My mother, Lorita Fua Achica, has always been my role model and inspiration, a single Samoan mother who raised the five of us on her own in Hawaii. She is the epitome and pillar of love and strength that is required of any Samoan woman. She lives to serve her huge family, the village, the church and our beloved Samoa no matter where she is in the world. This year, January 27, she turned 65, and this is my gift to her. Thank you for everything mom: for life, the lessons, for believing in me, but most of all for your unconditional love and support. Happy 65th Birthday! May Heavenly Father bless you with many more. Should I live to become half the woman you are, I will have succeeded in life. This one’s for you. I love you infinitely.
Special thanks to my sister, Faletuiga Associate Editor Sia Achica, ASCC Adjunct Instructor/Assistant Researcher for the Samoan Studies Institute at the American Samoa Community College. She edited this piece.]
by Tina Mata’afa-Elise
Chief Editor, Faletuiga
The women of Samoa need not look far for stories of strength, wisdom and beauty. Those qualities run through our veins, descendants of female warriors, royalty and gifted artisans who ruled warfare, trade and commerce in pre-colonial island life. Through our traditional history, the advent of westerners, introduction of Christianity, colonialism and partitioning, migrations, diaspora and ensuing contemporary issues, the Samoan woman has remained a pillar of strength in the family, central in the Samoan way of life. Sina, Nafanua, Salamasina and So’oa’emalelagi are just a few females from Samoan history who we can look to for inspiration to face the challenges of today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world.
Now more than ever, it is of utter importance that our young women learn these stories.
In a recent conversation with Fata Simanu Klutz, a professor at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, she voiced her concern with the role of the girl in the Samoan family, “le teine,” noting that the cultural propriety is seemingly elusive or obscure to many young Samoan women of today. The role of the girl and the role of the woman in Samoan life are well-defined by the fa’aSamoa. They’re imparted naturally, seamlessly through everyday life in the village setting.
With Samoans scattered around the globe in the twenty-first century, it’s difficult to guarantee that the knowledge, responsibilities and skills relayed in the village setting are being passed on to the next generation of Samoan women.
So where do our young girls learn how to be women? And who are they learning from? Other women of course – grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and cousins who were fortunate to live and grow up in Samoa.
Thankfully, when Samoans began relocating to Hawaii/USA and New Zealand, they joined and formed churches, creating small village-like communities where faith in God, the Samoan language and aspects of our culture are perpetuated and celebrated.
Churches have been integral in binding Samoans together in the diaspora. But, it is not the only thing that has allowed our culture to thrive in Hawaii and other parts of the globe over the past 8 decades or more. There are many other things: among them is media (print, broadcast and news) based in American Samoa, Samoa, and New Zealand, educational institutions and cultural organizations, intricate hereditary obligations and connections to island-based families such as the continuous participation of the diaspora in fa’alavelave back home. Still, amongst the contemporary Samoans, especially the youth in diaspora, the most powerful, or uniquely identified cultural aspect for them is the siva Samoa.
I never quite understood my mother’s passion for teaching the siva Samoa. All my life, up to this day, there are always young women who come to learn my mom’s dance style, which she, of course, learned from her mother. Growing up, we all had no choice but to learn, and I was the best dancer of the bunch. Mom agrees with me, siblings. Ha!
I am but one in a long line of devout Christians who moved from Samoa and settled in Hawaii. I made the crossing in 1975 while I was in my mother’s womb, 50 years after the first group of Samoans had settled in Laie, forming the first Samoan community in Hawaii.
My mother was born in sovereign Samoa and all my siblings were born in American Samoa. They’re all naturalized U.S. Citizens. I’m the youngest of my mother’s natural born children, the one born and raised in Hawaii. My puke is buried on the grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ Kahala Ward. I was named after my grandmother, Selesitina Fe’esago Fa’ala’a Wesley Fua Achica of Vaimoso. She was interred in Laie in 1991.
Like many Samoans who are natural performers, two of my sisters made a career of dance, working for Tihati’s in Waikiki for many years. Through their work, they traveled the world. One of my sisters, a champion Tahitian dancer and former Miss Tahiti Hawaii, was recruited to dance at Disney World. She and her husband, who was also my mom’s dance student, are part of a large community of Polynesian entertainers who call Florida home.
Me? I wasn’t into dancing and I really didn’t care much about anything except hanging with my friends (who I love very very much!). I was the classic teenager heading nowhere fast. My mom whooped me and sent me to live in Alamagoto, Samoa in 1995, two years after I finished high school at Waipahu. It was one of the best things she ever did for me. The following year, I moved to Tutuila and graduated from ASCC in 1998 because she said if I finished, I could come back to Hawaii. I came back to Hawaii and attended UH Manoa. I moved back to Tutuila in 2001, met the love of my life and we have five children. I worked as a librarian, a teacher and then a news reporter/sports editor at Samoa News.
