I finally got to watch Moana with my family, and I couldn’t help but smile hearing Tokelauan, Samoan, Tahitian and many more of our pacific languages sung, spoken, emoted in the film.

Things I thought of:

– The way our motifs were shown throughout was incredible.

– we have an incredible history as seafarers, voyagers and this film was a small reminder of this past.

Things that were awks:

– That The Rock pronounced Te Fiti as Tay Fidi and Mow-ana.

– That designs by indigenous people for thousands of years are now, the creation of some designer in Hollywood. Ufakoms.

I loved that the film allowed me to think of the contradictions that is our Pacific – Oceania world:

1. What I personally loved was the depiction of our community as close-knit and collective.

We do things together and share. Much like our notion of soalaupule. Working together to generate solutions for the betterment of our community.

But,

That community is also, in some cases close-minded and that close-knit-ness becomes a sinnet that stifles debate and chastised dialogue. Our collective nature is wonderful until there is friction and struggle and disagreements, then the village monsters come out.

I wanted to mention this because that is the reality of our community. It ain’t all idyllic living. Our closeness also means that there are no secrets among us, words travel the moment they are uttered.

Our togetherness is also a weapon when our loved ones fail or falter.

2. Woman as leaders or chiefs. Obviously, this is more so for Samoa and Cook Islands, where woman can become chiefs. I loved that in the movie, that the lead character is a young woman who will one day lead her village. I loved that the Granma is the strong ‘mana’ful woman who is at peace with herself and with her surroundings. She doesn’t give a shit what people think and she is unfazed by her son being the chief. That character is so true. Our history is decorated with incredible women leaders in Samoa. And throughout the Pacific, we have Queen Liliu’okalani of Hawaii, Queen Emma, Queen Salote of Tonga, Salamasina, and of course, Your humble Goddess of Savaii, (You’re welcome!) pugi.

On the flipside,

– Less than 10% of women are matai (chiefs) in Samoa.

– Violence against women is rife

– Christianity has, in most places demoted women from leaders and chiefs to second class citizens who exist to be a supporter, homemaker, wife, servant to her husband.

3. Si’osi’omaga: What surrounds us is our environment.

Pre-modernity, we had an incredible connection to our environment. Our language is filled with metaphors and decorated with references to the land, and species and we were accustomed to weather conditions and the ocean. This was well portrayed by the old lady and her spirit becoming a sting ray. When I saw that glow through the ocean, I thought of our how a chief’s spirit leaves their body and travels to Pulotu through the lau giu that line the path. Just wow!

Today, thanks to modernity, Pacific islands are all rushing to be developed, to be economically viable and sustainable. Relying on  aid money to finance programmes created for a  market in Norway and at the cost of our environment. Incredibly sad and short sighted. I loved that the movie  showed this aspect of our being. We are part of the si’osi’omaga.

4. Epeli Hauofa – wrote about the ocean, it is the ocean that connects us – please please please, if youre a pacific person, or if you’re not,….BUY THE BOOK and READ it, gift it to your children, gift it to your friend. It is his writing that I thought of when I watched Moana. That the ocean is within us. #wearetheocean.

5. Navigation.

In our Pacific Island Leaders of Tomorrow programme, our themes are based on Epeli’s work. We have had actual voyagers with many years experience sharing their journeys, like Hoturoa Barclay KerrTainui, the kaihautū or leader of Haunui waka)  and Conrad Stanley (Captain of Aurere) – both experienced and both still teaching the art of voyaging to hundreds of young people in Aotearoa and beyond.

On the other hand, we have the highest rate of drowning  in New Zealand. Much of our navigation history has become a past – but thanks to geniuses like Mau Piailug who has revived this art for the region. We still have a long way to go but there is hope!

6. I Loved Loved Loved that Moana is a strong, assertive, proud, young woman. She doesn’t have a love interest. OMG, that is so so so Samoan/Tongan/Tokelauan/Tuvaluan/Kiribati/etc etc hahaha

One the reality side, we have many many young Moanas walking to church or choir practice right now, who are expected to be God-fearing and will have absolutely no interest in the opposite sex. And that’s all very well if youre in an ideal society where a young man will then court you (or rather your dad) and ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The thing is, for many Moanas, their encounter with love interest can be accidently, or secretive, or in many cases, it is an act of violence and unwanted. That’s a reality which has resulted in many young women ending up with unplanned pregnancies, stds, and sadly – many more are raped by those who are meant to care for them, we also are well known for the alarmingly high rates of suicide in the world.

