Sunday, 8 September 2013

I am not a migrant or a refugee

I am not a migrant or a refugee
Sometimes that still shocks me
The me that is not quite white
The me that listens as people trip
over the soft round vowels of my name
The me that refuses to cover
the tattoos that show me as other
and knows that neither my father nor mother
are Australian

I am not a migrant or a refugee
Though my people are of the sea
So that when someone is a true leader
We call them
One who has warred with waves.
It is a title of respect, of honour
But here, here, I hear
Stop the boats
And wonder where the honour is 
in people playing politics with people's lives
As Machiavelli thrives, and they sharpen knives, and we don't stop as they dehumanise
And 'welcome to Australia'
gets drowned
Like those children THEY like to throw overboard.
 are so much better than
We'd only put those children in detention
And call that civilised.
We call it humanity and generosity
as we send them off to Nauru and PNG
And we say
oh well
I am not a migrant or refugee

I am not a migrant or a refugee
I'm an Australian by accident of birth I say blithely
To explain that I was born when my dad was doing his PhD
And we left when I was three
to a place where the Southern Cross meant something other
then a badge for bogans
who tell you to get the fuck out of the country
that Captain Cook claimed to have discovered
when it had long since
been found. 

No, I am not a migrant or a refugee

But if this is the quality of our discourse

Then God, oh my God

Allah huma Allah

We really need the diversity.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Lament

Oi aue

In Samoan love stories

We would turn into

Turtle and shark.

Nature tells us

One will consume the other.

Oi aue

In Samoan love stories

Sina’s prince is an eel

And happily ever after

Is when her beloved

Is beheaded

Transformed into a niu

So she can finally (safely) drink

His sweet sweet juice.

Oi aue

In Samoan love stories

Men chase beautiful white women

Into woods

and are never seen again.

And one

blessed so that he could not lose in battle

was beguiled by beauty

into bed

and ambushed, betrayed, killed dead

a pale of lau maile

still around his head.

They say the fires of A’ana

Burnt bright

Fuelled by fury

and revenge

and lit John William’s journey

into harbour.

Oi aue




For mine is a Samoan love story

And we all know

How they end.

Author's Postscript

What effect do our stories have on us?

The Samoan love stories I grew up with all contained dire warnings about investing too much of yourself in romantic love... after all that may distract one from the all consuming love for the aiga so

important in our culture

Of course no race has an exclusive claim on charm (and of course I am biased), but I have always found my people charming- quick to laughter and to song, with an easy confidence and a fantastic sense of humour. Conversely, there is a cavalier attitude to relationships and to monogamy. Not for us the outrage and universal condemnation when someone steps out on what is supposed to be a committed relationship.
This poem is a reflection and a lament
on Samoan love

Malofie- sharing the beauty of the malu and the pe'a

A very clever, creative and culturally sensitive Samoan friend of mine (with a malu) is collecting stories and photos from around the world of those with the tatau (malu or pe'a) and considering putting together a coffee table book. I think this is a fantastic project and having met Samoans all over the world, I can just imagine how stunning it will be and I'm very excited to see her taking it on.

Please support this by sharing this link, liking this page, and by sharing your own wonderful stories and photos wherever you are on

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Fire, Feagaiga and Feminism*

…Or why this white looking wanderer went home to get her malu

I was really excited when I was first asked to speak about my malu.... 
My very first thought was- I wonder if I can pretend that THOSE are MY legs.  But I think even liberal references to photoshopping wouldn’t work- damn you reality! I really really really want legs like Stacie!

My second thought was about how very personal this discussion would be.  While in Western society- the question ‘who are you’ is a chance to delve into deep philosophical questions about our humanity, the equivalent question in Samoan, ‘o ai oe’ can be a deep insult and a challenge.  Because we are all supposed to know anyone who is anyone, and all of their ancestors, way, way, way back to Tagaloa.  Speaking about my malu, will answer that question, which in Samoa can be so taboo to ask- it will tell you who I am.

When I was 16 I wanted a malu. I didn’t think they were particularly beautiful (probably because I didn’t have legs like Stacie). But (like every Samoan) I was well aware of my bloodlines and felt it was my birthright.  My parents thought I would feel differently when I got older.  They said 'ah but you want to be a lawyer and that is a very conservative profession’. My mum worried about how it might affect my ability to wear minis and my dad warned me about the gang affiliations of tattoos in the West. Of course I obeyed- in Samoa we don’t rebel- we just get musu (this is where you are rebelling quietly to yourself so you don’t feel that salu lima).

So over a decade later, when I was living in Australia, working in that conservative profession and occasionally flaunting my vae taamu (for the palagis, I just compared my legs to a particularly thick root crop), when my cousins called to tell me they were having their tatau done, despite not having any money or holiday time, I was on the very next plane to Samoa.

Why was I so eager to feel the bite of the 'auEspecially given the pain is legendary and it leaves you with bruises like these.

