Friday, 10 August 2012

Tweet tweet, oh fricken chicken, how do I delete

I have finally joined the twitter-verse. Quick think of something profound and then share it! I think that's how this works as evidenced by infamous tweeters like Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella and our very own Eliota Sapolu Fuimaono. Oh no! I accidentally hit enter, oh no! Delete, delete, where is the bloody delete?!? There goes my Olympic dream (it was definitely twitter, not the lack of any sporting bone in my entire body).

I suddenly feel the need to hash tag something (even though I'm not quite sure what the hash tag is for). Clueless# OldFogey# CompletelyAncient# AllTooComplicated# Why-didn't-they-invent-all-this-when-I-was-still-in-school-and-still-had-enough-energy/braincells-to-pick-up-new-fangled-things# Why-does-my-smartphone-make-me-feel-so-dumb?# Questions-for-the-Universe#

Now I can share all my deep and meaningful thoughts with the universe ...............................................
............................................................................................................................................... I haven't thought of anything deep and meaningful for the last 5 seconds.  Oh no! Am facing the distinct possibility I don't have any deep and meaningful thoughts generally. Other peoples' tweets keep on popping up.....oh the pressure.....hmmm ....that one links to a really interesting article. Click. I'm-as-easily-distracted-as-a-puppy# Am-quite-sure-if-there-was-social-media-when-I-was-in-school-I-would-have-flunked-out# Oh hashtags you are so satisfying- how did I ever express myself without you!

I'm going to RT which google tells me means re-tweet- that way I will look clever by association. I just re-tweeted without giving any context...hmmmm.... perhaps not so clever after all. Perhaps I'll just go back to my blog. My warm, safe, familiar blog where I can delete and edit at will. And write about tweeting so that you can all follow my flailing and fraught adventures and attempts to be funny by following me @TeineSamoaSyd

Thursday, 2 August 2012

"I'll stand with you"

Three Proud People- mural in Newtown

I didn't know about Peter Norman until Damien Hooper wore the Aboriginal flag on his t-shirt into the Olympic arena just before he kicked ass for Australia.  Incredulous that the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) had chosen to censure him citing IOC rule 50 and the sanctity of the Olympic spirit, my mind which works in strange and mysterious ways, flashed with one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century history- Tommie Smith and John Carlos silently raising their fists in protest against the inequality suffered by African-Americans in the 1968 Olympics.  I can't tell you when I first saw that image but I can say that I definitely I didn't pay any attention to whoever the skinny white guy was.
I didn't know that Peter Norman, an Australian who was "brought up in the Salvos", was, against all odds, the silver medalist in that race in 68. I didn't know that he and his family had championed Aboriginal rights in the lead-up to the 67 referendum. I didn't know that Tommie Smith and John Carlos had told him that they were planning to protest, nor that he had pinned the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge to his chest in solidarity and said, "I'll stand with you".
I didn't know that he had stood there in both the moment of shocked silence and then the storm that followed, while people hurled whatever was to hand as well as racial abuse- "Niggers need to go back to Africa!" and, "I can't believe this is how you niggers treat us after we let you run in our games." John Carlos recounted the experience saying he never saw the fear he expected to see in Peter Norman's eyes, instead,  "I saw love. Peter never flinched (on the dais). He never turned his eyes, he never turned his head."
Just taking that stand, just wearing that badge cost Peter Norman very dearly- Australia's Olympic authorities reprimanded him and the media ostracised him. On his return to Australia he was also banned for two years. Despite running qualifying times for the 100m five times and 200m 13 times during 1971/72, the Australian Olympic track team did not send him to the 1972 Summer Olympics (though he was ranked 5th in the world and despite the fact that they had noone else to send so that this was the first modern Olympics since 1896 where no Australian sprinters participated). Even 32 year later, despite the fact Peter Norman's record still stood for the 200 metres,  he was somehow "overlooked" and the only Australian Olympian medal winner to be excluded from making a VIP lap of honour at the Sydney Games in 2000.  But Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who he had stood with all those years ago, had not forgotten him. Neither had the American Athletes who welcomed him into their accomodation- "that year's 200m champion Michael Johnson hugged him, saying: "You are my hero."

I'm proud that our nation, that has so much to be sorry for and ashamed of, also produces people like Peter Norman.  I wish I could attribute the fact I didn't know about this great Australian to the fact I grew up in Samoa but as I read on I realised how little was known about him by many of my fellow Australians. Which brings me back to Damien Hooper, whose t-shirt triggered that image and taught me about Peter Norman, an Australian Olympian who made a silent stand for human rights for all humanity. 44 years on the AOC doesn't seem to have learnt anything from that stand.

I am really struggling to see how the AOC can say that the Aboriginal flag is a "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" as set out in rule 50 of the Olympic Charter.  As an Australian, I find it incredibly offensive that the Aboriginal flag, proclaimed by the Australian Government as an official 'Flag of Australia' in 1995 (under s5 of the Flags Act 1953) is being labeled "racial propaganda". I also can't reconcile the AOC's position with the fact that at the Sydney Olympics the Aboriginal flag was flown, that the Sydney Games Organising Committee said  "The IOC has made it clear that they are relaxed about the Aboriginal flag and they understand its significance in Australia" and individual teams were able to decide whether athletes carried it. Who can forget Cathy Freeman's victory lap with the Aboriginal and Australian flags flowing behind her as the whole nation cheered on?