So, Moana having no love interest was art imitating life to the tee!!!

7. They had a tuiga, (:

While all this is exciting, I’m already accepting that by having Disney borrow and tell our shared history and story through their cartoon lenses, we have in essence sold our souls to corporate America. That. Is a fact.

Your tapa cloth, motifs and culture is now game for anyone to copy, replicate and claim as their own.

That’s the reality.

Moana was a lovely movie – but its also the reason our designs will now be Made in China and “created and designed” by Hollywood. So when I hear anyone crying about their masi pattern on a catwalk in a year’s time, this is the price we pay. You can then spare a thought for the academics who threw caution to the wind and who got vilified for being concerned.

Ga kou o uma lava lea e ai gi kou kalo ae la ua miliogea Disney I la oukou agaguu, ae kago lava le kagaka ia i loga muliogeogea.

 

#DisneyMoana is definitely a double-edged sapelu

You’re welcome!

Fagogo – Storytelling the Pacific way

A gifted story-teller, Jody Jackson-Becerra weaves her magic using Fagogo, a traditional Pacific Island technique of story-telling.

With much laughter and immagination, Jody demonstrates how you can connect with; and teach valuable life lessons to children in a format that promotes true human interaction.

Jody left her large family and Samoan island life to pursue her dreams in education attaining a Masters in Management Studies (Management and Sustainability).

As a community engagement manager at the Auckland University of Technology, Jody believes that education is key to empowering communities; and by engaging and motivating children through storytelling, each child has the opportunity to tell their story, however crazy it might be!

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

 

Paddling into the Disney Moana storm because —i’m bored. (with my parent/learner tuiga on)

 

It’s been a few months now since this has started,
Lots of views, debates. discussions and whatnot.

On one corner are the:
“Oh yay! finally a Disney movie about us, and a character that is Polynesian”
Then, there’s the anti, or against crew, beautifully worded by a Pacific studies academic from Vic Uni on cultural appropriation. Need to find link for this.
There’s those in the middle, going, meh.

Then, while I was basking in the Savaii sunshine, the tuiga discussion took off.
I saw it briefly and thought, …I totally wanna care right now, but can’t summon the energy or the passion. So let’s park that for now. Back to mango eating and taro chips.

So in brief, now that I’m not on holiday and back to my uneventful existence, I now have time to throw on this discussion.

Q:What do I think of the  movie?
A: I haven’t actually seen it, but I saw the wee clips, the Hawaiian Airlines launch, met some of Pacific musicians and artists and some who were consulted in some way.

Q: What do I think so far?
A: It’s a Disney movie. Made by Disney, through the lens of Disney people.

Q: Is it a representation of my culture?
A: Yes, as told through the lens of the Disney machine. Definitely a depiction of some of my culture, and that of other Polynesian cultures. I’m not going to own that depiction. It’s someone else’s depiction made into a palagi movie.
So, ….
People are condemning Disney for assuming to represent their culture. Good on them:

If we are up in arms about how our culture is portrayed, I ask you this:

“What are you doing to affirm, present, and share our culture to our children? others? now, in the past and moving forward”

Aside from the criticism, what am I doing to promote my culture?

It’s very clear that this movie will influence a huge number of people – many of whom know little about their ancestry. Many of them will be Polynesian and will therefore be at the peril of being ‘cultured’ by Disney.
That’s the bit which is not cool for me. But at the same time, I personally an not worried.
If I want to influence and share my culture with my children, I do so in communicating with them, in hijacking their class curriculum/teachers, school plan, I do so in how I personally do my work.
It is in this sense that I am a little bit sad, because there are thousands of Pacific people who are not aware of their histories, shared histories and culture. Many of whom will be influenced by Disney’s version of their ancestry.

So, what can you do from here on to positively or in some way, influence the learnings and experience of your child? So that they are not ‘brainwashed’ by Disney’s version?