The best years of my life were during my time at Samoa News, where women run the show in powerful positions as Publisher, General Manager, Editor-In-Chief, Newsroom Manager, Le Lali Editor, Sports Editor, Advertising Department Manager, Copy Editor, Special Projects Coordinator, Business Manager, Office Manager, Webmaster and Journalist. Their tireless work is crucial to everyday life back home on the rock and for Samoans abroad who always want to know what the latest news is back home. Their work informs a vast audience that spans the globe, shaping public opinion, fueling debate, sharing and perpetuating our beautiful Samoan culture and language abroad via samoanews.com.
It was only after I resigned from the paper and returned to Hawaii in Sept. 2010, that I found the words of old Samoan men to be true: “O lau siva Samoa e iloa ai oe i le lalolagi.” I heard this saying A LOT when I covered events as a Samoa News reporter. A beautifully dressed taupou performing the siva Samoa is always front page material at Samoa News (the quality of the shot always considered, of course).
Some scholars agree that the siva Samoa is the one aspect of fa’aSamoa that is least affected by western influence. Far removed from the malae and ceremonial traditions, practiced regularly at home in Samoa, the taualuga or princess siva and its accompanying dress of fine mat, siapo and the tuiga appear at only the highest of occasions – special Samoan cultural gatherings, weddings, birthdays, happy occasions. Our siva is also an important part of the entertainment and hospitality industries in Hawaii. No Polynesian review in Hawaii is complete without a group and a taupou siva.
When I came back to Hawaii I was jobless for months. I applied to many jobs but was in front of me the whole time. Siva Samoa, gifted to me by my mother; writing, my God-given talent; confidence, loyalty and that go-getter, can-do- attitude crafted under the mentorship of the strong, loving, intelligent women who have influenced me in school, work and church.
Had it been any other job, I wouldn’t have learned so much so quickly about my Samoan culture, language, our islands, its history, its people, its challenges and its treasures. Had late ASCC Journalism 155 instructor Mrs. Marrianne Ring not advised me to, I wouldn’t even have entered the field. “Samoa needs more journalists,” she emphatically said to me one day. A visit to our ASCC Pacific Literature class by Samoan Novelist Sia Figiel further encouraged me to follow Ring’s advice. Figiel relayed to us a message that one of her professors shared with her as a student in New Zealand. It was simple: “Fuck! Write!” Figiel punctuated her message by slamming her fist on the table. She pretty much freaked us out but the message stuck, as you can see.
I envy children who are born and raised in American Samoa and Samoa. While I learned much, the most valuable thing I left Samoa with is a cultural identity, and with my newfound identity, a restored faith. Truth is, without faith, there would be no Faletuiga.
At Faletuiga, we work to instill in our young women a love and appreciation for the siva Samoa and the history and culture of our people as shared through this art. The siva is a form of storytelling, each motion created to demonstrate something that means anything to a Samoan, its grace representative of the manner by which all young Samoan women are expected to conduct themselves as a young Samoan girl in their families. We’re now working on language in order to ensure that our young women are receiving the messages contained in pese put forth by our talented Samoan language musicians and recording artists.
Today, my first cousin, more my little sister, Moana Achica-Manuo, has assumed the Siva instructor role while my mom serves as advisor on dance and dress for Faletuiga’s dance group Mitamitaga O Samoa. Aunty Fetu Ishihara Manuo, Moana’s mom (my mom’s sister) is our cultural advisor, our self-edited family scholar. My mom and aunty are the two women who have influenced me all my life and still do.
Faletuiga works to promote education and literacy among our youth by offering stories of those who are shaping the Samoan community across the globe. All this in order to help our youth, especially our young women growing up in Hawaii, form a solid cultural identity that will help push them toward success – in school and life.
“We’ve got to tell our own stories,” Mari Villa Roma said to me when Faletuiga covered the First Lady at Ma’o Farms in Waianae last year. Roma is Editor and Marketing Director for Hawaii Hispanic News. She was married to a Samoan and her children are half Samoan, half Mexican. In regards to the telling of our own stories, she noted, “There’s always a need.”
Faletuiga is a modern space that serves to unite our Samoan community in Hawaii, a sort of cyber-village where youth can learn about global Samoa and the issues we face as a people away from home, meant to supplement the teachings of our elders, churches, schools and news and media organizations at that covers the Samoan islands. I was born in Hawaii but Samoa will always be home because that's where I left my heart.
As the Samoan proverb says, “O le ala i le pule o le tautua.” This is my service, my contribution to my Samoan communit, a continuance of my mother’s life’s work to teach the world about our beloved Samoa. The only difference is that I’m a journalist telling the stories of our people through the written word. It is my hope that by doing so our youth will be encouraged to tell our stories as well. In the words of the late Mrs. Ring, Samoa needs more journalists.
My faithful readers, welcome to Faletuiga.