As a non-indigenous Australian, I'm part of a nation that recognises both the Aboriginal and the Australian National Flag and I'm proud to be associated with both.  And I'm cheering on an amazing athlete who said at the end of his match "I am an Aboriginal, representing my culture and all my people, and I am very proud".

Damien Hooper- I'll stand with you.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Who's who in the zoo

In the weekend we went to the zoo. Not just any old zoo.  The Taronga Zoo, jewel in Sydney's tourism crown, complete with 'bio-geographic' mega-exhibits and committed to conservation and "positive connections between wildlife and people".  Now as a Samoan, I have to admit that my "positive connections" with wildlife have by in large been called "lunch" (or sometimes "dinner"), so you may be wondering which part of this magnificent manifestation of this slightly strange concept appealed to me most... Was it the languorous lazing lions, the swiftly swimming seals or the great giraffes with their improbable necks which afford them spectacular views of the sparkling Sydney harbour? Well, what I really love about the zoo, is how it reaffirms the natural order of things, how it really reminds you who's who.

As soon as we arrive my mum, begins scanning the zoo timetable.  "We need to head to the kids trail so Lagi can pat-a-pet at 10.30."

"Ok, it's quarter to 10 now, so we have heaps of time."

"The quickest way is left, don't get diverted, we need to go straight to the petting zoo, I really think Lagi will love that."  Having been herded in the appropriate direction, we tramp off in search of pets for Lagi's petting pleasure.

"Don't look left or right, we don't want to be late."  We get there at 10.15.  Lagi immediately starts trying to break the bunny out, by pulling on the large lock. My mum captures about 50 shots of him doing this for posterity while I secretly wonder at whether this experience will imprint on him and he will become a master criminal with super safe cracking abilities.

While I mull over my child's possible future as a super villain, the volunteers turn up. Lots of little ones and their parents are now milling around waiting.  I am jockeyed into prime position by my mum.  The bunny sees us coming and quickly hops to the relative safety of the back of the enclosure.  Lagi, unused to such contrary behaviour to his 17 month old charms, laughs out loud and picks up some straw and confidently holds it out with a big smile to the bunny.  More flashes go off as mum elbows more minors out of the way to catch all the action. 

Having petted to his heart's content, we then explore the rest of the farm, there are chickens to chase, and mountain goats to gawk at.  E tua'i le fefe la'u tama - so when I see him starting to toddle after the towering bush turkey, I know it's time to distract him in the traditional Samoan way... with food!   Off we go to a cafe to order carrot cupcakes (with one last longing look at the red velvet cupcakes ... edicts on red velvet and their consumption in front of Lagi, evil red food poisoning and all, had previously been issued).

"Have you only half-finished that coffee, because we really need to get over to the bird show, Lagi loves birds"and we are hot footing it to the other side of the zoo, where Lagi decides he was actually a Raj in a previous life and would rather ride on the stone elephants, then it's hiking over to the "Great Southern Ocean exhibit so he can be delighted by the ducking and darting of the pretty blue fairy penguins, before letting him try to catch carp in the rainforest exhibit. By the 2pm seal show we are all exhausted.  But having secured a seat we decide to stay and watch, Lagi has seen all this before and decides he'd rather snuggle into me and sleep.

 He is warm and heavy in my arms and my mind wanders, to how fast he is growing and to how we used to have a lunch date every day. He would come into the city, and no matter what was going on that day, I would duck out of work.  I loved seeing him in the middle of a busy work day, but it wasn't always convenient, and by the time he was turning one, and was happily devouring all sorts of delicious foods wth his very pretty and  very sharp pearly whites, I thought he probably wouldn't miss mummy too much at lunch times.  I had cautiously mentioned my intentions to my mum - Lagi's  primary carer/ enabler/ champion against the world and, in particular, against his neglectful and unfeeling mother mama.  A look full of doubt and worry was immediately cast in my direction to convey just how uncaring I was being, considering such a catastrophic change.

"I breastfed all four of you until you were at least two. It's in the W.H.O guidelines." Hinting at endangering  health and going for guilt are great techniques and can be employed especially effectively when championing your grandchild.

"Yes, I'm still going to breastfeed him, just not at lunch time."

"I think I may have even breastfed you longer, maybe even till three" Apparently, exageration is also permitted when you are proving your point, especially if the person you are making your point to is not in a position to argue as they were only two (or three) at the time in dispute.

Splash! I am brought back to reality as the seal ends the show with a double back flip.  We gather up our things and start preparing to head home. As we walk out with a very tired little boy, past all the exhibits we didn't quite manage to get to, I glance at the gorillas, and smile thinking about their social structure, and how visiting here has reminded me yet again of our own; Here's who's who in our zoo:

1. Lagi
2. Lagi
3. Lagi

Facilitator / Enforcer of all things Lagi: Lagi's Mama

Support Staff: Me (oh.... and his dad)

I look down at the long sweep of his eyelashes, and think I don't much mind the natural order.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

True confessions of a teine Samoa

So I'm going to tell you something just a little bit scandalous for a Samoan girl. I imagine that your eyes are already skipping down the screen to read my revelation.... yes I know you and your faikakala-ness so well! Well slow down and I'll share my school girl fantasy, for the very first time ....EVER.....