1. Know your history.
2. Know your heroes.
3. Know who you are.
4. Know your place in the world.
5. Know that your identity and your story belong to, and is determined by you.

There are many many resources that you can access which are helpful in raising and informing intelligent Pacific/Polynesian children/people.

Rather than crying foul over yet another white man bullshit, my challenge is always, start with you and create the changes and knowledge that you value, and you love.

Start with these for now:
– Go to a library or online and get yourself a copy of “Our Sea of Islands” by the Late Dr Epeli Hauofa
-Visit a museum near you;
Follow some museum facebook pages, a good one is Museum of Samoa
– Talk to an elder / grandparent / parent / teacher
– Google events in your area relevant to your culture, like cultural celebrations, festivals, shows etc.
– Buy or get books written by people from your worldview.
– Learn about the history of voyaging in the vast Oceania, and follow the revival of navigation, brought alive by the late Mau Piailug of Satawal Island, Link to Pacific voyagers.
– Learn a few words in your language
– Read a few of the essays by our Head of State, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi:
– Be the captain of your own waka.

Okay, I just committed 20 minutes of my life to this update, and that’s far too much time,
Goodbye.

“Culture is never stagnant. So when I hear people saying Hold true to your culture, I feel like wrapping you an a culture basket and putting you in a umu”

Miss Samoa Pageant results

Miss Popularity: Miss Samoa NZ Naomi Fruean

4th runner up: Miss Samoa N.S.W. Tayla Scanlan

3rd runner up: Miss Samoa NZ Naomi Fruean

2nd runner up: Miss LILA’S Flora Dinan Vaiaoga

1st runner up: Miss Samoa Australia: Miriama Meafou

Winner Miss Samoa 2016: Miss Love Lani Pricilla Olano

Miss National Tourism Award:

Miss Love Lani Pricilla Olano

Miss Photogenic: Miss Love Lani Pricilla Olano

Miss Internet: Miss Samoa NZ: Naomi Fruean

Best Talent: Miss Love Lani Pricilla Olano

Miss Personality: Miss Royalty Creations Esther Timothy

Best Puletasi: Miss N.S.W. Tayla Scanlan

Best Interview: Miss Love Lani Pricilla Olano

 

O lo’u tama / Mon papa / My dad

My good looking dad – forever in our hearts.
Edward Barry Jackson.

Born in India to Irish/English parents, left for England as a teen, and from there, the first 2 Jacksons were born – 7 more were to come upon his move to NZ/Samoa/Fiji, including my Fijian sister Talei (:

I met my eldest sibling, Leigh for the first time in 2005 in Marseille, thanks to Omega who is the sibling that connects people. I’m so glad I met her and connect.
We all look similar!
Cherelle and I don’t remember our dad as much as my older siblings, because we were only little moepis when he died.
For years, I’ve tried to uncover memories of him, but only funny snippets are clear, like standing with Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson in the minivan (at the front seats while he drove, and playing in the cocoa plantation until we got told off. And I remember his belongings, the closed shoes(boots apparently), belts, trousers, blazers. Strange things which didn’t make sense to us since we were mainly females in a tropical Savaii, what are boots for?

The people who knew my dad used to say to us, “Ma’umau pe aga soifua le kou kama”( if only your dad was still alive). We heard this a lot, particularly when one of us was coming first in something or winning something, usually Omega. Obviously when we were up to no good, the same was uttered in a harsher tone. While we were not from a well-off family, we never went without food – aside from the elegi and rice struggle at Lalovaea (refer Cherelles hate of tinned fish). Otherwise, we were the luckiest children ever, growing up in Savaii among family, learning the beauty and the woes of our culture,, knowing who we are and being strong in our values but never feeling trapped or confined. The world was our oyster and we had much to celebrate.