Perhaps it was because even after all this time overseas, I realised that it was the values of my culture ingrained so deeply in me, that had empowered and enabled me to succeed so far from the shores of Samoa.

The Samoan culture I grew up with is fiery. There is a passion and a power in excelling and in being the best.  This was always expected of me. Particularly academically.  The way you achieved reflected not only on you, but on your entire family. Some of you may not know this but Samoans are well known, especially across the Pacific for being just a bit arrogant.  I think that is because the pride we take in ourselves is not individual, it is pride in who we are as a collective, as part of a family, as a reflection of something much bigger than ourselves.

The  culture I grew up with was feminist.  It was the type of feminism that didn’t name or declare itself loudly- it just was.  Both men and women can become matai or chiefs.  And we treat in-laws who stay with the family- nofo tane and fai ava- with equal disdain whether they are men or women. In my own family, my Grandma ruled supreme.  She didn’t need an iron fist- she had razor intellect and was known to promptly put anyone in their place (though since I never saw anyone actually disagree with her- I never actually witnessed that. In Samoan culture, people take the first name of their father as their last name- this makes it easier to ‘tala le gafa’ or tell genealogies.  My father took his mother's and his father's first names.  It wasn’t a statement- it was just who he was.  I was brought up believing that I could do anything that my brothers could- though I did feign female weakness when it came to taking out the rubbish.

I always felt my culture valued me as a  woman. This was encapsulated in the concept of feagaiga- the sacred relationship between a brother and sister.  In Samoan we say- 'o le tuafafine o le ioimata o lana tuagage'- a sister is the very pupil of her brother’s eye- she is the centre of his being.  It is my brother’s duty to protect and look after me, it is my duty to guide them.  In the distribution of gifts and titles, mine will be the final say among my brothers, as my grandma’s was the final say among hers. A sister has traditional spiritual power. It is this most special of relationships that is signified by the stars of the malu.  It signifies that a sister is a guiding light to navigate by.  And woe be to the brother who invokes his sisters curse- you’ve read about telesa powers so you might be able to imagine….

All over the world I have been stopped in the street and asked about the symbolism of my malu.  I  am proud to explain how the vaeali- the feet of the head rest- symbolise that it is on the service of the untitled that the chiefs heads rest.  That the pattern with the intersecting lines represents the intersection between the matai- the chiefs, the aumaga- the untitled mens group and the aualuma, the young womens group led by the taupou.  That the aveau, the starfish represents aiga, family and the central role that family plays in our culture.  And that the malu itself, the centre of the entire design, the diamond, represents being protected and to protect.  That a woman is the protecter of bloodlines and of knowledge and the bearer of children.

So while 16 year old me wanted a malu, I’m glad I waited till I was 27- till I could reflect on what my malu really meant to me. It is more than a birthright, for me it signifies my culture and all of its fire, feagaiga, and feminism.

Faafetai, faafetai tele lava

*I was very grateful to the amazing Lani Wendt-Young and Griffith University (the lovely Glenda Stanley) for inviting me to speak for 5 minutes at the Brisbane launch of 'The Bone Bearer' about my journey in getting the malu. The above are the short speaking notes for the presentation I gave. 

While these notes are about my journey with my malu, I want to write a short postscript about Lani's journey.  One of the things I have really admired most about her journey is how all along it, Lani has encouraged and empowered so many other people.  While writing her books, I have watched from afar as she has encouraged artists, photographers, models, dancers, poets, comedians (take a bow fabulously funny Gau Siaki) and fellow bloggers and writers.   In turn, all these myriad of people have supported Lani. It has been a real lesson in the power of positivity. It has been my great privilege to be one of those people to have been encouraged by Lani, and to have been able to give back in this smallest of ways.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

34 years of Independence

To celebrate Samoa's 51st year of Independence, I'm going to blog a bit about the 34 years of mine (because I'm self-involved like that).  

 Samoa is the country of my heart, it has shaped me into the plus plus plus size model that I am today, it is a central part of who I am.  And so I have always been happy not to have a name like Jane or Jennifer.  Even though person after person struggles and stumbles over the eight syllables, even as they mispronounce and mutilate it, I have always loved my name.  I have loved it for its very foreignness- for the fact it pronounces me Polynesian in each softly rounded vowel. That it is Samoan. Like me.

So the subject of changing my last name has been a heated topic between my beloved and I.  He who carries the two-syllabled British last name of his much-loved grandpa, while I carry the Samoan first name of mine (Samoans traditionally take the first name of their father as their last name, this is how we 'tala le gafa', how we recite our genealogy). 

 My name is a part of me, it is who he met, it is who he fell in love with.  Though I love Shakespeare, even my 13-year-old self was not impressed by Juliet's plea:

 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

And it's not just because I felt that these two were less star-crossed lovers, more melodramatic, naïve teenagers. Our names grow with us.  We have lived and loved and laughed with our names.  Our names have defined us and we have defined them. Indeed since I was 13, I have only grown more attached to it.