Oh wait.....I don't need to, because Lani Wendt-Young somehow read teenage me's mind! Then she wrote all about it in "When Water Burns"! I feel like the "bride stripped bare".  Ok I know you're all nodding in agreement and understanding, and thinking, it's Daniel.... *heavy sigh* and Keahi.... *even heavier sigh*, it's the fact that they're both super hot paddlers in an outrigger competition, and they're both super cut, that they both have tattoos, that they have super powers, and that they are fighting over me Leila....Ok I admit that may play a very very very small part in it...but kicking one of those guy's butts when he gets a bit too cheeky... now that's what extravagent and unrestrained imagination is ALL about!

The first book in the Telesa trilogy "Telesa-The Covenant Keeper" had left us on tenterhooks. Sure Daniel's responsible, and really good looking, sure he was head prefect, and sure he plays rugby, and sure he is close to perfect to take home to your parents if anyone ever does that in Samoa, in my day you'd have had to have a death wish .  Those are all great qualities, but they're not necessarily the type of qualities that will turn a girl's head in high school.  Plus I'm, I mean, Leila is a fire goddess... so he kind of needed to step up his game.  So when, at the end of Telesa the sea returns Daniel safe, I was already imagining him swimming  in various states of undress with sharks and I couldn't wait to see that birthmark again how his super powers would manifest.

When Water Burns built brilliantly on Telesa, using the clever character development and scene setting in the first book, to make this second book faster paced and even more impossible to put down.  I was smiling wryly to myself, reading about iphone 4 conversations, on the kindle app on my iphone 4s (I obviously had to get the gratuitous mention of my iphone in there, you know I did!).  Yes it was wrecking my eyes, but it was enabling reading while doing the domestic duties that desperately needed the most attention you know little things, like feeding my child.

When Water Burns delves more into the "dalacious" Simone, who really comes into her own in the second book of the series. Simone is still screamingly funny (see Tim Baice's write-up in Simone in the City for some great insights), but in this book Simone is the girlfriend we all wanted, wise and witty, making sure Leila sees sense... such as ensuring she makes appropriate arrangements for her Louboutin shoes (appropriate arrangements being willing them to Simone of course, I said wise, not lacking in self-interest!)

I'm a reader, a book worm, a super geek. I embrace it! As anyone who has ever glanced at my blog will know, for me reading has been a real joy, a comfort and a constant companion.  Perhaps it's because we all love sharing our own passions, that I loved how Telesa and When Water Burns appealed to many people who don't necessarily have those particular proclivities. It's one of the things I love about both books. Like Twilight, and The Hunger Games Series, it opened up reading to so many young Samoans, who may not have otherwise have been interested in reading.  That's an amazing thing.

But for me, an even more amazing thing, and what I liked best about When Water Burns was how it confronted the issue of sexual abuse, a serious and difficult issue, especially in Samoa.  The fact that When Water Burns wove in this issue that we avoid, that we don't address or talk about, into this Young Adult fantasy romance, that is reaching so many, really made this book more than just a great read.  As a child who was sexually abused, I know too well how this topic is taboo. How it can be swept under the carpet. How victims are too often voiceless.  I remember the deep feeling of shame I had all through school, how it was so unspeakable, because I thought this was only something that had only ever happened to me. But I grew up. And I realised that I wasn't the only one, that it had also happened to an awful lot of others, others who hadn't spoken out and stopped it as I did as a child, that it was in fact, all too common.  I realised that it's something that we, as a society, need to speak about.  Because here's the thing about all the secrecy that surrounds sexual abuse, there is an unspoken implication that it somehow reflects on those who suffered. We never hear about the survivors, or, if we do, we never hear about their successes. We only hear survivors' stories when they are recounted as part of a tragic tale about a person who has gone off the tracks.  This is why, a long time ago, I decided to no longer be silent. To say openly, I was sexually abused, and that does not define me or mean I am damaged.  To say I was sexually abused, and I refuse to be stereotyped, I am no longer ashamed, and I don't need sympathy. To say I was sexually abused, and I'm a succesful member of society. And to say that as a member of society, not just as someone who was sexually abused, I applaud an author who can bring this issue front and centre in a fun racy Young Adult romance that people will read and relate to.

And so, just as she pays "tribute to the generosity, commitment, and fortitude of those who work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse", I pay tribute to Lani Wendt-Young, who was brave enough to write about it. To say I appreciate it and oh teenage me also appreciated the gratuitous descriptions of both Keahi and Daniel in that outrigger competiotion, and LOVES how Leila can kick ass anytime. Write on!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

An unshakeable sense of self

"Life in plastic, it's fantastic"

Is there anything more powerful than a parent's love? I remember reading Lemalu Tate Simi's seminal poem "Identity"* when I was in school. Even then, well before I had imagined what it would be like to have a child, to have someone hold my whole heart in his chubby little hands, to lie in the dark, listening to his breath heavy with sleep, and hope for everything for him, even then, one of the things that touched me most about Lemalu's poem, was that it was written for his eldest son. That poem captures a parent's love and the prayers and plans we make for our children. 