So while his passing is sad, he’s given us a wonderful start in life. And perhaps it’s his absence which pushed us all to work that little bit harder to do well. Maybe we’d have been spoilt little brats if he was around to catch us when we fell. Instead, we grew up with mother dearest’ whose mantra was: “Well, you have fallen now, think about it and get back up, then teach everyone how not to fall😂😂

I want to say I miss my dad, but that seems strange because I don’t know what life is like, with a dad. But it doesn’t lessen my love for him. And I love that he loved my mom so much and expressed it so. I am looking now at a letter he wrote to Mom on the 10th March 1974 from Devonport, New Zealand, it reads:

“I must tell you my sweet love that I miss you every minute and I love you to distraction. I think things will work out here but whatever happens, the first rule will apply. My heart breaks for you my Sweeting and I so miss Simona. I cannot say enough about loving you – but believe me – and I know you know – I would die without you. Whatever problems and however long I will love you. Off with this now my sweetest love, love to the other beasts – Oh God I wish you were here with me – tomorrow I start the work for our future.
All my deepest love”

Grief in my culture

(There’s a topic I am completely obsessed with, and I write endless notes about this. As you read the content below, some things won’t really flow because I keep adding on as I go. Sorryaboudit).

Grief as I know it is such a convoluted notion, one that I feel the need to express, in writing, because in reality – its is chaotic.

I’ve grown up seeing and experiencing the process that comes with grief in Samoa. The passing of a loved one and the ensuing events and chaos that follows.

The first funeral I can remember was not my dad. it was of a family member in Sapapalii who my mother used to visit.

For many moments in my young life, I would look at photos of the people who came to my dad’s funeral and search without success in my mind, to remember dad’s passing, but the only vivid memory I have is being forced into my sunday best and then drinking lots of coca cola, some of which ruined the sunday best, but I wasn’t smacked for it.

In my mind, it was a fun day. I suppose for any 3 year old, that would be more fun than a funeral.

But the funerals that followed were different, I remembered most of them and as I grew older, had my own part to play –

because we ALL have parts to play in a funeral. And we all have side we are appointed to, whether we like it our not.

YOU WILL ALWAYS BE SOMEONE’S CHILD, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU DIE

Identity – collective

As a Samoan, we are born into the collective, from day one. We are the child of someone. The grandchild of another. The niece/nephew of the other and so on. In all we do, we are connected, we are answerable to our family. And we are reminded of this constantly, “Remember who you are, don’t bring disrepute to our family etc etc..” But at the same time, it is the family who, in a customary sense, will be there in my hour of need. They are my shelter, which in samoan is called paolo (the shade, away from the glare of the sun).

Family

When I think of family, its such a loaded word, because as a Samoan –  family is many many things. I have my immediate family. I have my extended family. And when we die, this notion of family is most poignant in the power struggles that ensue.

But before I die, let us backtrack to what happens as I grow older as a Samoan, to give you context:

When I get married, I will be handed over (momoli) to my future husband’s family.  My mother’s side will meet, and so will my father’s side. Then, together, the two sides will come together as the family of the bride and pool their resources which will form my contribution or may I borrow from the “dowry” concept briefly but hand it right back because there ain’t gold or silk, but rather fine fine mats, tapa cloth and money, maybe pigs, or cow or in today’s world, corned beef and tinned fish.

A Fine Mat for a life event

Every occasion in my life would have been marked with the weaving of an intricate fine mat. On the day I am born, a fine mat was laid out in celebration.

One the day I am to marry, a fine mat of exquisite quality would have been woven to be taken with me. Later on, when I die, another fine mat will be given, to mark the farewell between me and my husband., Mavaega – Farewell. Oh how final.

From my future husband’s side, he too would have undergone this same process, he too has a mother and father, whose families would have met and would work together to collaborate and pool resources.

At the event of my marriage, the two families will meet and will celebrate – but more so, to declare that they are now connected.

Generally, there should not be any more marriages between my family and that family, because the idea is, the thatch has been broken(ua uma oga gagau le aupolapola), and you shouldn’t break it twice.   But this doesn’t stop it from happening. (But that’s another thesis right thur).

As soon as I am married, my mother or my grandmother, will have already started weaving a fine mat of even more exquisite texture which will be displayed when I bear my first child, who will be the carrier of my family genealogy and his father’s.

He could be chief one day, of my side or his father’s side. Provided both sides have chiefly titles.