Certainly in Australia it seems a rose by any other name is not as sweet.  A recent Australian National University study  found that you're significantly less likely to get a job interview if you have a non-European name. The researchers sent fake CVs in response to job ads, changing only the name of the applicant.  The study found that those with Chinese and Middle- Eastern last names had to submit at least 50% more applications to receive the same number of job interviews as those with Anglo last names.  Those with Indigenous last names were similarly disadvantaged (though not to the same level).  The study didn't test Polynesian names, but I'm certain the results would be similar.  Perhaps this is the reason so many migrants anglicise their names.  According to the same ANU study, specialist job seeking companies for migrants certainly advise it.   I don't judge changing your name, it's pragmatic. It is also something I could never do. I have carried my name proudly all 34 years of my life and (despite the study and the stats) I have forged what I consider to be a pretty good career with it.  I can’t just shrug it off as you would an old ‘ie lavalava.  Not even if it is for something some may think prettier or easier to pronounce.

Over the course of that career I have often been confused as the Katies, Elizabeths and Amys of my acquaintance would shed their last names (so routinely used by us, their colleagues, to identify them) to take on their husband's.  Each conversation became long-winded. 'Amy Randwick is the contact point on that, you should call her.'  'Amy Randwick?' 'Yes, Amy, you know, she's in criminal justice, she's got straight brown hair.' 'Amy Gibbs?' 'No, that's a different Amy, Amy Gibbs is Amy Marion now'. 'Amy Randwick' she used to be in MA, I can't remember her maiden name, maybe Thomas or Smith' 'Oh Amy Smith, ok, yep I know her'.

My mum tells me she chose to take her husband's name, for what was her last name, except her father's name and his father's before him.  She felt that, since the whole system was patriarchal, she may as well take her husband's last name, a name she would share with her children. 

For my fiancé, it’s a declaration of love and respect and togetherness.  But he will not change his name for me.  There-in lies the rub. For I proposed a compromise (being the charming and reasonable person that I am).  That he change his name by deed poll to include my last name and I would change mine to include his.

'Guys don't change their names. It's just how it is.'

And beneath that is the sub-text, that people will think he is whipped, less of a man, that this will somehow signal some type of submission.  While not considering what giving up my last name would symbolise to me.  For me it would be an admission that my name is not mine, that it merely is some sort of marker of who I belong to (because being a woman I couldn't possibly just belong to myself). It would symbolise entering into a sexist institution that requires sacrifice... which would be fine, if it were not only from me.   That is not the marriage I want or can believe in.  I love and respect my partner and myself enough to want to be in the only type of marriage that could sustain our relationship.  A marriage of equals. 

As Samoa celebrates its 51st year of Independence, I also celebrate mine.  It 1997 Samoa changed its name to the name of her birth.  Refusing to be determined in relation to arbitrary lines of colonisation. We have come so far, my country and I. 


Pervasive racism
is in the slips of tongues,
in that joke
you didn't really mean to say
(well not on radio anyway).
It's in the expectation
that a half hearted 'But I'm not racist' apology
should be accepted
with 'good grace'
because after all
everyone makes mistakes
and though the comments,
you concede, were racial vilification
we can in no way conclude that
an entire race.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


They say diabetes is a silent killer
a thief in the night
that creeps up to you like a moetolo
embracing you against your will 

but I saw him coming
in the WTO siusiu pipi and mamoe
and 5 cans of coke I had
before lunch

I saw him coming
but in my Samoan pride
I scoffed.

laughed like it was a fale aitu

and said

aga ou te le fefe i le oti.

They say diabetes is a silent killer
so we don't say much about him
as we shovel suka into our koko alaisa
and sneak off to shove a needle in our stomach

and when he strikes
and takes my eyes
                      my teeth
                               my legs

I will say

the Lord works in mysterious ways

and be praised

for my faith.


I don't have diabetes. Yet.  But when I hit 99kg I knew I was staring at it, and a whole lot of other heath problems, down a barrel. 99kg is severely obese for someone who is 5'6.  And no amount of telling everyone, especially myself believing that I have 'big bones' or that the BMI is different for Polynesians is going to change that.

Sia Figel's bravery in speaking out about her very personal struggle with diabetes showed me how we all have to speak out and own that our health statistics are a tragedy. It also showed me that I have to take action to not be one of them.

Sia was brave enough to put this harrowing and very personal video on youtube, to show us her very roots, literally.  I watched it.... right through. Because if some is brave enough to share this sh@#, to say 'F%#$ pride, this my friends, is diabetes, take a good hard look', I will honour that, by watching it right through. I hope you will too.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Lou sei

I love that white flower
in your long black hair

I imagine I can smell its scent
though I am standing
across the street
It is salt and sun
like the backs of my forefathers
who refused to bow

I love that white flower
in your long black hair

It speaks to me
in soft vowels saying

you are

quietly confident

in who

you are

and where

we are from

I love that white flower
in your long black hair