Perhaps I recognised in those poignant words, a reflection of my own parents love, and what they strove to give me.

My parent's chose to bring me and my brothers up in the bosom of my family and fa'asamoa. Yes the full fa'asamoa. The 'leave-you-very-lucky-to-eat-elegi-because-we-have-to-give-every-sene-for-your-father's-great-uncle's-cousin's-step-son's-saofai-and-smile'fa'asamoa. The 'you-better-be-paying-attention-because-we-all-automatically-assume-you-were-born-knowing-how-to-ta'i-sua-and-fai-folafolaga' fa'asamoa. The fa’asamoa that emphasises the fegaiga between brothers and their sisters, and brings families together. The faasamoa that we all know and love to whinge about because it's a way of life, a way to look at life, and an integral part of who we are.

I say "chose" because by the time I was born, my dad had almost finished his PhD, and my mum was one paper away from finishing her Masters, so they both had options and opportunities overseas. Instead they went back to the struggle that living in Samoa can be. I have always been unbelievably grateful for that decision. Particularly to my palagi mother, who left her friends, family and her country, to raise me in mine.
So I don't say 'even with', but rather because I had a palagi mum, who loved me and wanted me to have a strong sense of identity, and who sacrificed so we could grow up in Samoa (and because I had a Samoan father stubborn about serving his country, and a close and loving aiga who never treated us differently), I grew up never thinking of myself as anything but Samoan.  I have read many touching stories about Samoans searching for identity.  I was not one of them. I have never struggled with who I was or where I came from. I know how fortunate that makes me.

But I also know it doesn't make me any better than people whose parents chose another path, who moved overseas, so often motivated by that very same love. Samoans whose parents or grandparents often worked in factories and freezing works, hard and heavy work, but welcome because it was a way of securing good schooling, of seeking opportunities, and of forging a future for their children.  The legacy of those parents' love, those parents' choices, those parents' sacrifices should never be undermined by pejorative remarks that their progeny is "plastic" or "too palagi".

That kind of prejudice within our own society perplexes me.  I remember when I first went back to work in Samoa I was somewhat surprised when a lawyer I knew said she wanted to be the first Samoan woman to be Attorney-General. Now obviously that ambition, in and of itself, wasn't surprising.  Rather what shocked me was that she somehow didn't think that that  particular milestone had already been achieved. Particularly because, at the time, we had a Samoan woman as Attorney-General.  I voiced my puzzlement.
No, I mean a real Samoan, you know, from Samoa

I didn't know. Was the AG at the time, a "fake" Samoan? Was her "palagi-ness" going to pop out at any second and surprise us? Or was it rather, that having nothing of substance to use to undermine her with, she turned to bigotry and bias to try to belittle this brilliant colleague.

I still don't know why we differentiate and discriminate amongst ourselves the way we do.  It saddens me, and it is not just against Samoans who live or grow up overseas.  Oh no, there are so many more levels.

 I remember being honestly confused when I was in school and someone said “We better get to Apia Park early… you know how those Samoans are”.

I questioned, “What are you talking about? We’re all Samoan

There was a rolling of eyes. “Oh you know what I mean! Samoan Samoans! Like from the village!

Hmmm… I find that offensive. I’m Samoan, my father’s Samoan, my family is Samoan and I’m from a village, several actually

More rolling of eyes “Se don't be a drama queen; I didn’t mean it like that”. There seemed to be general agreement that I was ruining a perfectly pleasant day by pointing out the prejudice.

I didn't escape this type of silliness on leaving school, or on leaving Samoa. Years later when I went to University in Auckland, a friend who was also on scholarship from Samoa, cajoled and convinced me into going to an Asosi meeting with her. "It will be sooooo  fuuuuun." Her  wheedling won but we weren’t exactly welcomed.  While it was a Samoan Asosi, it seemed like we were just a little too…. wait for it…Samoan. Our fabulous fresh-off-the-boatness was just obviously not for everybody. “Don’t worry” said one of my Samoan law school buddies sympathetically, “Didn’t you know you’re not allowed in that Asosi if you’re less than a size 18”.  Though he was perpetuating the stereotypes I'm now railing against for my amusement, I have to admit at the time... I laughed.

I could tell many more such stories- more recent and each more ridiculous than the next- and I'm sure every other Samoan could too- but I only recount enough to reflect the cross-section of prejudices that we subject ourselves to within our own society. Whether it's because you're "too white" as Leilani Tamu recounts in her opinion piece "White, but not quite" or "too Samoan", or for whatever reason, it's really just such a waste of time. We should be better than that. Isn't that what we should really want for our children? A strong enough sense of identity they don't feel the need to stereotype and stigmatise.