And then my husband’s father dies…(this is a scenario fyi)

While I was married, my imaginary husband’s father passes away, and he was the high chief of his village. My parents are informed and they start to seek resources and look to their families for help towards their preparation to respect the deceased. They meet and realise that the funeral is in a few days, so they make decisions such as:

How much money should be given and then divide it among them themselves. They decide $2000 samoan tala will be given and there is 5 chiefs in the fale.  1 chief says he will do the pig and the other will provide the large fine mat. One of the chiefs has a highly paid job in Apia and offers to give $600, which leaves $1500 for the rest to come up with. The most talkative chief in the room will be bullshitting and in the end will only give $50 but will walk away with a lot more. In all this discussion, the wife of the chief, who is my mother, will have been busy hosting the meeting, coordinating the women who are organising the fine mats and actually doing most of the work.

(Thankfully, in reality, my mother is one of the chiefs and she is part of the decision making, but yeah, the above scenario is a hypothetical one drawn from reality haha). 

The next morning, they rise early and catch the bus to the village of the funeral.

They arrive at the place – and their orator (chief who will speak on their behalf) plants his to’oto’o (cane) into the ground, alternate the staff (made of horse’s tail or coconut husk) three times on his shoulder and he will pardon the heavens and ask Tagaloaalagi to welcome this fine chief among his meeting circle.  He speaks with respect and brings gifts on behalf of their child (their daughter) who is married into the grieving family. The grieving family’s chief responds with thanks and gifts them back in respect.

I, as the nofo tane woman married into my husband’s family will be holding my head higher with pride and humility, but mainly pride because my husband’s family are impressed with the presence of my family and their support.

This above is the perfect world —-in reality, many many women, sit and peer out onto the road, looking and hoping that her family will appear and pay their respects. Some don’t show.

————-

Death

When one dies, in another setting, we can go to the florist, buy flowers and a card and give it to them at the service.

When a Samoan person dies in the customary sense, you have to make sure you channel your grief in the right way and ensure you appear on the correct side and in many cases, you don’t just ‘show up”.

The first time I ever had to be responsible to taking a sii (presentation) to a funeral was when my mother was in Apia and she gave strict instructions for my sister and aunt to go. My sister refused to speak, and my aunt is a nofo tane (married into my family), she wouldn’t speak. Thankfully, the family are my grandmother’s side and we have stopped countless times at this house after school to eat before walking home. I was sad and wanted to be among the women but I and my two non talking entourage had a job to do: Offer our sii and do not accept their gift.

Ironically, this is the village renowned in Samoa for their oratory, the very seat of Safotulafai – they are the masters of fine speeches.

Blimmin stressful but it had to be done and the sound of my mother’s voice in my head pushed me to speak up. “Aua e ke palaai”(Speak, Don’t be a coward) haha.

It was the first time I spoke in the presence of chiefs, thankfully, they were a friendly lot and ended up educating me about our genealogy in that area.(After telling me off of course).

———–

Le keige lea ga pele I o makou loko (This girl, who was close/adored in our hearts).

The child versus the grown person

In the passing of a person, no matter how many years they have been on this earth, they remain the child of a family.

When my grandmother died, we had to drive from Tuasivi to our home.

On the way home (which passes two villages), we were stopped several times along the way, by her father’s family and then her mother’s family. Because she is a child of those families. It was surreal and beautiful to view her that way, not just as my grandmother but the beloved child, who at one time walked the path we now drive. As a child.

It’s a wonderful reminder that even as we age, we are still someone’s child, we are still a family’s child. We are, or at least, we were loved at some point in our lives.

What of reality?

We all die. That is the only certainy.

But we now live in a modern world, and our culture is practiced in different ways. The most marked changes have come about because of …money. It has shifted and impacted on our cultural practices.

I find that in so many funerals in Samoa, there is very little time for actual grieving. But a lot more time in organising an exorbitant and large events where everyone who is everyone need to be catered for.

In a family where most are unemployed, it baffled my mind the amount of money that is raised at a funeral.

It always makes me sad seeing the resources committed to the occasion, but which was absent for the living.

Thankfully, many more funerals today are now allowing for actual grieving or more so, the celebration of the persons’ life.

One day, I too will leave this earth and while I absolutely love my aganuu, I want the event to be about life, and the living. Not about exuberance and the huge debt that the living will have to pay.

Thanks for reading my death series – tune in nekk week, for the deadly series, choohooo