Written by Jane Aisea
NZ Born of Samoan descent
I was born and raised in Auckland City. East Aukilani to be exact.
My mother and both my grandmother’s would speak Samoan to my siblings and I, yet, we only ever really learned how to partially speak it. Strangely enough, we could understand every command andthreat in our native tongue. But trying to hold a conversation would get me laughed or yelled at because “ehhhh o oe le teine fia palagi” – you, girl, want to be white.
But I’m trying? Why aren’t you helping me? I won’t try anymore then.
I was raised in a strict Samoan home. A single parent home, but we had every Samoan from Apia come and live with us at one point in our lives on Ruawai Road, so being surrounded by Samoan-speaking adults was a normality in our household.
Growing up, my friends at school were predominantly Maori, Cook Island or “Palagi” so naturally I picked up their mannerisms, their persona’s, their ways of life, not realising that by completely embracing all these other cultures, I was unknowingly neglecting my own.
By the time I reached high school, I may as well have been born a Maori. I lead the Kapa Haka group in school, I, still to this day am so infatuated with and absolutely love the Maori culture. Almost all of my friends were Maori. I was always teased for being Samoan by my own friends, so I started to become embarrassed of my culture and was being labelled a plastic Samoan.
“If they’re teasing me about it, it’s gotta suck being a Samoan… right? So I’m going to disown it”, being a “plastic” Samoan became a compliment.
After high school I finally visited my motherland. The beautiful land of Samoa. My gosh it was stunning. My grandmother was still alive and living there so I knew that I was going to get away with absolutely everything because nobody in their right mind would mess with the queen of our village. She always yelled at me for speaking broken Samoan to her. Half English, half Samoan conversations with a woman who barely understood a word of English. “Aua le gagu!” – don’t speak English! The only thing she could say in English was “YOU PAKKA!” – YOU BUGGER! Or “I love you” sweet woman. I vividly recall trying to respond to someone in Samoan and getting laughed at by half the village, including my own brother who told me “you can’t even speak Samoan, you sound like a white girl! Shame!” so after a few more attempts and becoming the joke of the village, again, I gave up and surrendered to being known as “Teine Palagi” – White girl. Regardless of that, it was a great trip.
Throughout the years, post-high school, I invested in meaningful friendships and had 2 beautiful children which lead me to become the woman I am today. My friends and partner, all from different/exotic cultures can all fluently speak their mother tongue. Each individual is completely intact with their culture. I realised that I needed to grasp my own. Regardless of the mockery and disparagement, I realised it was necessary for my children and I to know my Samoan heritage and know how to speak my mother-tongue.
Through teaching my children basic words out of books, apps, and with the help of my human dictionary (my mother) I’ve been learning. Throughout my 20+ years of trying to learn my language, constantly being discouraged and belittled, I needed to push through regardless. It wasn’t until I had my two children that I entirely realised the importance of this. I’ve learned to block out the negativity and remarks about how un-Samoan I am.
Our people are always so quick to ridicule those who are trying, yet we are expected to know how to be as Samoan as those whom are fully immersed in the culture. Our people are a beautiful, kind-hearted, giving and helpful people. We are also the first to criticise and denigrate one of our own when we step out of line and aren’t up to par with our fa’a Samoa. In order to keep our heritage alive we need to embrace everyone who is willing to learn our culture. It’s essential for our following generations to know as much about our beautiful culture as possible, we mustn’t discourage the willingness to learn.