Now that I am a parent myself, I plan and pray about what is best for my child.  My son is Samoan, lo'u toto, ma lo'u ivi (oh, and that's right, and his dad is Samoan too, that may have something to do with it...). While I know that I don't need a salu lima, or to raise my son in Salailua to show he is Samoan, a large part of me still longs to give him the childhood I had. Surrounded by warmth and beauty, family and faikakalas.  I, like all parents, worry about whether we are making the right choices.  I suppose at the end of the day, whether we are in Sydney or in Samoa, I just want to give him what my parents gave me- an unshakeable sense of self.

by Lemalu Tate Simi

Educate yourself enough
So you may understand
The ways of other people
But not too much
That you may lose
Your understanding
Of your own

Try things palagi
Not so you may become palagi
But so may see the value
Of things Samoan
Learn to speak Samoan
not so you may sound Samoan
but so you may
feel the essence
of being Samoan

Above all
Be aware and proud
Of what you are
So you may spare yourself
The agony of those who are asking
“What am I ? “

Monday, 2 July 2012


About eight years ago I went to a Peace and Reconcilliation conference.  It was hosted by a University in Queensland and this was obviously new territory.  As you may have picked up from my blog, I am ALL about peace and recocilliation- they are topics near and dear to my heart.  So I had answered a call to present a paper, although all these years later, I can't quite remember what I wrote that particular paper about.

What I do remember was that they had invited delegates from different parts of the Pacific that had experienced recent conflict- Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.  Having brought out these delegates, the organisers decided that it would be a fantastic idea to have a panel of Pacific delegates.  As a Pacific Islander, and a person with a keen interest in Pacific history and politics, I was particularly interested in this session, although I didn't actually know what was being addressed, and the agenda item "Pacific panel" wasn't particularly enlightening.

 It was a year or two after the break down in law and order in the Solomon Islands, and the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) had obviously created curiosity and concern-  the audience was packed.  The lecture theatre was bursting with about 200 people as the Pacific delegates took the stage. A professor introduced the session explaining that the Pacific delegates had not been told what the question would be for maximum drama and effect so that the answers would not be practiced.  The audience shuffled in anticipation. The professor pronounced the question with unseemly relish, "You are all from countries who have experienced some conflict, but what we would like to hear from you today is, how do you think Australia and New Zealand have treated their indigineous populations?"

There was silence. Even all these years later I can still see the flashes of discomfort on the Pacific pannellists' faces before they schooled their features.  A microphone was thrust into the hands of the delegate on the far left, who politely thanked the professor for the question, and for having her as a guest, and then said she did not have an opinion before passing on the microphone.  Each pannelist took a virtually identical stance, some elaborating that they did not know enough about the history of the country in which they were a guest to venture an opinion. The Professor looked somewhat desperate. It was obvious that he had been courting controversy and had hoped to create a lively debate.  He started trying to prompt and was met with polite and very patient repetition of their stance.  I was outraged at the complete and utter lack of any culural sensitivity.  I could not believe that the organisers had put the pannellists in this position- it was obvious that each of these Pacific Islanders felt it would be the very height of rudeness, to criticise the country that was hosting their attendance. 

As I was not a guest, I did not feel so constrained. I had that morning read an article about "stolen wages".  From the 1890s until the 1970s the Queensland Government "controlled" the wages and savings of Aboriginal Queenslanders and Torres Strait Islanders. While it was hard to fathom, in 2003 people had still not received the wages they earned. The article in the paper that day related to the fact that the Queensland government had set up a scheme, a one-time offer, where if you had your wages stolen and you were still alive, you could have a one-off payment of $2000 and relinquish any claim to your actual wages and any interest that may have accrued. I cried when I read that article.  I had heard so many Australians claim that whatever happened in the past was the past, that they could not be held accountable for something that previous generations had done.  But this was not ancient history, it was a continuing injustice, it was happening that day.  People who had been deprived of a way to generate wealth, a way forward, people in abject poverty were not being given what was owed to them (over two decades after it was owed), they were told to take the $2000 and be grateful.

So I stood up and said I was Samoan and also happened to be Australian by accident of birth, and that I had only moved to Australia a couple of years ago, and that neither of my parents were Australian.  Regardless of the fact that it was not my ancestors that visited these atrocities on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, each one of us who live in Australia today benefit from the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land was taken from them, and each one of us should take responsibility for what was not a historical issue but a current and ongoing one. That while I had only arrived in Australia, I recognised that, I felt reparations should be given, and I wanted to say "sorry".

In 2008 the Prime Minister of Australia said sorry too. It was a true example of a leader leading with his conscience and with courage.  I include the full text of his apology here:

"Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future."

This week is NAIDOC week in Australia.  NAIDOC celebrations are held around Australia in July each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year's theme "celebrates the champions who lived to renew the spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. Forty years ago, the embassy became a powerful symbol of unity. Its founders instilled pride, advanced equality and educated the country on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To move forward, we must acknowledge our forbearers, learn from their experiences and ask ourselves… what have their sacrifices meant for me and my family today?"  I honour the spririt of struggle and perseverence in the establishment and maintanence of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy- it plays a pivotal role in the Australia that I wish for me and my small family to be a part of, an Australia that acknowledges the indigenous people of this land, and treats them equally. This country has been a land of opportunity and reward for me and for millions of other non-indigenous Australians. It should be nothing less for the indigenous peoples.

This post is a small tribute to the indigenous people of this country.  "Sorry" is only the first step.

