaopepe title, my aunties Tuaopepe Ruta and Tuaopepe Oli, and my brother Tuaopepe Cam, with the other Tuaopepe holders residing still in the village, we presented a lagi monetary gift on our father’s behalf. A gift collected from many different members of our aiga as they came together to ensure their brother/uncle/cousin’s lagi was a worthy offering. There was an ava ceremony and many matai spoke, acknowledging our dads tautua to the village as Tuaopepe Fili, and to the wider district as a former Member of Parliament. How well he had served the people of Gagaifo. They spoke of the honor and prestige Dad brought to all of them in his work as a Professor, Ambassador to the US and Canada, Samoa representative to the United Nations, his work with many regional and international organizations. That there is no other like him.
I am thankful I could witness the lagi for Dad. The fesoasoani from Dad’s siblings and cousins. Feel of their alofa. See the gathering of many from the district. Thankful I could be reminded that even though I am the most hermit of hermits in my cave, even though it has been many years since I fell asleep in a fale nestled between ocean and mangrove – I am still a daughter of Gagaifo. I still belong to this aiga, this village, this land. That was so very precious to our father, and so much a part of who he was.
The stones and the earth weep.
I cried in the car all the way home.