Mamalu, modesty and the modern Samoan woman

Most Samoan girls are brought up to dress modestly. I won't pretend that I was a paragon of  this particular virtue. In fact, I'll go all out and say I am really not a paragon of ANY particular virtue at all. When I was visiting my family for Uni holidays, my dad would say in a sad and concerned voice "Darling, don't you have enough money?.... we can help you out....  obviously you didn't have enough to buy the rest of that skirt ".  My brothers would  alternatively tease me about my vae ta'amu, or tell me to go change or I was not exiting the house. I was pretty dutiful then, I'd just throw the offending article on the floor in a huff fold them away quietly, plotting to put it straight back on the moment my scholarship took me back to FREEEEDDDOOM Auckland. I know it's shocking! I should wear a scarlet letter!

That said, even a rebel-without-a-pause, like 18-year-old me knew that one could not strut around the nu'u in short skirts or skimpy shorts, just as I knew you couldn't turn up to family lotu in the evening without covering your shoulders.  Dusk would be falling and we'd hear the dong, dong of a metal pipe hitting a hollowed out rusted old iron tube, that may or may not have once been a fire extinguisher, and we'd all start the mad scramble, looking for big button up shirts or lavalavas, to drape around our shoulders like scarfs, concealing our singlets or the boys' bare chests, before sitting down, crossing our legs and joining the pese (and yes even my pa'ulua voice would be raised in praise).

I can accept that there were, and are, expectations of modest dress in certain settings (whether or not you consider that those expectations to be traditional to Samoan culture is a seperate issue, and one which I have already addressed). Of course these expectations are not exclusive to Samoa. Whether backpacking around Europe, or sojourning in Central America, I've always made sure that I've either worn or carried a long skirt and a shawl in my day pack, so that I could enter churches and other holy places respectfully. Whether in Sydney, Suva or Sri Lanka, what I wear to work is conservative and in keeping with the country and culture I am in. So I don't think there is a need to skirt around the issue, rather than just saying directly that it seems that much of the recent furore around displaying the malu was, and is, actually about dressing modestly, and appropriate behaviour for a Samoan woman.

Unfortunately it also seems that this was an inconvenient truth. After all, if a malu doesn't make one any more Samoan (a point I completely agree with), then having a malu should not bring one's behaviour as a Samoan woman under any additional scrutiny.  We all know that"tausi le mamalu" isn't something we suddenly get taught when we come of age, or when we are about to go under the 'au, it is something intrinsic in every Samoan girl's upbringing. If you're going to dictate others' dress standards, or if you're set on telling others how to behave in what you consider to be a culturally appropriate manner, then there is a certain expectation that your own behaviour and manner of dress will withstand similar scrutiny.  Otherwise it's just "Hello Kettle, my name is Pot, and I have noticed that you are rather black"

That is also probably why most people don't start lectures on cultural proprierty with "I was up in the club and...". It's not normally seen as the most traditional or cultural of activities for a young Samoan lady. Don't get me wrong I am all for going out, I am just not for going out, and then getting up on your high horse. It is so 1950s to try and control the way another women dresses, but cite culture and we're all ok. We'll just tidy that pesky feminism away, it really is so unbecoming.  Cite culture and noone is supposed to reflect on why some women seem so upset at seeing other's dressed in a way that emphasises they are at the height of their youth and beauty (or at the height of their foolishness). Either way it doesn't bother me. It's a long time since I was 18, and I'm self-aware enough to say that the only issue I have with hot pants, is that, despite the promising name, they do not in fact look hot on me! Oh the outrage! It's just so totally deceptive and misleading! I would threaten to sue (for the very first time ever in my life) except that I've heard that it may upset some insects! A similar amount of self-reflection for all those throwing stones would go a long way.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Is cyber-bullying the new Samoan way?

The recent cacophony of criticism surrounding a young lady who wrote a letter to the editor regarding the article ‘My Culture, My Malu’, titled “Pride and Pain in my malu’, caused me to stop and consider.  Not about how and when the malu should be shown (which is what the debate was supposed to be about), but rather about who we are as a society.

This woman wrote to the paper under a pseudonym, which is not at all unusual for writers to the Samoa Observer.  The vitriolic and vicious comments that ensued were explanation enough for why one may not wish to identify themselves. After all, who wants to engage in “tit-for-tat” slanging matches on the world wide web.

Leading the lynching was Sita Leota’s note “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.  Rather than discussing the issue at hand, Sita launched into a scathing and personal attack about the writer’s identity and their “Samoan-ness”.  The crowd cheered, and gleefully re-posted. Over half a thousand people pushed the like button to show their support. The comments were all pride and back-patting about how they LOVED how Sita had put that girl in her place.  It reminded me of nothing more than shameful school scenes of a bully beating up on some smaller kid, surrounded by a circle of children baying for blood.  It was all “High-five! Did you see that hit! It was hilaaaaariooous!”

Now when I say “it reminded me of”, I should be clear.  This is not something I ever saw growing up, or going to school in Samoa, where this type of behaviour was not in any way tolerated.  It’s something I’ve only ever seen on television.  So I have always believed that bullying was an anathema to Samoan society, something that was shunned, something that even children knew they should not stoop to. 

Apparently the advent of the internet and social media has changed that.  It’s so easy to rip apart and ridicule others online.  It’s a whole new world where hypocrisy, internal contradictions and lapses in logic are overlooked. Where it’s not about the strength of your argument, but about how scornful and sarcastic you can be when you make it.

Debates and differences of opinion are to be expected and encouraged, they make life interesting. Personally I love them enough to make my living out of them.  What we should not expect, what we should be completely intolerant of, is uncalled for cruelty in that commentary.  Whether or not you agreed with Sita, every single one of the points in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” could have been made without being malicious.  While I do not know who the writer of that letter is, I know that whoever they are, they have feelings, and they have a family.  Ask yourself if this is the way you would like someone you loved to be treated, even if they publicly expressed an opinion that you disagreed with.

I have no doubt that writing this will re-focus ire and indignation on me.  I don’t generally engage in this sort of discussion, preferring to be positive, but I believe in the courage of my convictions, and probably more importantly, I believe that I was raised in a culture where we don’t sit idly by and ignore, or worse applaud, an ignominious attack.  So I am saying something and, since from what I have seen we are acting like we are in our own personal version of the movie ‘Mean Girls’, let me use that type of language, anyone who wants to say anything to me or about me can-“Bring it!” Paradoxically, you will only be proving my point.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Culture, My Malu- a reply

I have a malu. An 'au has bitten my skin and indelible black marks remain to tell the tale.  I don't hide this.  In fact, on any given day in Sydney, you can see a Samoan woman heading into work in a conservative grey suit, and you may not look twice or notice the vae'ali , which crawl down below the back of her knees, signifying her service, both past and future, her tautua, and symbolising that it is on this service of the untitled- the aualuma and the aumaga, that the matai rest.

So while I was not in Samoa for the recent 50th Independence celebrations, when I recently read a well written article by Sita Leota, in the Samoa Observer, 17 June 2012, which shared her opinion about when, and how, one should display the malu, I felt compelled to reply.

Albert Wendt writes beautifully and I love his line "There are no 'true interpreters' or 'sacred guardians' of any culture. We are all entitled to our truths, insights, intuitions into and interpretations of our cultures."  I don't deny Sita, nor any of the other Samoans who are/were in furious agreement, the right to interpret our culture.  I do however, take serious issue with the imposition of that interpretation on others.

The article sets out "when you are tattooed as a female, the first rule has always been that you don't display your malu in public unless you are in full traditional Samoan wear about to dance the siva Samoa or in a ta'alolo." Is that really what the first rule has always been?

The truth is that the art of tatau was almost lost to colonisation and to Christianity.  The missionaries were not overly fond of tatau. Whether it was because they literally interpreted Leviticus,  because they saw this cultural practice as possible pagan competition, or simply because they saw it as "the mark of the savage", tattooing was so successfully discouraged throughout the Pacific, that of all our Polynesian brothers and sisters, only Samoa managed to maintain this "mea sina".  Even today there are calls for the churches to be more accepting of tatau.

Not so coincidentally, colonisation and Christianity also had a major impact on our clothing or lack thereof.  Now I like the mu'umu'u as much as the next woman, who has experienced the sauna that Samoa can be, they're lovely and cool, and they cover a multitude of sins and possibility for sinning, which, of course, was the idea. That said, they are a reflection of just how the church viewed women and their bodies (or more accurately, how they didn't want people to view women's bodies).

Sita quotes Albert Wendt when entreating and exhorting those of us who have malu to "protect it, shade it, cover it".  Somewhat ironically, it is the eminent Professor Wendt who sets out in the same article that "Being clothed (lavalava) had little to do with clothes or laei. In pre-Papalagi times, to wear nothing above the navel was not considered 'nakedness.' To 'clothe' one's arse and genitals was enough."

Isn't it likely that the church's traditional position on tattooing, on women, and on covering up, has something to do with the compulsion to (or more accurately in the case of this article), to tell others to cover the malu? It may be that traditionally women covered to below the knee before they went under the 'au, and indeed, many contend that was the reason for the malu - to clothe. The fact that women show malu when they are "in full traditional Samoan wear about to dance the siva Samoa or in a ta'alolo", i.e. in our most traditional of activities, reflects that women traditionally showed their malu, that "the malu for women ...[was]  considered  'clothing,' the most desired and highest-status clothing anyone could wear." (Tatauing the post-colonial body; Albert Wendt)

I'm proud of the fact that our culture is a living, breathing culture. I accept it adapts and adopts. Obviously Christianity is an important part of our culture - Fa'avae i le Atua Samoa. So I can accept an argument that our culture changed with Christianity to incorporate covering the malu. In a living and breathing culture, things change.  But if it did change then, can't it change now? Can't Samoan women display their malu now, as their ancestors did, without being subject to an opinion piece?

Sita takes umbridge with what she considers is using the malu as a "fashion accessory". Again Wendt insightfully says, "much of what has been considered 'decoration' or 'adornment' by outsiders is to do with identity (individual/aiga/group), status, age, religious beliefs, relationships to other art forms and the community, and not to do with prettying yourself." It may be that one does not agree with displaying the malu, it is another thing altogether to say that just because one displays the malu, they don't do it out of "any sense of belonging, of culture, of being Samoan" as Sita asserts.

Sita writes that the definition of malu is ‘to be protected'.  But it can also mean "to protect".  As Zita Sefo-Martel puts it "The woman is therefore seen in Samoan culture as the protector of the children, the family, and the village. She is the giver of bloodlines." I am a strong Samoan woman. I have a malu and I can protect what is mine - my malu, and my culture. I do not need an article in the Samoa Observer to guide me, to tell me when and how, I can display my malu, and I very much doubt, any other Samoan woman does either.

O le malu o le laei o tamaitai Samoa. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Ua leva leva aso

Hello Samoan Sydney siders, fellow faikakalas and fans (one likes to be optimistic about these things)

Ua leva leva aso

It's been a long long long time .... you may or may not recall that the last time that I posted it was all about my New Year's resolution to blog more... and it is now June. This definitively proves the correlation between my New Year's resolution and inaction.  Once I have resolved to do something at New Year, the stars pretty much align to make sure it's never ever ever going to happen.  Which explains why I have never been able to exercise... obviously it's not laziness.... it's a cosmic conspiracy! That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But what have I been up to, you ask, dear reader.... well now that would be telling... which after all is what a blog is all about so here's the highlights

1) I have been planning parties.  I should leave it there for you all to wonder at my glamour and mystique without confessing that one of those parties was to celebrate my munchkin turning one (with all the glamour, smeared chocolate cake and crazy ball pit action that implies), and it remains the highlight of my social life (though it was 4 months ago)...

2) I have been hard at work, and it is now official, that being official saps away my will to live creativity. Though I make fun of it, tell you all that I console myself with cream dougnuts pep talks about being productive and pay slips the truth is that I am secretly (or not so secretly) one of those geeky people who actually loves their jobs at least this week . Even though it takes me away from my darling bub a bit too often.  Since my last blog from Langkawi, the job has taken me back to Kuala Lumpur, to Jakarta and to Suva.

3) I took a holiday (or as much of a holiday one can have with a very much loved and very used to being the centre of attention 1 year old) and went to New Zealand to reunite and reignite with the love of my life.  I was ready to dance and be romanced. Ae faimai foi si a'u toalua ua uma ga aso..... ummmm helllloooo.... we're not even married yet! Ouuuutttrrraaeegeeeouusss!!!!

4) I celebrated Independence in style, even though I wasn't in Samoa, with  a few drinks with some fellow FOBs.  It was fabulous to meet up with old friends and old school mates.  We braved the cold and crowds at the Opera Bar,  and sipped champagne, and hummed UB40 (or maybe that last part was just me!)

5) I've luxuriated in my own little luxuries... other women might like manicures or own indulgence is books.  Reading remains my refuge- a place I can escape to, and there's nothing I love better than curling up with my darling bub sleeping sweetly next to me and a great book.   Here's some which rate a special mention
The Snow Child by Eowyn  Ivey- a magical story about a couple  homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s
The Light between Oceans by  M.L Stedman- a story about longing and morality based in Perth
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo- a narrative nonfiction that relates the realities of a Mumbai slum

And speaking of books... I was prompted/ inspired to get back on this blog by seeing that the amazing Lani Wendt Young had released her second book.  I don't know how she manages it all, with 5 kids (because I am barely getting by with my one little one), but I am in awe. I have only read tantalising tidbits ... but I can't wait to read the second book in the Telesa series. The print version of  ;"When Water Burns" is now available for worldwide purchase from Amazon.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Back on the band wagon

So when I fall off the band wagon, I really fall off the band wagon! On my ass! Luckily I've got so much cushioning back there!

Of course I have a lot of good excuses. I have had to work (I would add "my ass off" at the end of that session but as you may have picked up from my previous statement, the level of my hard work doesn't ever result in reducing my rather sizeable behind resulting in the svelte new figure that I so obviously deserve!!!!... *sniff, sniff* poor me). I have been on the road- cause Mama is a rolling stone. Since the last post (several months ago) I have been to New Zealand (twice), Niue, Korea and am currently joining you, dear friends from Langkawi, Malaysia. The other issue is that apart from complaining about the amount of travel I do, and the amount of work I have on, I clearly can't rant about work which has been taking over my whole life because I'm just professional like that. I ALSO have a very active baby boy who loves to wrestle his mummy into submission, or crawl determinedly off to whatever looks the most dangerous or forbidden thing in any room. The love of my life's daddy is more often out of the country than in it, conveniently being absent for said wrestling activities (which I highly suspect he taught Lagi in the first place) or to save our darling from chomping on electric cords or toppling the television on top of himself. Yes I have excuses!!! But I have missed the blogging. I have missed having a regular outlet, a way to de-stress, I have missed looking at the computer and smiling, I have missed the interaction with other crazy bloggers balancing their own crazy lives but still managing to write!!

So here I am, stealing a moment to say Happy 2012 (11 days later). I'm not sure about the whole New Years resolution thing. It seems to require... well... resolution ie. a determination to do something. The only thing I'm determined to do after getting through each day, is curl up with my baby and attempt to get some sleep! Still I would like to find more time to blog and to do more things outside of work, so I have something interesting to actually blog about. Stay tuned...